I read a lot of papers about parasite ecology. I try to stay up-to-date on the literature, and I also try to blog mostly about “new” papers, so that my posts are interesting to people in my field as well as my general audience. When I’m scrounging for awesome new papers to blog about, I find myself wondering: why aren’t there more parasite ecology papers?! When you consider that at least 50% of all organisms are parasites, and 100% of species have at least one parasite species, it seems like more ecology papers should be about parasites. Is parasitism under-represented in the ecological literature?
This post is a quick analysis. I feel like I’ve seen something like this in the literature before, but I couldn’t find it. Please link me in the comments if you know of something published! [UPDATED: See below*]
I used Web of Science to calculate the number of papers related to parasitism, predation, mutualism, and competition that were published in various popular ecology journals since the year 2000. That’s four key words: parasit*, predat*, mutual*, and competit*. Papers might end up in searches for multiple terms, but we’ll assume that there are relatively few of those papers. Here are the raw data:
Parasites certainly seem under-represented in some journals, like Ecology. But in others, like PNAS, parasites (almost) rule supreme! I’m not sure whether that is just completely idiosyncratic or if it actually means something. However, I did notice that higher impact journals tend to have relatively more parasite papers:
Finally, to look at overall trends, here are the data lumped together across all journals:
Mutualisms need some TLC. And while we’re at it, let’s focus on mutualisms beyond plant-pollinator and plant-mycorrhizal fungi systems!
Parasitism does appear to be under-represented! When you consider that at least 50% of all organisms are parasites, it seems like more than 21% of ecology papers should be about parasites.
I suppose a large number of “parasite ecology” papers may end up in non-ecological journals, like Parasitology, International Journal for Parasitology, etc., whereas there is no Predatorology journal. Do you think that might account for the under-representation of parasitism in the popular ecology journals?
***Someone very kindly linked me to a TREE paper by Raffel et al. (2008) that did something somewhat similar. You can access the PDF here. Raffel et al. (2008) were reviewing the ways that we can use concepts from predator-prey ecology to inform research in parasite-host ecology. They also looked at the number of ecological papers regarding parasites and predators, and found that about 10% of ecological papers were about parasites, while about 20% were about predators. I didn’t look at proportions of total papers like they did – I just did straight numbers of papers, so my “percentages” aren’t exactly comparable. However, it looks like we both found that parasitism is underrepresented in the ecological literature.