New Home for Systematics in Entomology Nears First Issue
Insect systematists—and anyone, really, interested in topics such as insect taxonomy, morphology, paleobiology, phylogenetics, and genomics—have reason to celebrate with the coming debut of the newest journal of the Entomological Society of America, Insect Systematics and Diversity.
This week, ESA and Oxford University Press released a sneak peek at the titles and abstracts of the papers slated for Issue 1 of Insect Systematics and Diversity, due to be published the last week of October. With ISD soon to take its place among ESA’s family of journals, Entomology Today caught up with ISD Co-Editors-in-Chief Sydney Cameron, Ph.D., and Jim Whitfield, Ph.D., professors in the Department of Entomology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to learn more about what entomologists can expect from the new journal.
Entomology Today: Congratulations on the first issue of Insect Systematics and Diversity (ISD) nearing publication. How do you feel on the verge of this new journal entering the world?
Cameron: As anticipated, it’s been a challenge to get off the ground with the launching of this new online journal. Ten years ago, when there were relatively few online journals, it might have been easier to attract the number of high-quality papers we are looking for. Nonetheless, I am delighted with the quality of the papers we have for our first issue and, needless to say, hugely relieved that we will publish within the next month.
Whitfield: Maybe a bit exhausted, but also happy that the journal is becoming real and an ongoing process for the future. I think Section A—as it was once called, now Systematics, Evolution, and Biodiversity, or “SysEB”—wanted something like this for some time, and we would like to think they’ll see it is a primary outlet for their members but that we’ll also receive contributions from a broader community, as well.
ISD is a new addition to ESA’s collection of journals. What do you hope ISD will add to the broader entomological research and publishing environment?
Cameron: We anticipate ISD will provide a home for excellent research and discussion across the diverse subdisciplines that constitute modern insect systematics studies. Integration and collaboration define the evolutionary fields today, and systematics is among the most integrative, including taxonomy, comparative morphology, paleobiology, development, behavior, phylogenetics, genomics, biogeography, and phylogeography—both empirical and theoretical. Most journals today specialize in one or several of these areas, but we would like to embrace all of them, under a unifying standard of excellence.
Whitfield: It seems like systematic entomology is entering a new highly synthetic and very technology-aware period that has likely caused some of ESA’s authors to opt for non-ESA journals in a big way in the past few years, perhaps because their topical and technical concerns were better dealt with there. We like to think we have the tools in place to bring that stream back.
As you’ve been bringing in articles for the new journal, what has been most interesting about reviewing and assembling the research that will serve as this new focal point for insect systematists?
Cameron: It’s been interesting and rewarding to see the quality of research going on among so many younger systematists. Born into a world in which technology drives most aspects of our lives, they are at home with complex methods that require assimilating knowledge of the organism with molecular biology, bioinformatics, and complex statistics just to generate phylogenies; other studies might combine computer graphics with morphology to advance hypotheses of trait evolution, and it’s not uncommon for young systematists today to move back and forth between micro- and macroevolutionary questions in their group, comfortable with the diverse theory and techniques at each level.
Whitfield: First of all, I’m struck by the diversity of research being done out there. We are only scratching the surface yet at this point. Since I was a grad student back in the 20th century, systematics has changed from a largely single-authored expert endeavor to teams of diverse and broadly trained specialists integrating their findings scientifically. There is obviously still a huge role for singular expertise on a subject—natural history in particular is like that!—but the whole process has become more rigorously scientific and, I dare say, in some ways more so than many other fields of biology.
What about the challenges? Is it hard work getting a new journal off the ground?
Cameron: Yes, it’s constant work, which makes it hard. There is never a day in which one shouldn’t be doing something for the journal. And there are, of course, disappointments and unanticipated delays. But ESA’s Director of Publications & Communications, Lisa Junker, is amazing and makes it a thousand times easier than it would otherwise be, and others of the ESA and Oxford University Press staff have been hugely helpful, as have some of the other journal editors-in-chief. Some of our subject editors have gone way over and above what we initially expected of them, so I can’t complain. Overall, there has been an attitude of excitement around the new journal, which has been fun.
Whitfield: Of course. Herding cats! But we have gotten superb backup from Oxford and from our ESA colleagues. The hard parts are having no Impact Factor to start with—so some authors feel they can’t afford to contribute—and having to establish a sense of what the journal’s scope will be. We cannot do anything about the former for the short term, but for the latter we are trying hard to establish an “interest level” we are shooting for rather than necessarily limiting the scope in any way.
Who is ISD for? In other words, what kinds of insect scientists should consider ISD a “must read”?
Cameron: Insect systematists, interpreted broadly, and those interested in new approaches in taxonomy, large-scale phylogenetics, use of fossils, phylogeography and insect conservation. We want to appeal to a broad audience interested in new insights based on rigorous science. And we want to be inclusive of diverse studies across the field.
Whitfield: I would like to think the journal would be of interest across all of entomology. One thing we are really pushing is that authors submit, and frame, their work in a broader context of entomology and biology in general. Some taxonomic journals are designed to be read by other systematists who already know the “why” behind the paper no matter what taxon or geographic focus of the paper. We have been tasked with aiming more broadly than that to publish papers of broad interest to an entomological, and even broader, readership. We are not running a magazine, as with Science or Nature, where we need to follow hot trends and reject equally great but currently less popular work, but we do hope our contributors keep in mind that we are trying to become ESA’s flagship systematics journal, and that is a pretty high aim.
A “sneak peek” of the titles and abstracts for the first issue of ISD is now available. Any particular articles you’re most excited about?
Cameron: I love the beauty of the thoracic skeletomusculature 3-D images in Leubner et al. and am impressed by the rigor of the phylogenomic study by Dietrich et al. But honestly, it’s hard to pick one from the others because they are each different and uniquely excellent. I can’t wait for the first issue to go online!
Whitfield: Well, suffice it to say that, after all of the “herding cats,” we have some papers that we think are excellent ways to lead off the journal, from phylogenomics to integrative taxonomy, to intensive comparative morphology, to the controversy of using photographs as holotypes of rare taxa, to biodiversity of managed plant communities, to looking at the past distributions of insects through integration of fossils, phylogenies, and biogeographic methods. We are not done with exploring the scope of the journal by any means! Issue 2 will continue with a few more of our invited papers on additional topics, and we’ve been working with SysEB and others to continue to broaden our net for contributors.
Insect Systematics and Diversity