Reading scientific articles is a valuable and major part of the activity of scientists. Yet, with the upsurge of currently available articles and the increasing specialization of scientists, it becomes difficult to identify, let alone read, important papers covering topics not directly related to one’s own specific field of research, or that are older than a few years. Our objective was to propose a list of seminal papers deemed to be of major importance in ecology, thus providing a general ‘must-read’ list for any new ecologist, regardless of particular topic or expertise. We generated a list of 544 papers proposed by 147 ecology experts (journal editorial members) and subsequently ranked via random-sample voting by 368 of 665 contacted ecology experts, covering 6 article types, 6 approaches and 17 fields. Most of the recommended papers were not published in the highest-ranking journals, nor did they have the highest number of mean annual citations. The articles proposed through the collective recommendation of several hundred experienced researchers probably do not represent an ‘ultimate’, invariant list, but they certainly contain many high-quality articles that are undoubtedly worth reading—regardless of the specific field of interest in ecology—to foster the understanding, knowledge and inspiration of early-career scientists.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Ball, P. The mathematics of science’s broken reward system. Nature https://doi.org/10.1038/nature.2016.20987 (2016).
Ware, M. & Mabe, M. The STM Report: An Overview of Scientific and Scholarly Journal Publishing 4th edn (International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, The Hague, 2015).
Jinha, A. Article 50 million: an estimate of the number of scholarly articles in existence. Learn. Publ. 23, 258–263 (2010).
Landhuis, E. Scientific literature: information overload. Nature 535, 457–458 (2016).
Laurance, W. F., Useche, D. C., Laurance, S. G. & Bradshaw, C. J. A. Predicting publication success for biologists. Bioscience 63, 817–823 (2013).
Wray, K. B. Rethinking scientific specialization. Soc. Stud. Sci. 35, 151–164 (2005).
Hollingsworth, R. The snare of specialization. Bull. At. Sci. 40, 34–37 (1984).
Tenopir, C., King, D. W., Edwards, S. & Wu, L. Electronic journals and changes in scholarly article seeking and reading patterns. Aslib Proc. 61, 5–32 (2009).
McBride, B. B.. Brewer, C. A., Berkowitz, A. R. & Borrie, W. T. Environmental literacy, ecological literacy, ecoliteracy: what do we mean and how did we get here? Ecosphere 4, 1–20 (2013).
Helmer, M., Schottdorf, M., Neef, A. & Battaglia, D. Gender bias in scholarly peer review. Elife 6, 1–18 (2017).
Bradshaw, C. J. A. & Brook, B. W. How to rank journals. PLoS ONE 11, e0149852 (2016).
Darwin, C. R. & Wallace, A. R. On the tendency of species to form varieties; and on the perpetuation of varieties and species by natural means of selection. Zool. J. Linn. Soc. 3, 45–62 (1858).
Holt, R. D. Cultural amnesia in the ecological sciences. Isr. J. Ecol. Evol. 53, 121–128 (2007).
Real, L. A. & Brown, J. H. Foundations of Ecology: Classic Papers with Commentaries (Univ. Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1991).
Anderson, M. C. et al. 100 Influential Papers Published in 100 Years of the British Ecological Society Journals (British Ecological Society, 2014).
Tenopir, C., Volentine, R. & King, D. W. Scholarly reading and the value of academic library collections: results of a study in six UK universities. Insights 25, 130–149 (2012).
Renear, A. H. & Palmer, C. L. Strategic reading, ontologies, and the future of scientific publishing. Science 325, 828–832 (2009).
Tenopir, C., Mays, R. & Wu, L. Journal article growth and reading patterns. New Rev. Inf. Network. 16, 4–22 (2011).
Evans, J. A. Electronic publication and the narrowing of science and scholarship. Science 321, 395–399 (2008).
We are grateful to the many participating editorial members, as well as to C. Albert and G. M. Luque for help with the survey and article management. We are also grateful to the members of B. Holt’s 2017 postgraduate seminar class ‘Advanced Community Ecology’ for their input to the paper. F.C. was supported by BNP Paribas and Agence Nationale de la Recherche (Invacost) grants, and C.J.A.B. was supported by BNP Paribas and Australian Research Council grants.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Electronic supplementary material
List of 75 additional articles of the “read” list, Supplementary Figures 1–4, Supplementary Table 1–2 Summary, Supplementary Note.
Ranking of all the papers according to the category of ‘type’ (case study, review, concept, opinion, methodology, career).
Ranking of all the papers with the various variables, including the final rank, the average score, the number of votes (nVot), number of times proposed (nProp), the Impact Factor of the Journal (Ifjrnl), the number of citations in Web of Knowledge (citWoK) and Google Citation (citGoog) and the yearly number of citations in Web of Knowledge (citWoKyr) and Google Citation (citGoogyr).
About this article
Cite this article
Courchamp, F., Bradshaw, C.J.A. 100 articles every ecologist should read. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 395–401 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-017-0370-9
Leguminous tree species create islands of fertility and influence the understory vegetation on nickel-mine tailings of different ages
Ecological Engineering (2020)
Mapping the dynamics of research networks in ecology and evolution using co-citation analysis (1975–2014)
Biology Bulletin Reviews (2020)