Blog post by Ken Wilson (@spodoptera007)
Former Executive Editor, Journal of Animal Ecology
I was deeply saddened to hear of the recent death of Professor Simon Leather FRES following a period of ill-health.
I got to know Simon mainly though our interactions at Journal of Animal Ecology, where Simon was an Associate Editor for 9 years and I was a Senior Editor. During this time, Simon handled numerous (mostly entomological) manuscripts, providing carefully-written and balanced recommendations to the Senior Editors. He also edited and compiled a Virtual Issue for the journal highlighting our classic entomological papers, which he used as a platform to bemoan the recent lack of insect papers in the journal (more on this later!). In addition, Simon published 5 papers in the journal, mainly on his beloved aphids (e.g. Wellings et al. 1980, Leather 1986, Ward et al. 1998), the last of which was an insightful commentary on the long-term effects of climate change on aphid populations in the UK (Leather et al. 2015).
Simon was always a keen advocate for invertebrates and this would include regular nudges to me, as Executive Editor, to put more 6- or 8-legged creatures on the front cover of the journal. At the time I joined the Journal, this decision was actually being made by the Assistant/Managing Editors in the BES offices, but as a result of Simon’s badgering, I made sure that the Executive Editor was always involved in the decision-making process and that as many different taxonomic groups as possible featured on the journal cover over a given year. Though this didn’t stop him wanting more!
Simon used to regularly criticize the journal on Twitter and elsewhere for the relatively small number of entomological papers that we published, and he argued that invertebrates used to be more fairly represented in our esteemed journal in the past. This argument used to be made so regularly that in the end I decided that we needed to see some data to test his claims. This ultimately resulted in me publishing a blog post in this same forum.
One paragraph of the post nicely sums up the conclusions of my analysis: “Annoyingly, Simon was correct – as usual … Over the last 4 decades, the number of papers JAE published that included ‘insect’ as a key word has roughly halved …. By contrast, the number of vertebrate papers has increased over the same period.” To be honest, I suspected that Simon was right all along and was not at all surprised to have to concede the argument, and my blog post attempted to explain why this was so.
In response, Simon posted on his own blog site, Don’t Forget the Roundabouts, a treatise provocatively entitled: “Where have all the insects gone? Perhaps they were deterred by Editorial Board composition!”. (As an aside, when researching this piece, I was delighted to see that Simon had ‘tagged’ this blog under Bugbears, along with other similarly provocative posts, including “Is it time to abolish Vancouver?” and “British Ecological Society Annual Meeting 2018 – representing ecologists but not ecology?”).
Simon began his blog post by arguing that I had produced a “spirited response”, but as his title suggests, he argued that the decline in insect-focussed papers in the journal was due to the journal editorial board being dominated by vertebrate ecologists, deterring entomologists from submitting insect-focussed manuscripts to the journal, whilst also pointing out that in the 1970s, when Simon started his PhD, the editorial board was equally biased, but in favour of invertebrate ecologists! And rightly so, Simon would say, as the vast majority of animals on earth are invertebrates.
In his day job, as well as conducting great research, Simon was also responsible for teaching a large number of entomologists as a Professor at Imperial College London and then Harper Adams University. I am perhaps unusual in being an entomologist who was never taught by Simon, but via his MSc modules, in particular, Simon was responsible for training literally hundreds of entomologists around the world and his legacy will last for a very long time through them, as well as via his papers and books, including his latest offering: Insects: A Very Short Introduction, which unfortunately he didn’t live to see in print.
RIP Simon. I will miss our ‘pantomime’ sparring over entomology, especially during the Christmas Annual Meeting. Oh, yes I will!
LEATHER, SR (1986) INSECT SPECIES RICHNESS OF THE BRITISH ROSACEAE – THE IMPORTANCE OF HOST RANGE, PLANT ARCHITECTURE, AGE OF ESTABLISHMENT, TAXONOMIC ISOLATION AND SPECIES AREA RELATIONSHIPS. Journal of Animal Ecology 55(3): 841-860.
LEATHER, SR (2015) Onwards and upwards – aphid flight trends follow climate change. Journal of Animal Ecology 84(1): 1-3.
Ward, SA; Leather, SR; Pickup, J; Harrington, R (1998) Mortality during dispersal and the cost of host-specificity in parasites: how many aphids find hosts? Journal of Animal Ecology 67(5): 763-773.
WELLINGS, PW; LEATHER, SR and DIXON, AFG (1980) SEASONAL-VARIATION IN REPRODUCTIVE POTENTIAL – A PROGRAMMED FEATURE OF APHID LIFE-CYCLES. Journal of Animal Ecology 49(3): 975-985.