Partner Showcase

BioOne Partner Showcase With Daniel Whitmore
Integrative Systematics

Daniel Whitmore, curator for the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart (SMNS) and Editor in Chief of Integrative Systematics joined Publisher Relations Associate Carol Borrmann-Begg to talk about publishing research with a museum-supported journal, and the process of getting a Journal Impact Factor™ with Clarivate. We also discussed the role of taxonomy in science today, and how volunteers make important contributions to science.

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BioOne Partner Showcase With Daniel Whitmore


CAROL [00:00:08] Thank you so much for joining us, Daniel. It’s great to have you on our partner showcase. If you don’t mind, to start us off. Do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself and your current role with the Museum of Natural History and as the editor of Integrative Systematics?

DANIEL [00:00:23] Thank you very much for inviting me. It’s a pleasure. Yes, I work at the Natural History Museum in Stuttgart in southwest Germany, and I’ve been here since 2018. Prior to that, I was at the Natural History Museum in London. So my job here is to look after the insect collections and more specifically, the collections of diptera, which are flies, midges, gnats. What we call the true flies, which are a group of insects with just one pair of wings in which the second pair of wings is reduced to a small balancing device, which helps them keep balance during flight.

My day job is curator. And then, since last year, I’m the editor in chief for our journal Integrated Systematics, which is quite a long standing journal in the field of biological systematics and was founded in 1957 – and by the use of a German name and since 2018, it’s gotten more international title.

CAROL [00:01:28] What took you from curator to editor?

DANIEL [00:01:31] I – I guess I’ve always been working between those two roles. And I got a Ph.D. in zoology, my studies were towards a more scientific career. But in my field, often you get the opportunity to do some editing work, usually for free. [brief laughter] And so I’ve been doing editing more or less since the beginning of my career, either helping out translating texts from Italian to English and starting my careers and then as a subject at a few outlets in taxonomy. And yeah, since last year I was asked to take over the museum journal, and I felt kind of prepared for the role because, because of my past experience. And also it’s nice to be able to work for your own institution’s journal. It feels like a time you put in is more worth while.

CAROL [00:02:26] Is there much of an overlap between the collections and the content of what’s being published in the journal?

DANIEL [00:02:33] Yes. So initially, I believe the journal was set up mostly for publishing results from the study of the museum’s material. We have some very important fossil collections as well. Paleontological collections, including dinosaurs, because in this is part of Europe there are lots of fossil remains from the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods. And I think that some of the main content from the former journal was from paleontological studies, and that’s why the journal was split into two parts – one for extinct organisms and once or extant organisms. But since 2018 with the change of name to a more international one, and since last year you’ve been working hard to get the journal indexed by the main index and platforms and attract people’s research from much more broadly around the world rather than just locally.

CAROL [00:03:30] Could you speak a little bit about that process? Because we’ve spoken a bit about it by email, but I often get emails from other editors to say, you know, “why don’t we have this impact factor yet? What else do I need to do?” and you’ve been going through that process with Clarivate right now, right?

DANIEL [00:03:45] Yes. So there’s been a multiplication of indexing platforms as well, as you probably know. And then some of them are restricted to certain fields. Others are more broad. But the main one is Carivate’s Journal Impact Factor. Another popular one is Scopus. I basically applied as soon as possible for both of them, and I was immediately successful with Scopus. There was a series of requirements which I made sure it put in place before applying.

And on the wings of enthusiasm, after being accepted in Scopus, I submitted an application also to Clarivate, but it was rejected in the first – in the pre selection round because there were a couple of aspects which needed adding to the journal’s website, for example, the retraction policy or how we deal with errata and corrigenda, which was something I’d previously overlooked. But that was, that was just a small adjustment, which I made immediately. The other requirement was our volume of articles. So typically we were publishing maybe between seven or eight, maximum ten papers yearly. But they told me that the expected output for this type of journal in biological systematics is about 20 per year. So it meant having to pretty much double the number of papers we publish, which is a process I started this year and I’m – together with my colleagues and associate editors – we’re more or less on track for publishing 20 papers this year.

CAROL [00:05:32] So it is a- quite an involved process, but then you’re able to be reassessed to be part of the core collection. And being in the core collection is what helps you to get into your Journal Citation Report and Impact Factor and that kind of thing, right?

DANIEL [00:05:46] Yes, exactly. So you need to be in the core collection to get an Impact Factor then the Impact Factor comes after a couple of years, I guess, because it’s based on citations over the last two or five year period, depending on when they started evaluating. So this pre-selection rejection meant that I could have reapplied immediately. So if it had just been the missing information on the website, than I would probably have reapplied immediately, but I decided to wait until the end, maybe early 2023, once I can prove to them that we’re on track to submission, you know, two issues a year instead of one, and about 20 articles per year.

CAROL [00:06:27] It-it’s good to know because I think a lot of editors think, “okay, well, we’ve been rejected, we can’t do it again.” It’s like, no, if you-if you get your feedback and you make those adjustments, it-it is a long game and it is frustrating, especially when you know, you know, you’re putting up good content and things, but once you can follow that process, then you can be part of the core collection and start to build your impact back to that. It’s definitely a long game.

DANIEL [00:06:50] A rejection in the next round would mean having to wait, I think, a year before reapplying. Because then they would be in the next round of evaluation, once you’ve passed the first set of requirements, they look a bit more closely at content, I guess. I’m not particularly worried about that, but, you never know.

CAROL [00:07:11] How would you explain the purpose of the journal to somebody that doesn’t come from a-a scientific background?

DANIEL [00:17:20] Yes. Sp the journal publishes novel results of research in the field of biological systematics, which is the discipline – you could also call it taxonomy, basically. So in our case, all organisms from plants to fungi to animals. And, there’s still loads to get discovered in terms of new species, new relationships between organisms, new information on how they live – so their ecology, biology.

So our journal is an outlet for basically new information on organisms, on biodiversity. It’s-it’s descriptive. It’s about evolution and relationships between organisms. So some papers are more about describing new species in a group, usually within a-a revisionary context, where all the members of that group are being revised based on the study of museum specimens, most of the time.

But we also, I’ve broadened the scope a bit to also include other types of information which are often neglected. So, anything that contributes to a better knowledge of a species or group of species is, is very welcome. We also have – I’ve introduced a short communication article type which allows for publishing interesting new information, even if it’s not a full description of a new species, it could be something new, previously unknown relating to a known species, so regarding their behavior, biology, or distribution.

CAROL [00:09:04] You talk a little bit about working with citizen scientists. What’s engaging for a citizen scientist about Integrative Systematics?

DANIEL [00:09:12] Yeah, there’s-there’s lots of people who are interested in observing nature. I guess the majority are interested in the more obvious, less mobile organisms, so plants or larger animals. There is a section of society who are very interested in invertebrates and all the small invisible parts of our biodiversity.

And so particularly in the UK, there’s been a long tradition for observing, collecting, recording wildlife, which in the case of the UK, which is a relatively species poor area of the world, it’s usually about, you know, logging information about the distribution of particular species. So they will go to their local forest or pond and observe, collect photographs, and then because they collect broadly, they can’t necessarily identify everything. So there are these-these recording schemes set up which are managed by experts of the group. And so then the citizen scientists send in photographs of specimens for identification. And then once they’ve been verified by the expert, they all get uploaded onto a website called the NBN Atlas, which maps the distribution of potentially all British species of animals and plants.

Usually the results of these projects are published in slightly different outlets. So there’s actual newsletters for these initiatives. The nice thing is that you can get very-you can get long term data showing trends in the population sizes or distribution of a species. And so you can publish some papers basically showing the response of this or that group to this or that environmental impact. So, it could be climate change, for example.

The example of the UK is a special one because these collaborations between scientists and citizen scientists has been ongoing for many decades. So it’s like a tried and tested system whereby currently it all goes through an online platform called iRecord, where people log in their data and access for verification of the data is only given to the person running the recording scheme who’s an expert in that group of organisms. So that’s a very nicely set up system.

However, the UK scenario is quite different from the rest of the world because it’s an island, it’s relatively poor and you are unlikely to find huge surprises. Whereas setting up something like that in the US or even in central or southern Europe with the would be the work of probably several years, if not decades, actually preparing the terrain for that. And then I think verifying the reliability of the data in very diverse parts of the world, not to speak about, yeah the tropics, even would become very complicated. So it’s not–I made it sound easy, but it’s actually not so easy.

CAROL [00:12:30] It kind of like, ties in a little bit with one of the-the last questions I wanted to ask about. Are there any projects that are coming up for the museum or for the journal in the next year or coming years that you’re really excited about?

DANIEL [00:12:43] Actually and since 2020, we have four Ph.D. students who are based here working on a continuation of the GBOL project, which is the German Barcode of Life project. And this whole project is dedicated to the tiny and most diverse insects. These are mostly micro hymenoptera – tiny parasitoid wasps or small flies. Hopefully some – at least some of the results from these projects, like discovery of new-new species within these groups will-will be published in the journal.

CAROL [00:13:24] That’s exciting and it is nice to have a next generation of researchers coming through because a lot of the times when we’re talking to editors, they’re saying, you know, everyone researching this is about to age out of being able to do it. And then who will take up the torch?

DANIEL [00:13:38] Yeah. That’s-that’s becoming a-an issue actually. The taxonomic community is aging and it is a problem because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a job as a taxonomist, and so jobs are becoming fewer. And so it becomes more difficult to sell the profession as taxonomists, or at least in the classical sense of the term, to-to students.

Also, because nowadays the way we investigate biodiversity has changed a lot, particularly with the use of molecular techniques. So it’s becoming quicker to describe, to discover biodiversity on the molecular level, just in overall terms without necessarily describing the new species which are discovered. In fact, with molecular techniques, the rate of discovery since is-is really overtaking the rate at which these species can be described, it’s what we call the taxonomic impediment, and that’s made worse by the fact that there are fewer and fewer specialists working on certain groups. And many of them are, yeah, towards the end of their careers. Most of them continue working after they retire. Actually, sometimes they increase their productivity because they have more time to do that rather than administration.

CAROL [00:15:05] What advice do you have for any authors looking to be published in your journal?

DANIEL [00:15:10] I think we represent a nice alternative to some of the mainstream outlets and, luckily our publication is funded by the museum, so the state of Bäden-Württemberg, and so that allows authors to make their research broadly available for free. And it’s free for them, and it’s free for people who want to download the PDFs from BioOne.

The advice would be – so the name Integrative Systematics suggests that we’re very interested in publishing results of research which is carried out using different investigation techniques. It’s still mostly focused on the morphological taxonomy, but we like to take manuscripts which combine the different approaches, so molecular and morphological, or different morphological techniques such as micro-CT, synchrotron, excetera. Or a more in-depth investigation into how these organisms are made and which characters are useful to reconstruct their, their evolution. So, yeah, the advice, as always from any editor is please read the instructions to authors and try and comply with them as much as possible. Then, and then basically, do what you do at your best. And I’ll be very happy to, to consider your works for publication in our journal.

CAROL [00:16:44] That’s awesome. Thank you so much.

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