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Open Access Publication in the Spotlight (March) - ' The macroevolutionary impact of recent and imminent mammal extinctions on Madagascar'

Date:22 March 2023
Author:Open Access Team
Open access publication in the spotlight: March 2023
Open access publication in the spotlight: March 2023

Each month, the open access team of the University of Groningen Library (UB) puts a recent open access article by UG authors in the spotlight. This publication is highlighted via social media and the library’s newsletter and website.

The article in the spotlight for the month of March 2023 is titled The macroevolutionary impact of recent and imminent mammal extinctions on Madagascar, written by a research team led by Luis Valente (assistant professor at the Faculty of Science and Engineering and senior researcher at Naturalis Biodiversity Center).

Abstract

Many of Madagascar’s unique species are threatened with extinction. However, the severity of recent and potential extinctions in a global evolutionary context is unquantified. Here, we compile a phylogenetic dataset for the complete non-marine mammalian biota of Madagascar and estimate natural rates of extinction, colonization, and speciation. We measure how long it would take to restore Madagascar’s mammalian biodiversity under these rates, the “evolutionary return time” (ERT). At the time of human arrival there were approximately 250 species of mammals on Madagascar, resulting from 33 colonisation events (28 by bats), but at least 30 of these species have gone extinct since then. We show that the loss of currently threatened species would have a much deeper long-term impact than all the extinctions since human arrival. A return from current to pre-human diversity would take 1.6 million years (Myr) for bats, and 2.9 Myr for non-volant mammals. However, if species currently classified as threatened go extinct, the ERT rises to 2.9 Myr for bats and 23 Myr for non-volant mammals. Our results suggest that an extinction wave with deep evolutionary impact is imminent on Madagascar unless immediate conservation actions are taken.

We asked corresponding author Luis Valente a few questions about the article:

In your article, you speak of a possible ‘extinction wave with deep evolutionary impact’ on Madagascar. How was this alarming message received?

I think a lot of people were surprised, because many thought that Madagascar was a very well-preserved place where nature is thriving. It is true that Madagascar still has many wild, untouched places compared to other islands, but we showed that this situation can change very quickly. And many people were shocked to find out that it would take so many million years to recover the diversity of species lost due to humans.

The article gained significant visibility on social media and news outlets (illustrated by a very high Altmetric score). How did you manage to achieve this visibility? 

The topic is very appealing to a general audience, and the message of the paper is clear. So this made it easier to communicate to a non-specialist audience. We prepared a press release with the help of the communication offices of the UG and Naturalis. We contacted a wildlife photographer for  professional photos of Malagasy mammals. We were also lucky that Springer Nature decided to highlight our paper for journalists and they did their own press release.

The peer review reports for this article are openly available as well. How did you experience this open peer review? 

I think open peer review makes the process more transparent and can lead to more moderation by some reviewers who often use harsh language in their reviews. In general I think this is a good feature that can encourage higher quality reviews.

To publish your article open access, the publisher charged an article processing charge (APC) of €5,190 (for Nature Communications there is no APC discount available for UG authors). How did you pay for this, and what do you think of such a fee?

The fee we paid was slightly lower than that because our paper had an acceptance date of 2022. But in any case the fee is extremely high. I was very lucky that my main institution (Naturalis) has a fund to cover open access fees, so I used that opportunity. But these fees are unsustainable for scientists and I really hope something will change soon. 

You are both an assistant professor at the UG (GELIFES) and a senior researcher at Naturalis. What are the benefits of this combination? 

Naturalis is a research institute focused on biodiversity, and my role there is focused mostly on research. Having an affiliation with the UG gives me access to more students (e.g. who may be interested in internships) and access to the University's computational facilities. I also give lectures at the UG. Another advantage of being linked to the UG is access to the open access publisher deals of Dutch Universities (although that did not cover our study on Madagascar, because fully open access journals like Nature Communications are not part of the deal).

Could you reflect on your experiences with open access and open science in general?

I think we all stand to benefit a lot from open science and open access. Easy (and free) access to published articles, published datasets and open source computer code is essential for my research, because I typically require information and data from different sources for my analyses. But lately I feel like the open access publishing system is "broken" - myself and colleagues increasingly struggle to find funds to cover publication costs. 

Why do you think the system is broken and what do you think should change?

Publication fees of most journals are too high, especially considering the high profit margins of publishers. The high fees mean that only well-funded researchers from wealthy countries can publish in "top journals". This is unfair and will only increase inequalities in research. The agreement of Dutch Universities with some journals is a welcome advance, but is currently very limited. For example, we recently decided not to submit to a good journal because it became fully open access in January 2023, therefore it is no longer covered by the agreement. So we will submit to a less prestigious journal instead, to save money that we can use for other tasks.

Useful links:

Luis Valente’s personal website, that also provides information about his research team and the research that they are doing.

Altmetrics: traces metrics and qualitative data that are complementary to traditional, citation-based metrics. UG staff can register to get access to the Altmetrics Explorer.

Open access journal browser: search engine that can be used to check if a discount on the article processing charge (APC) is available for a specific journal. UG corresponding authors can publish with an APC discount (mostly 100%, so for free) in more than 12.000 journals!

Citation:

Michielsen, N.M., Goodman, S.M., Soarimalala, V. et al. The macroevolutionary impact of recent and imminent mammal extinctions on Madagascar. Nat Commun 14, 14 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-35215-3 

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About the author

Open Access Team
The Open Access team of the University of Groningen Library

Link: /openaccess