Long-term studies contribute disproportionately to ecology and policy

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As the contribution for long-term ecological and environmental studies (LTEES) to our understanding of how species and ecosystems respond to a changing global climate becomes more urgent, the relative number and investment in LTEES are declining. To assess the value of LTEES to advancing the field of ecology, we evaluated relationships between citation rates and study duration, as well as the representation of LTEES with the impact factors of 15 ecological journals. We found that the proportionate representation of LTEES increases with journal impact factor and that the positive relationship between citation rate and study duration is stronger as journal impact factor increases. We also found that the representation of LTEES in reports written to inform policy was greater than their representation in the ecological literature and that their authors particularly valued LTEES. We conclude that the relative investment in LTEES by ecologists and funders should be seriously reconsidered for advancing ecology and its contribution to informing environmental policy.

Keywords: climate change, impact factor, citation rate, National Research Council, study duration

Hughes B.B., R. Beas-Luna, et al. 2017. Long-term studies contribute disproportionately to ecology and policy. In press. BioScience. Featured on the cover.

Box 1. A recommended attributes of sustainable, productive LTEES largely drawn from the ecological literature (see text for citations).

Question/hypothesis-based purpose
Ensure that the purpose and design of a LTEES is motivated by well-defined questions and associated hypotheses.
Both basic and applied purposes
Include both basic and applied purposes (questions) to increase the value of an LTEES and breadth of interested participants and funding sources.
Consistent core sampling design and protocols
Ensure that core sampling design criteria (spatial and temporal) and protocols are consistent through time to maintain the integrity of a time series. Any new designs and methods should be gradually transitioned to with calibration to evaluate comparability and compatibility of the time series.
Consistency and quality of data collection
Establish a rigorous system for maintaining consistency and reliability of data collection and quality control over the long term that is robust to turnover of project personnel. This includes the training and evaluation of data collectors.
Adaptability of sampling design and protocols
Ensure capacity to adopt additional designs and protocols to enhance its relevance by addressing emergent and topical questions and hypotheses.
Maintain rigorous and detailed documentation of sampling designs, data collection methods, instrumentation, calibrations, environmental conditions and other metadata to inform the proper use and interpretation of data.
Data management and dissemination
Design and support a well-developed and adaptable data management and data dissemination program throughout the lifetime of the LTEES. This includes a strong online presence.
Attractive and inclusive participation by the scientific community and others
Develop means (e.g., workshops, website, outreach) for engaging others in the research community, managers, stakeholders, citizen science and others with emphasis on recruiting new young researchers.
Management structure
Implement an adaptable and functional management and governance structure that is responsible for strategic research planning, resource allocation, administrative policies, and staffing throughout the lifetime of the LTEES.
Rigorous funding structure
Identify and establish long-term reliable and resilient funding sources in advance of initiating an LTEES. Establish mechanisms for identifying and pursuing additional sources of funding throughout the lifetime of the LTEES (e.g., outreach products and efforts).
Complementary research programs
Foster and integrate a diversity of multi- and interdisciplinary research approaches (e.g., short and long-term experiments, modeling, coupled biological and physical observations, coupled socio-ecological investigations).
Educational component
Create educational components that expose future generations of scientists and others to the value of LTEES at several levels (visiting researchers and teachers, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduates, K-12).