ECR feature: Rafael M. Venegas on phylogenetic community structure

Rafael Venegas is an ecologist with a passion for plants. He is currently a postdoc at the University of Alcalá. He uses phylogenetic methods to address questions in macroecology and biogeography to ultimately understand what shapes biodiversity and ecosystem services. In his recent paper with the Journal of Biogeography, he extends theory on phylogenetic community structure through specific consideration of phylogeny branching patterns. Rafael shares how insights on community assembly can be gained from this new analytical framework.

Rafael Molina Venegas. PhD and current postdoctoral researcher at the University of Alcalá (Madrid, Spain), posing in front of a pine forest (Pinus pinea) in the surroundings of Doñana National Park (southwestern Iberian Peninsula) 

Links: Personal page

Institution: University of Alcalá (Madrid, Spain)

Academic life stage: Postdoc

Research interests: Phylogenetics, macroecology, biogeography, plant biodiversity, ecosystem services.

Current study system: I’ve been working on Mt. Kilimanjaro flora for two years. Kilimanjaro is the highest single free-standing volcanic massif in the world, and includes lush jungles, cloud forests and cold and fire-adapted bushlands and scrublands that spread until the glacier’s domain at 4500 m. This montane vegetation stands in splendid isolation above the surrounding plains, where savanna woodlands and agricultural fields dominate the landscape. The geographical isolation of Kilimanjaro makes its people highly dependent on natural resources (the so-called ecosystem services), creating an interesting socio-ecological context that inspired me to design the project I’m currently leading. This project aims to explore connections between ethnobotanical knowledge (in my opinion one of the most palpable proofs of the reality of ecosystem services) and global plant biodiversity from an evolutionary perspective.

The truth is that phylogenies have always been in the background of my research agenda, including the development and refinement of phylogenetic methods for the study of biodiversity. Indeed, some of my ongoing collaborations concern spatial phylogenetics with a focus on the endemic flora of the Iberian Peninsula (~1975 species and subspecies, 27% of the vascular flora of the region), an outstanding plant biodiversity hotspot in the western Mediterranean. I am particularly interested in evaluating the role that soil conditions have played in the diversification and maintenance of this flora.

(left) Rafael, exploring the forests in the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro. (right) A chamaephyte community studied by Rafael in the Iberian Peninsula, a hotspot for plant biodiversity in Europe. Amidst the Quercus oaks, purple lavenders (Lavandula pedunculata) and white-flowered gum rockroses (Cistus ladanifer) bloom in the Mediterranean sunshine.

Recent paper in Journal of Biogeography: Molina-Venegas, R., Fischer, M. & Hemp, A. (2019) Disentangling the fundamental branching patterns of phylogenetic divergence to refine eco‐phylogenetic analyses. Journal of Biogeography, 46, 2722-2734.

Motivation for the paper: My first steps in science took me to the field of eco-phylogenetics, which aims to infer community assembly mechanisms by means of the footprint they left on the phylogenetic structure of communities. For example, little phylogenetic divergence (i.e. clustering) may indicate community structure is shaped by environmental filtering, which is a major mechanism in harsh habitats such as Mediterranean saline soils, where closely-related salt-adapted lineages predominate (e.g. Tamaricaceae, Frankeniaceae, Amaranthaceae). However, classical indices of phylogenetic divergence disregard much of the biological information encoded in the phylogenies, because they are simply “blind” to the exact branching pattern of phylogenies. This is problematic because it precludes understanding of how ecological processes affect evolutionary relationships within communities. The prospect of overcoming this methodological shortcoming was the main motivation to work on this paper.

Key methodologies: In this paper, we show that phylogenetic divergence can be driven by different branching patterns that arise from specific ecological processes and propose a method to identify their signature in communities. Let’s picture two communities that experience different assembly processes (see schematic figure below), namely, competitive exclusion between close-relatives due to resource depletion (as predicted by limiting similarity theory, top community) and facilitation by a distant-relative nursery plant that mitigates the harshness of environmental conditions. Both mechanisms lead to increased phylogenetic divergence (more overdispersion), but the underlying branching pattern of such divergences (community phylogenies to the right) are markedly different. Still, the new communities may show similar phylogenetic divergence values, and therefore one may erroneously conclude that the same mechanism is at stake if the underlying branching patterns are ignored. Our method provides a handle to integrate both sources of information (i.e. phylogenetic divergence and the underlying branching patterns) using simple statistical tests.

Hypothetical plant communities experiencing different ecological processes, namely competitive exclusion between close-relatives (top) and facilitation (bottom). In the top-left community, resources are abundant and competition does not occur. When resources are scarce (top-right), competitive exclusion between close relatives comes into play and phylogenetic divergence increases. In the bottom-left, a community of species with narrow thermal niches thrive at an ambient temperature of 25ºC. A temperature increase of 5ºC (bottom-right) could lead to the collapse of the community, but the species can still persist under the canopy of a distantly-related facilitating species that provides microclimatic amelioration and augments phylogenetic divergence in the community.

Unexpected challenges: This research was not planned at all by the time I got involved in the Kili Research Unit, a multidisciplinary project that revolved around Mount Kilimanjaro biodiversity and ecosystem services. Dr. Markus Fischer, my postdoc advisor at the time, and Dr. Andreas Hemp, a botanist with more that 30 years of experience in the flora of East Africa, were interested in studying plant community assembly at Mount Kilimanjaro using phylogenetic information. However, I had a hunch that the tools available were insufficient for the project, so the opportunity presented itself allowing me to incorporate new ideas and concepts into existing theory. Through this I really had to put my statistics and programming skills to the test.

Major results and contribution to the field: Community phylogenetics is a young but controversial discipline, likely because too much has been demanded of both the original conceptual framework and classical descriptors of phylogenetic structure. In think our approach may contribute to mitigate this controversy by providing ecologists a handle to analyse phylogenetic divergence in the light of the underlying branching patterns, which is critical if we are to avoid spurious interpretations of phylogenetic information. I don’t mean by that our method is the ultimate solution, as the community phylogenetic discipline is not without methodological shortcomings that need addressing (see Cadotte et al. 2017, Ecological Monographs, 87, 535-551 for an excellent review), yet it represents one step forward in the field. To make the method more accessible to the community, we implemented it in R language and provided the code in full as a user-friendly function in the Supplementary of the article.

What are the next steps? There are still lots of interesting questions in community phylogenetics. For example, testing whether clades that are overrepresented in communities show different modes of trait evolution seems a promising avenue for future research (see Pearse et al 2019, Global Ecology and Biogeography, 28, 1499-1511 for a recent paper). Phylogenies are not magic wands that will unravel assembly mechanisms by means of few phylogenetic metrics, but just an important, exciting and necessary tool for understanding how biodiversity is generated and maintained. After all, elephants will never fly and butterflies will not eat lions because lineages are functionally constrained, meaning that evolutionary history matters. A new generation of eco-phylogenetic methods is coming up, and re-analyzing previous datasets with new available tools might unravel biological information that remains encoded in the phylogenies.       

If you could study any organism on Earth, what would it be and why? I would love to delve into the flora of the Wallacea Islands (particularly Sulawesi and Moluccas) and New Guinea”. On the one hand, this region combines multiple biogeographically interesting factors such as tropicality, isolation (islands) and sharp environmental gradients (mountains), which make the region extraordinarily appealing to me. On the other hand, these islands awaken the sense of adventure that many biogeographers carry inside of us. Even today, there is a continuous dripping of new species of birds, small mammals and plants reported from New Guinea! I have already visited the region once, specifically the Wakatobi archipelago in southeast Sulawesi (mostly a diving trip, so that time was more about coral reefs, likely my favourite animal taxa), and I am determined to come back.

Any other little gems you would like to share? I love teaching. I have taught General Ecology and Botany in bachelor’s degree and phylogenetic methods in postgraduate courses so far, which complements my facet as a researcher. After all, today’s students will be tomorrow’s researchers, the reason why I consider teaching a fundamental duty of scientists. At this point, I have to make a confession; plants are my true motivation in science, and I could not imagine being an ecologist without a focus on plants. And guess what? This is simply because I had good botany teachers during my time as an undergraduate student.

ECR feature: Macroecology with Philipp Brun

(left) Philipp collecting leaves of Taraxacum palustre during a trait sampling campaign in 2019. Photo taken close to Zurich, Switzerland. (right) Adonis vernalis – a rare beauty that was part of our plant trait sampling campaign in 2019. Photo taken close to Martigny, Switzerland.

Links: Institutional webpage | Google Scholar | Research Gate

Institution: Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Avalanche Research

Current academic life stage: Postdoc

Research interests: I am a macroecologist with a broad interest in questions related to species and trait distributions and biodiversity.

Current study system: After working with plankton biogeography during my PhD, in my postdoc I now focus on terrestrial plants in Europe, in particular on the communities of the European Alps. What I particularly like about these plant communities is (i) that I can develop and validate ideas about them while being active outdoors and (ii) that the wealth of observational, trait, and phylogenetic data combined with environmental and remote sensing data provide countless possibilities for creative analyses to deepen our understanding.

Recent paper in Journal of Biogeography: Brun P, Thuiller W, Chauvier Y, Pellissier L, Wüest RO, Wang Z, Zimmermann NE. 2020. Model complexity affects species distribution projections under climate change. Journal of Biogeography 47: 130– 142. DOI: 10.1111/jbi.13734. FULL ACCESS FOR 2020 & 2021.

Motivation for the paper: Since the paper by Merow et al. (2014), the species distribution modelling (SDM) community is generally aware that decisions about model complexity can have important and sometimes problematic implications for study results, but it had never been thoroughly assessed what these implications are for the important SDM application of projecting future range changes. We comprehensively studied how three aspects related to model complexity (parameterization complexity, number of predictor variables, and multicollinearity) affect analyses, using dominant European tree species.

(left) Major European forests (Data Source: (right) Strong environmental gradients in the European Alps. While the growing season is well on its way close to the valley bottom, the higher altitudes are still deeply covered with snow. Photo taken close to Mount Titlis in the Swiss Alps.

Key methodologies: We made an effort to comprehensively investigate the implications of model complexity in our analysis. We randomly subsampled 300 sets of predictors from a substantial pool of climate, soil, and terrain variables. This gave us the possibility to study the effects of the number of variables considered and their multicollinearity, independent of the actual predictors used. We also compared different levels of parameterization complexity, restricting the algorithms to fit very coarse occurrence-environment relationships at one extreme and allowing them to closely follow the data and identify relationships with very complex shapes at the other. In addition, we varied factors that are often permuted in projection ensembles, i.e., SDM algorithms, emission scenarios, and climate models. All in all, we made almost a million future projections. Given that our observational and environmental data were of high quality (regular, rich sampling design, confirmed absences), our results provide a robust and reliable assessment of the implications of decisions on model complexity relative to aspects of SDM projection design.

Unexpected outcomes: I was surprised to see that, apart from the most common species, high multicollinearity did not notably decrease model performance, even when assessed under environmental block cross-validation. Yet, multicollinearity systematically increased range loss projections, indicating that this violation of model assumptions has a distortive effect on projections that may pass below the radar of common model evaluation.

Major result and contribution to the field: Parameterization complexity should be varied along with SDM algorithms in ensemble projections. The range of suitable options depends on the dataset at hand and may be identified by decent model performance. The number of predictors included should be balanced between providing sufficient information for well-performing models and avoiding too much noise, which deteriorates performance and introduces disagreement between projections. We found 10 predictors to be ideal, but the number may be smaller for less well-designed survey data or flatter environmental gradients. Multicollinearity should be constrained by maximum absolute Pearson correlation coefficients of 0.7, in order to avoid distorted projections.

What are the next steps? I see this work as a contribution to the call of Araújo et al. (2019), to develop standards for methods and data in SDM-based studies. Ultimately, the goal is to reliably predict the impacts of global change on biodiversity.

If you could study any organism on Earth, what would it be and why? Studying the ecology of individual plants at scale using remote sensing data is something I would love to do. Otherwise, I would be keen to know more about the fine-scale distribution and fruiting behaviour of the morel mushroom (Morchella esculenta).

ECR feature: Scale insects with Thomas D. Whitney

Thomas Whitney is currently a postdoc at Washington State University, Puyallup. He studies the ecology and evolution of insect species. His recent work in the Journal of Biogeography has sought to understand the extensive dieback in eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) and its association with a scale insect (Matsucoccus macrocicatrices). It has been unclear if this association is historical or recent, perhaps indicative of a recent host shift. Using population genetic approaches, Thomas sought to determine the likely context of this plant-insect association.

(left) Thomas meticulously removing scale insects from a branch in Wisconsin, USA. Not pictured very well are the hundreds of swarming mosquitos. (right) Thomas presenting his work.

Links: Personal webpage | Google Scholar | Research Gate

Institution: Washington State University – Puyallup

Current academic life stage: Postdoc

Research interests: I apply principles in ecology and evolution to better understand insect pests

Current study system: I currently study the little-known Douglas-fir twig weevil (Cylindrocopturus furnissi), a native beetle to the Pacific Northwest of North America. It has long been known to use Douglas-fir (Psuedotsuga menziesii) as a host, but only recently have we noticed it is developing within true firs (Abies spp.) as well. This has caused concern for the Christmas tree industry. This is a mystery, and the possibility of cryptic species, a host-shift, or something else entirely is what stimulates my curiosity about the system.

Recent paper in Journal of Biogeography: Whitney TD, Gandhi KJK, Lucardi RD. In press. Native or non-native? Historical biogeography of an emergent pest, Matsucoccus macrocicatrices. Journal of Biogeography. DOI: 10.1111/jbi.13702

Motivation for the paper: Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) is an important and widespread tree across eastern North America. Since the early 2000s, the species has suffered from a novel phenomenon of branch dieback and mortality. Only recently was it discovered that an insect-pathogen complex is associated with the symptoms. The pathogen (Caliciopsis pinea) is assumed native, but there was no prior indication as to the past distribution of the insect, the eastern white pine bast scale. It was first described in Canada and was never known south of Massachusetts until 2006. Since then, reports of the insect in association with dieback symptoms have occurred frequently and as far south as Georgia and as far west as Wisconsin. Determining whether this insect has historically co-occurred with eastern white pine throughout the tree’s range was important to rule out or confirm the possibility of an invasive species. This information can help guide management strategies.

(A) Fruiting bodies of Caliciopsis pinea protruding from a bark canker. As part of an insect-pathogen complex, the feeding behaviors of eastern white pine bast scales are hypothesized to create ideal infection courts for this pathogen to penetrate the bark and establish in the cambium. These cankers are leading to white pine dieback symptoms. (B) A cluster of eastern white pine bast scales (Matsucoccus macrocicatrices) found on the bark surface feeding on the host tree’s vascular fluid. (C) Eastern white pine trees exhibiting dieback symptoms. Photo credit: Lori Chamberlain. (D) State, federal, and university researchers attend a field trip in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of Georgia, USA, as part of the first White Pine Health Workshop in February 2018.

Key methodologies: We conducted a population genetics study to assess the presence of structure across the range of the insect. We also looked for evidence of genetic bottlenecking, which would be consistent with a recent introduction from source populations to newly documented populations. We developed a panel of microsatellite markers using next generation sequencing to assess genetic diversity and structure. We also conducted landscape genetic analyses to determine if host tree connectivity (using data from Forest Inventory Analysis) could explain an apparent barrier to insect dispersal located in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Unexpected challenges: These insects are tiny and very difficult to sample! As of now, there is no method to passively collect them. They must be hand sampled at the 2nd instar juvenile stage. This is the point in their development where they resemble a tiny black pearl – no eyes, no legs, only mouthparts perpetually inserted into the bark of the tree extracting sugars. These sentient sap-filled balloons are cryptically hidden in bark crevices and under lichen, and they require a delicate touch with forceps to pluck them from a branch or trunk. With such a big area of the continent to sample, training others was impractical. Instead, I did all the sampling myself, either travelling to sample in situ with a hand lens or receiving overnight shipments from my colleagues to sample under a microscope. It was tedious, but it was also a joy to explore these remote areas and collaborate with so many good folks.

Major result and contribution to the field: We found that the eastern white pine bast scale is indeed a native species to its newly documented areas. In fact, we found evidence to suggest it may have been associated with eastern white pine in refugial populations located in the Southern Appalachian Mountains during the Last Glacial Maximum. This rules out the possibility of the insect being a non-native invader exploiting naïve hosts. Why this insect has only now become associated with eastern white pine dieback and mortality remains a central question, but this work has successfully narrowed the possibilities.

What are the next steps? There are several steps to take with this system. One will be to investigate the mechanism that allows the insect’s feeding wounds to facilitate infection of the tree by fungal pathogens. Additionally, it will also benefit research efforts to develope a pheromone lure to accurately survey adult males, which will help us gain a better understanding of its density and range-wide distribution.

If you could study any organism on Earth, what would it be and why? I would study ice crawlers (Notoptera: Grylloblattodae), which are insect extremophiles! They live on alpine mountains, cannot tolerate temperatures over 10 °C, and are super rare. I think they’d be interesting to study for their unique biology, sure, but also because they seem to be an interesting system in terms of speciation and evolution. Oh, and how cool would that field work be?

Any other little gems you would like to share? I used to study wolf spiders that inhabit forest leaf litter. If you are unfamiliar, wolf spiders have an iridescent layer behind their retinas. At night, you can easily locate them with a headlamp – their eyes give off a subtle shimmer. It’s a fun thing to try. Whether in a forest, a grassland, or a desert, you’ll be surprised with how many wolf spiders are around.

Biogeography in the Age of Big Data

Journal of Biogeography, 47:1 Special Issue

Between 10-13th April, 2018, the annual meeting of the Specialist Group for Macroecology of the Ecological Society of Germany, Austria and Switzerland convened in Zurich, Switzerland around the topic of “Macroecology in the age of big data”. The outcomes of that meeting are now featured in the January 2020 issue of the Journal of Biogeography.  All articles in the special section are free to download from the journal website until the end of 2021.

The “Specialist Group on Macroecology of the Ecological Society of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland” is one of the leading scientific platforms for macroecological topics in central Europe. The primary goal of the annual meeting was to support the development of macroecological research in central Europe and beyond. The special issue papers are a reflection of the macroecological community’s excitement, hopes, and concerns about the emerging power of ‘big data’ to reshape ecological research.

Fifteen papers provide a variety of perspectives on, and examples of, modern macroecological research using big data.  According to the overview article by Wüest et al. (2019), several main patterns fall out.  Notably, major new sources of macroecological data have become available in recent years, reducing three major gaps: across spatial scales (the “scale shortfall”), in the biomes covered (the “Wallacean shortfall”) and in the number of taxa covered (the “Linnean shorfall”).  Particularly, advances in airborne and satellite imagery have rapidly increased the volume and variety of data linking multiple spatial scales, increasingly using synchronous or near-synchronous measurements.  Advances in bulk collections and databases are making more clear the locations of discrepancies between predicted and measured biodiversity, which can guide both new collections and assessment of error.  As additional approaches such as eDNA and advances in drone technology accelerate in the coming years, and new satellite programs such as NASA’s Surface Biology and Geology come online, we can expect to see continued rapid growth in data, knowledge, and understanding.

Landmarks in the growth of big data in macroecology and how it has shaped a variety of disciplines, including biology, biogeography and ecology. From Wüest et al. (2019).

Nonetheless, further progress must be made to standardize data collection, data integration, method development and process integration. Particularly, as more data becomes more accessible, and analyses of large datasets become easier, it will become ever more important to be vigilant about the basics of raw data quality, reproducibility of data compilation and analytical methods, and the communication of uncertainties.

The Journal of Biogeography has, for some time now, been listening to the community on these issues and has recognized their emerging importance.  In 2019, we completed implementing our commitment to replicability of studies we publish.  As a condition for publication, Journal of Biogeography requires that data supporting the results in the paper be archived in an appropriate permanent public repository and strongly encourages that the scripts and other artefacts used to generate the analyses presented in the paper should similarly be permanently publicly archived. We hope this will go some way to supporting the community’s efforts to build better biogeographic and macroecological understanding during this period of rapid global change.

We are, thus, delighted to bring this survey of the state of the discipline to you in the pages of the Journal of Biogeography. Particularly we thank the team of editors (Holger Kreft, Wilfried Thuiller, Damaris Zurell), reviewers, and the many authors who provided such a cogent summary and many thought-provoking examples of what is and can be possible.  All articles in the special issue are free access for two years. We hope you enjoy reading them!


Wüest, RO, Zimmermann, NE, Zurell, D, et al. 2020. Macroecology in the age of Big Data – Where to go from here? J Biogeogr. 47: 1– 12.

ECR feature: Bird migration behavior with Paul Dufour

Paul Dufour spotting and counting large groups of shorebirds that overwinter and migrate through the bay of Dakhla in the Western Sahara (photo credit: Boris Delahaie).

Links: Research Gate | Flickr

Institution: Laboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine – Grenoble, France

Current academic life stage: PhD

Research interests: Understanding the evolution of migration behavior in birds and its ecological and evolutionary consequences.

Current study system: I am interested in the whole avian class, but I am also studying more specifically the order Charadriiformes, which shows quite exceptional and diverse migration strategies. Also, I have recently started studying populations of Richard’s Pipit in Europe, a species of Asian passerine that normally overwinters in Southeast Asia, which we suspect uses a new migration route towards Western Europe.

Recent paper in Journal of Biogeography: Dufour P, Descamps S, Chantepie S, Renaud J, Guéguen M, Schiffers K, Thuiller W, Lavergne S. 2020. Reconstructing the geographic and climatic origins of long‐distance bird migrations. Journal of Biogeography 47: 155– 166. DOI: 10.1111/jbi.13700. FREE ACCESS for 2020 & 2021

Motivation for the paper: There are still many unanswered questions around biogeographic scenarios that could explain the emergence and evolution of seasonal migration—in particular large geographic migration—in birds. As previous studies on smaller families or clades have shown rather diverse results, we wanted to test whether general evolutionary patterns could be described for large clades of migratory birds. At the same time, we wanted to examine how these evolutionary patterns could be related to the tracking of climatic niches during different seasons.

(A) A group of Brent Geese (Branta bernicla hrota) just returning from their wintering grounds, photographed in Longyearbyen (Svalbard, Norway) when Paul was working on seabird colonies. (B) A Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator), probably on its way to its breeding grounds, looking for insects on a garbage mound in the middle of the Western Sahara.

Key methodologies: Since our aim was to understand the biogeographic and climatic context for the evolutionary emergence of seasonal migration at global scale, we first manually coded the migration strategies for all current species of birds. While many distribution maps reflect the migration strategy (i.e. strict migratory species), this is not the case for resident or partially migratory species, for which it is necessary to look precisely at the available information in reference handbooks. Similarly, compared to what has been done in the past, we wanted to address the issue of niche tracking between season, in particular through a measurement of climatic overlap, on all extant bird species to study global patterns of these metrics. We also wanted to place this question in an evolutionary context by using phylogenetic regressions.

Unexpected challenges: Describing the niche of a species often requires consideration of the climatic and environmental variables to be taken into account. In the case of our study, we had to make a choice between being able to consider the avian class as a whole and using more variables to define the niche of the species. Since a significant proportion of species overwinter over marine areas, we chose the first option but had to rely on temperature alone to define climatic niches, finding no other variables related to our biological assumptions and available over land and ocean. We believe that addressing this issue by comparing all these different migration strategies at global scale is an interesting approach and that this simplification is acceptable as temperature has been shown to be a good proxy in the distribution of bird species.

Major result and contribution to the field: We found that migratory species, and even more so long-distance migratory species, generally experience a warmer climate on their wintering grounds than on their breeding grounds, although there are notable exceptions. We also confirmed that seasonal migration is a labile trait that has appeared and disappeared at different periods in the history of several avian lineages. As a consequence, we have not reported dominant biogeographic scenarios (i.e., both temperate and tropical ancestors) that could have explained the evolution of migratory behaviour in the major migratory orders. Interestingly, we found an ancestral migratory behaviour deeply rooted in the history of the great radiation of the Passeriformes that could coincide with the great expansion of this clade.

What are the next steps? This last result calls for further analysis of the potential role of migration behaviour in diversification processes. The richness of large groups of migratory birds suggests that migration might be a driver of speciation. Similarly, different migratory species show different strategies or year-round niche tracking: the fact that both short- and long-distance migrants showed lower thermal overlap values than variable‐distance migrants opens up interesting approaches to study the evolution of migration. A first idea might be to test whether migratory birds do not migrate ‘too’ far compare to their optimal climatic niche and to link this result with the progressive shift of breeding and wintering areas.

If you could study any organism on Earth, what would it be and why? There are hundreds of birds that I would like to study (seeing them would be very enjoyable in itself) because their migration strategies are so extraordinary and open the door to a multitude of questions. However, at the moment I am happy to be able to study Richard’s Pipit, an Asian passerine species whose appearance in Europe remains enigmatic. If our hypotheses are correct, we may have the chance to observe really drastic changes in migration routes in a very short period of time.

Cover Images

Your research upfront.

Historically, the cover image of journals, including the Journal of Biogeography, was donated by the authors of an article published in that issue and chosen by the editors to highlight research that represented the breadth of the discipline and was of particular note. However, a number of years ago, the Journal of Biogeography unfortunately switched to a for-profit model: it began charging authors who were able and willing to pay for the placement of the cover image. This had multiple negative consequences. The cover image potentially became unequally accessible to the full diversity of biogeographers — and so ecosystems, organisms, and places. The cover image became less interesting, being replaced in multiple instances by a stock image of little relevance to biogeography. The cover image thus, in a short period of time, lost its value to the community.

It is with great pleasure, therefore, that we are able to announce that the journal is — as of November 2019 — resuming highlighting the best biogeography in each issue with an attractive author-contributed image, which will be featured free of charge. This is one of several ways that the journal is working harder to better support you as biogeographers and the community of which we all are a part.

As your articles are accepted for publication, we encourage and welcome your suggestions of images that meet the following specifications: 215 mm width , 162 mm height and 300 dpi resolution.

Browse the Cover Image Gallery for the Journal of Biogeography

Editors’ Choice

Chosen by all. Free for everyone.

The Journal of Biogeography has for many years featured an “Editor’s Choice” article in each issue: a contribution considered to represent a particularly interesting facet or matter of broad interest. While the increased profile has been beneficial, one of the downsides of this process has been that the article was not as widely accessible as possible, as it was mostly behind the journal’s paywall. However, beginning with volume 47 of the journal (January 2020), we are making one smaller and one larger change to this featured research.

The first (smaller) change, is that it will become the “Editors’ Choice.” The article will be chosen each month through discussion by the entire senior editorial board of the journal, i.e. chosen by all. The idea here is that we will ensure broad representation across the many disciplines within biogeography and seek input from the editors who have handled all of the papers during the review process. Primary among the characteristics of the chosen articles will be that they “[are] scientifically important and of broad general interest,” “address understudied, vexing, and urgent questions”, and “advance our basic understanding” (see JBI: Scope). However, many articles each month meet these criteria, so we also will take into consideration other aspects, such as the articles being initially well-prepared and receiving and being responsive to good initial reviews.

The second (larger) change, is that the Editors’ Choice article will be ‘full access‘ — i.e. free to everyone — for two years at no cost to the author. Given that the article and authors are being recognized for outstanding biogeographical research in all respects from project conception through to publication, we feel it should be receive a commensurate reward. Putting it infront of the paywall for two years, so that it is accessible to everyone globally at no cost, is our ‘thank you’ to you as authors for your creativity and hard work.

We will continue to work to add value to all papers that we publish in the Journal of Biogeography, and to ensure equitable access to these opportunities. Other recent initiatives include return of the author contributed Cover Image, at no cost to authors, and increased social media effort on your behalf.

Our Social Media

Increasing the reach of your biogeographical research is a key element of the modern publication process. The Journal of Biogeography established its presence on Twitter (@JBiogeography) about three years ago, during past-Editor-in-Chief Peter Linder’s tenure and rapidly became an important outlet for sharing announcements about new ‘early view’ publications. As of the writing of this article, the account now has 3,955 followers and has become, for us, an indispensible way to communicate with the community. Yet other formats are newly, or remain, popular for different purposes and other formats. As such, we are expanding our social media presence to better disseminate not only news about new articles, but also some of the beautiful imagery that represents our discipline (e.g. Instagram), longer and related community posts (e.g. Facebook), and features about research and researchers and the journal (this blog). We invite you to get involved with any or each of these, as their true value is in creating and supporting the biogeography community.

These social media resources will be supported by members of the journal’s editorial board, including the senior editorial team at the Journal of Biogeography. Key among the team, however, are the two new social media editors, who also are practicing biogeographers with keen interests in sharing breaking stories in and around the discipline. It’s my great pleasure to introduce them here …

Dr. Leanne Phelps – University of Edinburgh, Scotland; Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, Scotland
Leanne researches the ecological crossover between land use and land cover change on broad spatial and temporal scales. Her primary research interest is to improve our understanding of changing human-environment relationships, so that this can inform sustainable conservation and land management. Her current postdoc research through the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh focuses on the Holocene development of grassy biomes in Madagascar, and investigates the influence of human land use.

Dr. Joshua Thia – University of Queensland, Australia 
Josh is an evolutionary biologist who’s primary interests lie in understanding how the ecological dimensions of space, time, and ontogeny affect the distribution of biological variation. Some major recent research themes include understanding: (1) how (or whether) adaptation occurs in the presence of high gene flow; and (2) how developmental constraints within individuals affect the distribution of phenotypes within and among populations. He is also known to dabble in R package creation. Josh has recently started a postdoc at the University of Melbourne where he will be studying the genetic basis of insecticide resistance. 

Introducing: Journal News

The research being conducted and the media for sharing findings change through time. In the past decade, these changes have been particularly rapid, as the technology available for measuring the world and for publishing papers have each gone through multiple step changes. The journal is adapting to these changes in service of our research community. This Journal News section of the blog is intended to communicate these adaptations to maintain a leading quality outlet for your work.

All changes at the Journal of Biogeography will reflect our commitment to continually (1) keep pace with and lead advances in the discipline, (2) deliver a constructive, productive process for publishing your biogeographical studies, (3) enhance value to the community, such as replication and reuse of your work, and (4) add value to you by widely disseminating your research to a global audience.

To attain these goals, we made several changes at the journal since September 2019:
Cover Image: published for free to highlight research in each issue
Editors’ Choice: will be ‘full access’ for two years at no cost to the author
– Social media: new team to increase visibility and achieve broader reach
– Updated our statement of the journal’s scope

Other improvements are in the works. Watch for announcements in the coming months.

JBI: Scope

With the beginning of 2020, the journal is updating our statement of scope to better reflect the forward-thinking position that the journal has maintained since its inception in 1974. We remain committed to both the foundations and frontiers of biogeography and dedicated to publishing the best across the breadth of biogeographical research, and want the scope to also reflect our enthusiasm about presenting for you the most influential, interesting, research that will shape the future of biogeography.

2020 SCOPE:

The Journal of Biogeography publishes research at the intersection of biology and geography that is scientifically important and of broad general interest. We seek papers describing patterns and revealing mechanisms that shape biodiversity, through time, throughout the planet, from the deep past into the future, and from local to global scales. Diverse approaches are encouraged—including ecological, evolutionary, genomic, geographic, empirical, theoretical—considering any aspect of biogeography, from molecules to ecosystems and from microbes to plants and megafauna. Through this broad and inclusive scope, we aim for papers that address understudied, vexing, and urgent questions, and that advance our basic understanding of the origins, distributions, and fates of life on Earth.

Manuscripts submitted to the Journal of Biogeography should be original and innovative, concise, well written, rigorously analyzed and argued, and consequential. While many such studies will be multifaceted, comparative, and draw generalities, we also welcome exceptional case studies that illustrate particularly interesting deviations that, in their aggregate, shift preconceptions.

The Journal of Biogeography is edited and reviewed for the community by a team of practising biogeographers.  We support open data, accessibility to publish and read, and a constructive peer-review process.