Aquatic Biology

Publication Analysis 1998-2009
by Ralf Neumann, Labtimes 06/2011

Europe... ... and the World Most Cited Authors... ... and Papers

Most Cited Authors - Pictures

When compared to their US colleagues, Europe performs very well in the diverse field of aquatic biology research. Quite unusually, however, the leading European countries were outperformed by Canada and Australia.

Can you really willy-nilly put marine biology and freshwater biology into one and the same publication analysis? Well, at least, Thomson Reuters in its Journal Citation Reports does exactly that and lists the expert journals of both fields in the same category “Marine and Freshwater Biology”. This way, ranked by impact factors, you can find, for example, “salty” journals like Coral Reefs, Marine Biotechnology and Marine Ecology-Progress Series just beneath their “sweet” counterparts like Freshwater Biology and the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

The main reason for combining both fields in one category, however, might be that most of the listed journals do accept results achieved from both, sweet and salty water. Examples are Hydrobiologia and Aquatic Toxicology but also most of the journals covering specific groups of aquatic organisms such as the Journal of Phycology, Harmful Algae and the Journal of Fish Diseases.

Sweet and salty

In general, all journals in the category “Marine and Freshwater Biology” do not span such a wide range in impact factors as is the case in many other life science disciplines. Nevertheless, conducting a comparative analysis of publication output in aquatic biology does not come without problems. The main dilemma in this respect, which perhaps is even more pronounced here than in many other fields, is that aquatic biology largely depends on methodology from a whole bunch of different research disciplines: biochemistry, ecology, microbiology, genetics and genomics, zoology, toxicology... Once again, we are reminded that in analysing the publication output of aquatic biologists, there is the likely danger of comparing apples with oranges.

This danger is dampened quite effectively when comparing the outputs of whole countries in aquatic biology research. Unfortunately, however, another methodological problem emerged for this part of our publication analysis. Certainly, quite a number of “top papers” on aquatic biology from the period 1998-2009 appeared in multidisciplinary science journals like Nature or Science. Nevertheless, at least for the comparison of the individual countries (see tables, next page), we had to restrict the publication analysis to the almost 100 expert journals selected from the subject category “Marine and Freshwater Biology” of Thomson Reuters’ database Web of Science, which was used for this analysis. The reason is a technical one: Web of Science doesn’t provide any sufficiently reliable tools to automatically extract relevant aquatic biology articles from the multidisciplinary journals.

Of course, as a result, some of the most prominent papers in the field have been omitted from the “country part” of the analysis. Despite this limitation, however, we believe that a survey, restricted to the specialist journals only, still provides sufficiently valid indicators for the countries’ overall productivity in aquatic biology research. On the contrary, rankings of the most-cited researchers and papers (see tables, p. 48) could be analysed from publications in all journals.

The old seafarers

Now for the results. European leader in aquatic biology research is clearly the old seafaring nation England. When counting all papers listing at least one co-author from the respective country, England’s researchers produced the most articles in the expert journals between 1998 and 2009. Moreover, since these articles altogether achieved the highest average citation rate among the great European research nations (15 citations per paper), England even managed to extend their lead when it comes to total citations.

Interestingly, other countries with a rich seafaring history also performed considerably better in aquatic biology when compared to the corresponding results of other life science disciplines (see Publication Analyses in former Lab Times issues). Obvious examples are Spain in fourth place as well as Norway (5th) and Denmark (9th), who, by the way, even outperformed their otherwise mostly predominant neighbour, Sweden (10th). Also a comparably strong seafaring nation: Portugal in 11th place. The Netherlands, on the other hand, in eighth place performed a little weaker than in most other life science disciplines.

As usual, England’s considerably strong average citation rate of 15 citations per article is still topped by the results of some smaller research nations. This time, Denmark (17.1), “freshwater only” Switzerland (16.6), the Netherlands (16.3) and Sweden (15.4) edged them out.

When compared to “the rest of the world”, some surprises emerge. First of all, the whole of Europe dominates over their US-colleagues more clearly than in most other life science disciplines: about 60% more articles in the expert journals and also 60% more total citations. On the other hand, Canada and Australia both climbed ahead of the European leader England – an unusual result when compared to most other life science disciplines. Another surprise in this respect: the comparatively weak performance of the traditional “seafood nation” Japan.

Don’t overdo the comparison!

As is usual for a research field, in aquatic biology there are also topics that clearly accumulate a greater number of citations than others. When analysing the lists of the most-cited articles and heads in European aquatic biology, those quite rapidly become obvious. Three of the five most-cited papers, for example, deal with the effects of toxic substances on aquatic organisms, a field represented by John Sumpter (London, 4th), Colin Janssen (Ghent, 18th) and others.

Rudolf Amann, the most-cited “head” of the authors list from the Max Planck Institute (MPI) of Marine Microbiology in Bremen, spearheads the strong fraction of researchers studying microbial communities and networks in aquatic environments by mainly using genomic tools. Further examples are Mike Jetten (Nijmegen, 7th) as well as Amann’s MPI fellows Bo Barker Jørgensen (11th) and Frank Glöckner (19th).

Other prominent groups are: biogeochemists who mainly study the impact of marine life on global chemical element cycles and, thereby, on climate, as represented by Jaap Damsté (2nd) and his colleague Stefan Schouten (5th), both from Texel/NL, “planctologists” such as Helmut Hillebrand (Oldenburg, 25th) and Gerhard Herndl (Vienna, 26th), as well as aquatic ecologists like Nils Stenseth (Oslo, 3rd) and Marten Scheffer (Wageningen, 15th).

What remains on the authors’ list are still quite a few singular “special cases” such as, for example: Douglas Tocher (Stirling, 6th) who studies the nutrition of fish in aquaculture, Werner Müller (Mainz, 8th) who explores the biotechnological potential of marine sponges, as well as the fish immunologist Christopher Secombes (Aberdeen, 17th) and the sea bird expert Theunis Piersma (Groningen, 22nd).

This wide diversity of themes in our “aquatic biology” lists, first of all, demonstrates one thing: there are many different fields with the potential to be cited frequently. However, it might also imply that the respective individual citation counts shouldn’t be compared too much to each other.


Articles appearing between 1998 and 2009 in ‘protein journals’ as listed by Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science under ‘Marine & Freshwater Biology’. The citation numbers are accurate as of July 2011. A country’s figures are derived from articles, where at least one author working in the respective European nation is included in the authors’ list. Israel is included because it is a member of many European research organisations and programmes (EMBO, FP7 of the EU...).

Citations of articles published between 1998 and 2009 were recorded up until August 2011 using the Web of Science database from Thomson Reuters. The “most-cited papers” had correspondence addresses in Europe or Israel.


Country Citations Articles Cit./Art.

... and the World

Citations Articles Cit./Art.
New Zealand29.3152.35612,4

Most Cited Authors...

Citations Articles
1.Rudolf Amann, Max Planck-Inst. Marine Microbiol. Bremen13.171163
2.Jaap S.S. Damsté, Royal Netherlands Inst. Sea Res. Den Burg (Texel)10.046334
3.Nils C. Stenseth, Norwegian Inst. Marine Res. & Univ. Oslo8.447261
4.John P. Sumpter, Inst. for the Environm. Brunel Univ. London8.13490
5.Stefan Schouten, Royal Netherlands Inst. Sea Res. Den Burg (Texel)7.056232
6.Douglas R. Tocher, Inst. Aquaculture, Univ. of Stirling/Scotland6.876188
7.Mike S.M. Jetten, Inst. Water & Wetland Res. Radboud Univ. Nijmegen6.421125
8.Werner E.G. Müller, Physiol. Chem. Univ. Mainz6.007285
9.Carlos M. Duarte, Mediterr. Inst. Adv. Studies Mallorca5.984223
10.Charles R. Tyler, Sch. Biosci. Univ. Exeter 5.665104
11.Bo. B. Jørgensen, Max Planck-Inst. Marine Microbiol. Bremen5.388109
12.Jack J. Middelburg, Ctr. Estuar. & Mar. Ecol. Netherl. Inst. Ecol. Yerseke5.200160
13.Gerard Muyzer, Environm. Biotechnol. Group Tech. Univ. Delft5.178131
14.Marc Strous, Inst. Water & Wetland Res. Radboud Univ. Nijmegen4.58364
15.Marten Scheffer, Aquat. Ecol. Wageningen Univ.4.44889
16.Hans O. Pörtner, A. Wegener Inst. Polar & Marine Res. Bremerhaven4.349181
17.Chris J. Secombes, Scottish Fish Immunol. Res. Ctr. Univ. Aberdeen4.061161
18.Colin R. Janssen, Environm. Toxicol. & Aquat. Ecol. Ghent Univ.3.869186
19.Frank O. Glöckner, Max Planck-Inst. Marine Microbiol. Bremen3.81963
20.Eric Jeppesen, Freshwater Ecol. Aarhus University3.732119
21.Jakob Pernthaler, Limnol. Station Kilchberg Plant Biol. Univ. Zurich3.70756
22.Theunis Piersma, Royal Netherl. Inst. Sea Res. & Univ. Groningen3.600159
23.Antje Boetius, Max Planck-Inst. Marine Microbiol. Bremen3.45169
24.Simon Jennings, Environm.3.42278
25.Helmut Hillebrand, Chem. & Biol. Mar. Environm. Univ. Oldenburg3.41668
26.Gerhard J. Herndl, Marine Biol. Univ. Vienna3.33397
27.Geoffrey C. Brighty, Science Grp. Environm. Agency Wallingford3.14613
28.Stephen J. Hawkins, Coll. Nat. Sci. Bangor Univ.3.070152
29.Friedrich Widdel, Max Planck-Inst. Marine Microbiol. Bremen 3.05935
30.Patrick Sorgeloos, Lab. Aquaculture & Artemia Ref. Ctr. Ghent Univ.2.928190

... and Papers

1.Desbrow, C; Routledge, EJ; Brighty, GC; Sumpter, JP; Waldock, M
Identification of estrogenic chemicals in STW effluent. 1. Chemical fractionation and in vitro biological screening.
2.Jobling, S; Nolan, M; Tyler, CR; Brighty, G; Sumpter, JP
Widespread sexual disruption in wild fish.
3.Boetius, A; Ravenschlag, K; [...]; Widdel, F; [...]; Amann, R; Jørgensen, BB; Witte, U; Pfannkuche, O
A marine microbial consortium apparently mediating anaerobic oxidation of methane.
NATURE 407 (6804): 623-26 OCT 2000
4.Hillebrand, H; Dürselen, CD; Kirschtel, D; Pollingher, U; Zohary, T
Biovolume calculation for pelagic and benthic microalgae.
JOURNAL OF PHYCOLOGY 35(2): 403-24 APR 1999
5.Routledge, EJ; Sheahan, D; Desbrow, C; Brighty, GC; Waldock, M; Sumpter, JP
Identification of estrogenic chemicals in STW effluent. 2. In vivo responses in trout and roach.

Last Changed: 31.03.2012