Biodiversity Conservation Research: 2016 Top Ten


Have you heard of Altmetric? Altmetric is a company who collect and collate the online activity surrounding scholarly content. How many people have tweeted an article? How many news outlets have published stories about it? Has anyone blogged about the research? The answers to all of these questions feed into the Altmetric Score – the number Altmetric assigns a piece of scholarly content to indicate the level of online attention it has attracted. Ever noticed a multicoloured doughnut containing a number on an online version of an article? That’s an Altmetric score.

Like any metric the Altmetric score isn’t perfect – and it doesn’t give any indication of the sentiment of the attention it measures – but it’s an interesting indication of how much attention a piece of research is receiving. Particularly in biodiversity conservation, we often want our research to be noticed by news outlets and the general public, and this is one way of looking at who is talking about our research. The Altmetric doughnut also provides links to the blogs, news stories, etc. mentioning the research.

Top 10

Every year, Altmetric compiles a top 100 of the research outputs that year by Altmetric score. The 2016 Top 100 was released today.  So, I pulled together a top 10 just for biodiversity conservation research. This is based on the numerical score assigned by Altmetric and I included any literature in the Altmetric database and published in 2016 that contained the keyword(s) biodiversity and / or conservation – manually filtered for anything not related to biodiversity conservation. This method is very much a rough and ready method and is not robust enough to find every article relating to biodiversity conservation. Therefore, the list should be seen as a collection of conservation articles with a high Altmetric score, rather than a definitive list.

1. Biodiversity: The ravages of guns, nets and bulldozers

“Overexploitation and agriculture are the most prevalent threats facing 8,688 threatened or near-threatened species from comprehensively assessed species groups on the IUCN Red list.”

Altmetric Score: 1486

Maxwell SL, Fuller RA, Brooks TM, et al. Nature 536(7615): 143-145.

2 Has land use pushed terrestrial biodiversity beyond the planetary boundary? A global assessment

“Across 65% of the terrestrial surface, land use and related pressures have caused biotic intactness to decline beyond 10%, the proposed “safe” planetary boundary. Changes have been most pronounced in grassland biomes and biodiversity hotspots.”

Altmetric Score: 968

Newbold T, Hudson LN, Arnell AP, et al. Science 353(6296): 288–291.

3 Global biodiversity report warns pollinators are under threat

“First assessment from intergovernmental body set up to track world’s ecosystems suggests curbing pesticide use to save bees.”

Altmetric Score: 954

Gilbert N Nature News 26 February 2016.

4 Sixteen years of change in the global terrestrial human footprint and implications for biodiversity conservation

“75% the planet’s land surface is experiencing measurable human pressures.”

Altmetric Score: 904

Venter O, Sanderson EW, Magrach A, et al. Nature Communications 7: 12558.

5 Positive biodiversity-productivity relationship predominant in global forests

“On average, a 10% loss in biodiversity leads to a 3% loss in productivity. This means that the economic value of maintaining biodiversity for the sake of global forest productivity is more than fivefold greater than global conservation costs.”

Altmetric Score: 824

Liang J, Crowther TW, Picard N, et al. Science 354(6309): aaf8957.
6 Seagrass is a marine powerhouse, so why isn’t it on the world’s conservation agenda?

Altmetric Score: 639

Jarvis J, McKenzie L, Keulen M van, et al. The Conversation.
7 Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss

“Thirty species of invasive predator are implicated in the extinction or endangerment of 738 vertebrate species—collectively contributing to 58% of all bird, mammal, and reptile extinctions.”

Altmetric Score: 588

Doherty TS, Glen AS, Nimmo DG, et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113(40): 11261–11265.

8 Anthropogenic disturbance in tropical forests can double biodiversity loss from deforestation

“Concerted political attention has focused on reducing deforestation1, 2, 3, and this remains the cornerstone of most biodiversity conservation strategies4, 5, 6. However, maintaining forest cover may not reduce anthropogenic forest disturbances, which are rarely considered in conservation programmes […] Catchments retaining more than 69–80% forest cover lost more conservation value from disturbance than from forest loss.”

Altmetric Score: 513

Barlow J, Lennox GD, Ferreira J, et al. Nature 535(7610): 144–147.

9 It’s time to get real about conservation
“To protect endangered species from extinction, the ecological community must become more politically involved, argues Aaron M. Ellison.”
Altmetric Score: 497
Ellison AM Nature 538(7624): 141.
10 New range and habitat records for threatened Australian sea snakes raise challenges for conservation

New populations of two species of Critically Endangered sea snakes found in prawn trawl by-catch surveys in Western Australia.

Altmetric Score: 422

D’Anastasi BR, van Herwerden L, Hobbs JA, et al. Biological Conservation 194: 66–70.


To give you an idea where this top 10 fits into the bigger picture, the scores for articles in Altmetric’s top 100 ranged from 1605 to 8603. So none of the articles in my top 10 made it into the top 100. However, #59 in the top 100 is an article related to biodiversity conservation: Catastrophic Declines in Wilderness Areas Undermine Global Environment Targets. Generally, I would advocate for concentrating more on whether the attention your research is receiving is the type of attention you would like, rather than the absolute score. But should we be concerned that there isn’t more conservation research in the top 100?

It is interesting to note that not all of the top 10 are research articles. In third place is a news article on the Nature website about an IPBES report (The assessment report on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production: Summary for policymakers). The IPBES report itself does not appear to be in the Altmetric database. Although Altmetric can and does track all sorts of research outputs – such as the magazine article from The Conversation in sixth place – there are still huge volumes of grey literature not being tracked. The article at number 9 is an opinion article from the journal nature. I expected more of this type of article in the top 10 as they are often controversial and can generate a lot of discussion.

One of the first things that jumped out at me when compiling the list was the prevalence of articles from the journal Nature. Four of the top 10 are from Nature, with a fifth from it’s sister journal Nature Communications. Obviously, this is a very small sample, but it might be worth considering the reason behind this prominence. Does Nature produce more articles that inspire engagement? Is Nature better at publicising its content than its competitors? Is it that Nature has more readers than other publications? Or was this caused by a bias in my method? What do you think?

Check your own Altmetric Score

If this article has prompted you to check out the Altmetric Score, you can download a free bookmarklet for Firefox, Chrome or Safari to check out the Altmetric details of any article.

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