The editorial team of Journal of Experimental Biology (JEB) recognises the challenges that our community is currently facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore, in addition to the new publishing policies that we introduced at the start of the outbreak (https://jeb.biologists.org/content/news#COVID-19), we want to highlight a few other initiatives that have been stimulated as a result of the changing times. The measures put in place to restrict the spread of SARS-CoV-2 – such as the temporary closure of research institutes and schools, disruption to research and teaching programmes, restrictions on local, national and international travel, and the requirement for some to juggle childcare and home schooling with their full-time job – have had a huge impact on the professional lives and productivity of scientific researchers, and will continue to do so for some time.
Comparative studies using meta-analytic approaches
Career progression within science depends largely on research productivity and publication output. But how can research continue effectively when labs are out of action for extended periods of time and fieldwork seasons have been missed? This is where meta-analyses come in.
JEB publishes articles on the form and function of animals. We generally favour empirical studies that pose and test novel, mechanistic hypotheses or answer important questions of significance to the field of comparative animal physiology and of interest to our broad readership. However, we occasionally publish articles that are not empirically driven but instead draw on data from published studies and utilise statistical, meta-analytic approaches to test hypotheses and answer questions. For example, Hillman and Hedrick (2015) conducted a meta-analysis of cardiac performance in vertebrates to answer questions about the role of the cardiovascular system in supporting the high rates of O2 transport associated with endothermy. Daley and Birn-Jeffery (2018) collated literature data from 21 bird species to examine the scaling of avian bipedal locomotion, and Nespolo and Franco (2007) employed meta-analytic statistical approaches to look at the repeatability of metabolic rate measurements. Indeed, meta-analysis of metabolic rates of animals that span broad taxa has had a rich and influential history, perhaps the most famous being Brody's mouse–elephant curve (Brody, 1945), which built upon the earlier work of Max Kleiber (1932). In turn, these studies have provided the inspiration for asking new questions about the allometric scaling of metabolism (Hoppeler and Weibel, 1998; Gillooly et al., 2001; White and Seymour, 2003). Thus, meta-analytic approaches can both test and generate novel mechanistic hypotheses that are of interest to the JEB community.
Meta-analysis has a long history and connection with medical research and the social sciences, especially with respect to increasing confidence in the findings from clinical trials and to evaluate the overall effect size of drugs (Finney, 1995). Meta-analyses are a cornerstone of ‘evidence-based medicine’ and are indispensable tools for establishing diagnostic protocols and clinical guidelines (Zeng et al., 2015). To improve transparency, accuracy and completeness of meta-analyses in biomedicine, formal checklists of criteria and essential items to be reported are encouraged (Shamseer et al., 2015). Increasingly, meta-analytic techniques and approaches are being used by biologists (and comparative physiologists) to illuminate more general biological phenomena, including those in the fields of physiology and biomechanics (Nakagawa et al., 2017). Statistical methods have also become more sophisticated; for example, by including the incorporation of phylogenetic relationships. This allows for robust comparative analyses, across species and taxa (Seebacher et al., 2015; Noble et al., 2018) – an approach that makes such analyses perfectly suited for publication in JEB.
If you have a good idea for a comparative study that incorporates a meta-analysis and that fits the remit of JEB, please send a pre-submission enquiry to the JEB Editorial Office (firstname.lastname@example.org). Papers based on your own data will be considered under the category of Research Article whereas those reporting on data published by other authors would be considered as Review articles.
Reviews and Commentaries
Of course, there is more than one way to contribute to advancing knowledge in your field if you are currently unable to conduct your own lab or field experiments. In addition to the meta-analysis papers mentioned above, JEB publishes Reviews and Commentaries, and we welcome proposals for timely articles that cover subjects within the scope of the journal. Reviews should provide an insightful overview of a particular area of comparative physiology research. Good reviews go further than simply summarising current knowledge. It goes without saying that a review should serve as an appropriate guide to the state of a field for a newcomer to a subject, but a good review also provides new insight into the subject area, illuminating new research paths and motivating other researchers to fill in the gaps. Commentaries aim to provide the author's perspective on a topic – they can present an author's opinion or a new hypothesis, for example. They are shorter than Reviews, but the ultimate aim is the same – these articles should act to stimulate ideas that will ultimately translate into experimental results that further our knowledge. Please contact our Reviews Editor, Charlotte Rutledge, via the Editorial Office, if you would like to submit a Review or Commentary proposal.
New grants to help early-career researchers
The challenges of COVID-19 are particularly pronounced for early-career researchers (ECRs). ECRs are not only facing the impact of delayed data collection and cancelled fieldwork on the timely completion of degrees and publications but also missing out on vital opportunities to network and present their research at conferences and to engage in tutoring, teaching and other learning activities, potentially hampering their future development and employment prospects. In some cases, ECRs are also suffering financially, as they struggle to complete their projects within the time frame of their current contracts/studentships and face a loss of revenue from cancelled undergraduate teaching classes and vacation internships.
For many years, The Company of Biologists has supported the career progression of ECRs in the comparative physiology and biomechanics fields by, among other things, providing travelling fellowships to enable collaborative visits to other laboratories or participation in collaborative fieldwork. Given current (and potentially future) travel restrictions, the Company is extending the scheme to include two new categories of grant. ECRs will be able to apply for funding to either carry out a collaborative data project (which may include a meta-analysis) or develop an online learning resource to highlight work in a specific field of relevance to JEB that could be used by other researchers for teaching purposes. Analogous to the travelling fellowships, this will be a competitive scheme, and we are particularly looking for applications that will establish new collaborations/networks for the ECR and advance the fields of comparative animal physiology and biomechanics. Details about these new categories of grants will be available at https://www.biologists.com/ in due course.