In 2017, Proceedings B, in a new initiative, appointed a Preprint editor, Dr Maurine Neiman from the University of Iowa. Along with her team of student editors, their role is to identify papers currently deposited on a preprint server, bioRxiv that would be suitable and within scope of the journal. Dr. Neiman has been inviting potential authors identified by this route to submit the research papers to Proceedings B. This initiative is starting to bear fruit, as the journal has just published its second paper solicited by our Preprint editor. We spoke to the authors (Chelsea Little and Professor Florian Altermatt) about their research and experience of publishing via the preprint route.
Tell us about yourselves and your research.
Chelsea: “I am a PhD student in Prof. Florian Altermatt’s lab at Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and the University of Zurich. I am a community ecologist. In the Altermatt lab we study meta-ecosystem dynamics, that is, how organismal dispersal and movement of organic material and nutrients links ecosystems in space. Specifically, I work with amphipods, which are the dominant shredding macroinvertebrates in central European headwater streams. In this paper, we looked at the distributions of amphipod species at the local to regional scale, and drew on a lot of classic and modern community ecology theory. Our research on amphipods and leaf litter processing also relates to global change and non-native species, so it is a great opportunity to combine conceptual and more applied aspects of ecology.”
Florian: “I’m a community ecologist broadly interested in ecological processes and biodiversity-related questions. My interests, and the research of my group, especially focus on spatial dynamics, such as how organisms disperse and colonise landscapes, or how biodiversity patterns develop across different spatial and temporal scale. In my group I intentionally combine different approaches, from theory to microcosm experiments and comparative field studies, as well as people from different backgrounds, from community ecologists, to molecular biologists, to theoreticians and even taxonomists.”
Why or how did you choose your PhD project?
Chelsea: “What drew me to Florian Altermatt’s lab is, first of all, that we have a great team which gets along very well, but also the breadth of topics that we study. The best thing about our lab, in my opinion, is the diversity in backgrounds and frameworks. This fosters a lot of discussion and creative ideas.”
What does your paper tell us?
Chelsea and Florian: “In this paper, we sought to understand communities of amphipods, the dominant leaf-shredding macroinvertebrates in our region’s streams. We knew that multiple species coexisted at a regional level, but sought to identify environmental or spatial mechanisms that would explain their distribution and possible coexistence at a local level. We designed our field study to have very fine-grained spatial and temporal detail: we used ten stream catchments in Eastern Switzerland, established sampling points every 250 meters in each stream, and visited them four times over the course of a year. Most stream catchments had just one amphipod species in them, and this was stable over the course of the year, regardless of environmental conditions. We suggested that priority effects may explain this phenomenon.”
Were there any surprising observations made?
Chelsea and Florian: “We were definitely surprised not to see more coexistence at the local scale. We know that all of the species in our study are present in Lake Constance, which all of our study streams drain into. Many of the streams were quite similar. However, instead of one species ‘winning’ all the time in similar streams, or multiple species coexisting in them because they have similar niches, it appears that there are alternative states that can be reached. We hypothesise that these alternative states depend on which species arrives first and establishes a robust population in the downstream area of a catchment. There are a couple of other characteristics of amphipods which make priority effects a realistic mechanism: they engage in intraguild predation, and they may suffer from mate limitation in mixed communities as not all the species are good at identifying whether potential mates are of their same species or a different one.”
You had submitted your paper to bioRxiv and were then contacted by Proceedings B Preprint editor, Maurine Neiman and invited to submit the paper to Proceedings B. Please tell more about this experience?
Chelsea: “We posted the paper to bioRxiv in part because I wanted to share my work rapidly, as I’m nearing the end of my PhD and applying for positions. We received an email from Dr. Neiman stating that she thought our paper could be appropriate for Proceedings B, which was definitely a confidence boost for me. The paper still had to go through the regular peer-review process, of course, and we had to shorten it a bit to fit the journal’s guidelines. But that was easily done, and when we submitted the paper we were very happy about its content.”
Florian: “I support the use of respected preprint servers, such as bioRxiv, as it gives us the opportunity to publish our most important and most exciting science rapidly, and also get feedback on it. I agree with Chelsea that preprints are also advantageous for early career scientists. I am even happier to see that classic journals use them to identify potential manuscripts of interest.”
What was your overall experience like publishing in Proceedings B?
Chelsea: “The process was very smooth. We received comments from two reviewers, both very constructive. I sent a thank-you note to one of them, Victor Saito, because from him I learned what a good review should be like: very thorough, critical, but also kind. I will try to emulate that in my own reviewing. That was a big unexpected bonus of this process.”
Proceedings B is looking to publish more high-quality research articles and reviews in ecology. If you have an idea for a review, we strongly encourage you to submit a proposal by completing our proposal template and sending it to the journal.