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Which Species Are We Researching and Why? A Case Study of the Ecology of British Breeding Birds

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ailsa McKenzie, Dr Pete Robertson



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Our ecological knowledge base is extensive, but the motivations for research are many and varied, leading to unequal species representation and coverage. As this evidence is used to support a wide range of conservation, management and policy actions, it is important that gaps and biases are identified and understood. In this paper we detail a method for quantifying research effort and impact at the individual species level, and go on to investigate the factors that best explain between-species differences in outputs. We do this using British breeding birds as a case study, producing a ranked list of species based on two scientific publication metrics: total number of papers (a measure of research quantity) and h-index (a measure of the number of highly cited papers on a topic – an indication of research quality). Widespread, populous species which are native, resident and in receipt of biodiversity action plans produced significantly higher publication metrics. Guild was also significant, birds of prey the most studied group, with pigeons and doves the least studied. The model outputs for both metrics were very similar, suggesting that, at least in this example, research quantity and quality were highly correlated. The results highlight three key gaps in the evidence base, with fewer citations and publications relating to migrant breeders, introduced species and species which have experienced contractions in distribution. We suggest that the use of publication metrics in this way provides a novel approach to understanding the scale and drivers of both research quantity and impact at a species level and could be widely applied, both taxonomically and geographically.

Publication metadata

Author(s): McKenzie AJ, Robertson PA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: PLoS ONE

Year: 2015

Volume: 10

Issue: 7

Online publication date: 08/07/2015

Acceptance date: 27/05/2015

Date deposited: 31/07/2015

ISSN (electronic): 1932-6203

Publisher: Public Library of Science


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131004

PubMed id: 26154759


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