Author Guidelines » Concepts and Questions

Concepts and Questions

Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment publishes timely, interesting, and informative articles on all aspects of ecology, environmental science, and related disciplines. The journal focuses on current ecological issues and environmental challenges and is designed to appeal to readers from a broad range of specialties and backgrounds. Papers should therefore be understandable and of interest even to those reading outside their own area of expertise.


  • Professional ecologists and environmental scientists from a wide range of backgrounds (academia, federal agencies, NGOs), working in all sub-disciplines of ecology
  • Scientists working in related disciplines (eg conservation, biogeochemistry)
  • Scientists working with ecological data and concepts (eg statisticians, economists)
  • Resource managers, policymakers, educators, and other interested groups and individuals

Categories of Papers Published in Frontiers

Frontiers features three types of peer-reviewed papers:

  • Research Communications: relatively short, high-impact primary research papers, with implications for policy making and resource management
  • Reviews: synthesis papers on a wide range of ecology and environmental-science based topics, featuring a strong Conclusions section, again highlighting practical implications for policy making and resource management
  • Concepts and Questions: review-type papers which showcase ideas not yet widely accepted by the scientific community

All articles are subject to peer review before they can be accepted for publication.

Format of Submissions
As of 4 January 2016, all manuscripts should be submitted through Frontiers‘ online manuscript submission system: ScholarOne ( Pending manuscripts and revisions will continue on EcoTrack. Please keep electronic copies of everything that has been uploaded. If you have any submission-related questions, please contact Heidi (

Suitable Topics for Frontiers papers
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment will consider papers on any subject involving ecology and related disciplines, but we are particularly interested in:

  • Global issues
  • Broadly impacting research
  • Cross-disciplinary or multi-country comparisons or endeavors
  • Use of new techniques and technologies
  • New approaches to old problems
  • Practical applications of ecological science

Please study the information below, before submitting your manuscript.

Criteria for Concepts and Questions papers

  1. Topics should have broad, interdisciplinary appeal
  2. Text should be understandable not only to ecologists and environmental scientists but also to those in related disciplines
  3. Length: about 150 words for the abstract, 3000 words, not including a short abstract, not more than 30 references, and a total of 4/5 figures, tables, and/or panels
  4. A limited number of additional figures, tables, and/or panels may be included as web-only material for the journal’s website; however, if this material exceeds four journal pages, an additional page charge will be added to the cost of publication; alternatively, very large datasets or other long or complex materials can be included as pdfs; these will not be converted to the journal’s design style
  5. Writing style must be crisp, concise, and accessible, and should avoid or explain all terminology and concepts that might be unfamiliar to a broad, multidisciplinary readership
  6. Content should involve one or more of the following:
    • Topics with important policy making or resource management implications (this should be an underlying theme in all Frontiers papers and should be reflected in a strong Conclusions section, involving a discussion of  the implications of the work)
    • Research with practical applications
    • Global environmental or resource issues
    • Fundamental, novel advances in ecological science or related areas, with implications for policy making or resource management
    • Use of new approaches, techniques, or technologies to address current and/or long-standing ecological/environmental issues


Please only include as authors those who have made a substantial contribution to the article. Papers should list a maximum of 20 authors, except in special circumstances, which should be made clear in an accompanying letter to the Editor. Where there are large numbers of authors, all but the first few addresses may have to be listed in a Web-only panel, if these take up too much space on the first page.

Conflicts of Interest (COI)

All COIs must be declared in the relevant space on the online manuscript submission form and/or in an accompanying cover letter.

We ask that all authors disclose financial and personal relationships with other persons or organizations that could inappropriately influence (bias) their work. Examples of financial conflicts include employment, consultancies, stock ownership, honoraria, paid expert testimony, patent applications, and travel grants occurring within 3 years of beginning the work submitted. If there are no conflicts of interest, authors should state that there are none. Acknowledgements, including relevant sources of funding, should be declared in a brief statement at the end of the text.

(See also the ESA Code of Ethics policy)


All Concepts & Questions should be submitted to Frontiers through the online manuscript tracking system, which can be accessed through the “Manuscript Submission” button on this site’s home page or at The submission page contains instructions to authors regarding the automated submission system and the peer-review processes. Please keep electronic copies of everything that has been uploaded. The journal accepts no responsibility for materials lost at any stage of the publication process.

Why do Frontiers Papers Have Two Abstracts?

Reviews and Concepts and Questions articles appear to have two abstracts on the first page, but these have different purposes, so the language and style used to write them should be different:

Each article should begin with an abstract (maximum 150 words). This is one of the most important sections for engaging the readers’ interest. Titles and abstracts are often the reader’s first point of contact with an article, so these should be as interesting and accessible as possible. Abstracts should do more than just repeat in brief what the article says they must draw readers in, by explaining what the article is about and why it is important. This and the early introductory paragraphs should try to convey a sense of the enthusiasm that the writer feels for his/her subject.

“In a nutshell” (Review and Concepts and Questions articles only)
This brief, bullet-point list is provided for the benefit of non-scientific readers – particularly decision makers and resource managers, but also educators and informed members of the public. It should consist of 35 bullet points, describing the background information and the main take-home messages of the paper in the clearest language possible. There should be no “jargon”, no scientific terminology, and no repetition from the abstract. The total length should not exceed 100 words.


Text files should all be in Word (.doc or .docx). Tables and figures must not be embedded in the text but should be placed at the end of the paper, after the References section. It is not necessary to indicate where tables and figures should be placed, provided that each of these elements is mentioned in the text (eg Figure 1, Table 1, etc)

Writing Style
The writing style for Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment is somewhat less “traditionally academic” than many other journals, since it is aimed at a wider audience. It is crucial that the language used should be as clear and accessible as possible throughout, even when tackling complex aspects of a subject. Please avoid specialty-related “jargon” or define/explain such terminology in the text.

The following guidelines apply to both the abstract and the main body of the text:

  • Briefly and clearly explain technical concepts and terms when they are first mentioned
  • Choose commonly used words rather than complex technical terms
  • Use the active instead of the passive voice, and use shorter sentences rather than longer ones
  • Write concisely, avoiding fillers (eg “The fact that” and “In order to”)
  • Break the text up into paragraphs of no more than a few hundred words, and add short, imaginative subsection headings whenever the subject changes, or simply to avoid overlong blocks of text
  • Give the scientific name (genus and species, in italics and in parentheses) of each species the first time it is mentioned, and also provide its common name, if any. The latter can then be used throughout the text. Genus names should start with a capital letter and may be abbreviated to a single letter after its first mention, if no confusion will result
  • Spell out all acronyms at first mention, putting the acronym in parentheses and using it from then on
  • Include specific details such as names, places, and numbers when appropriate and if permitted
  • Ask yourself if your piece will be interesting and clearly understandable to readers from other subspecialties. If in doubt, consider showing your article to colleagues in other departments
  • Frontiers does not use footnotes; work the information into the text or include as a separate panel. It is possible to include Web-only material to appear in the online version of Frontiers
  • If you use automatic citation software such as Reference Manager or Endnote, remove all field shading before submitting your manuscript (MS Word: Tools -> Options -> View -> Tool Shading “Never”)
  • Always add pages numbers and line numbers to the manuscript prior to submission


High-quality color graphics and high-resolution, high-quality photos are strongly encouraged for Frontiers papers. The following are notes on styles and fonts required for figures appearing in Frontiers.

  • Always use Arial or Helvetica as the font for ALL in-figure text, keys, and axis labels, etc
  • Graphics should be in color wherever possible, on a white background. Colors should represent the same thing across all figures (eg, if red represents temperature in Figure 1, the same color should be used in other figures in the paper)
  • If possible, please use color schemes that are distinguishable by those with color-blindness (eg avoid using reds and greens of the same intensity).
  • Photos must be high resolution (300 dpi at a width of 11 cm; original file size at least 1.5MB or more)
  • For multipart figures, label each part using parentheses and lowercase lettering, preferably in the top-left corner (but always in the same position in each panel) – eg: (a) (b) (c) – these should be in black or white font, to aid visibility; do not include opaque circles or squares under these panel designators
  • For all in-figure text, keys, and axis labels, capitalize the first letter of the first word only – the rest should be lowercase, unless a place name or proper name, which would normally be capitalized
  • Use American English spelling (as opposed to British English)
  • Use SI units throughout; selected exceptions and examples: hectares (ha), degrees Celsius (°C), metric tons (t), liters (L), seconds (s), minutes (min), hours (hr), years (yr)
  • Except for accepted unit abbreviations such as above, spell out all words if there is space (eg ‘Agriculture’, not ‘Agric’)
  • Use scientific notation for very large or very small values, but replace “2e-05” with “2 × 10–5
  • For values between 10 and 9999, do not separate numbers with commas or spaces
  • For values greater than 9999, separate numbers in groups of three with a small space (instead of with a comma): 10?000, 100?000
  • Follow journal style conventions for units in axis labels
    (eg replace “square kilometers per year” with “km2 yr–1”)
  • Do not use periods in acronyms or abbreviations (no periods or commas in eg or ie)
  • Individual panels within figures should not be set off by boxes or other edging
  • Don’t forget to add axis labels and units to graphs. For maps, add scale bars and compass roses. For aerial, macro, or micro photographic images, add scale bars as appropriate
  • Do not use grid lines in graphs
  • Use minus signs (–), not hyphens (-), to indicate negative numbers, including those in sub/superscripts. Use the minus sign also to separate ranges (eg 15–25 days; March–May)
  • Each photo and figure should be submitted as a separate electronic file (jpg or TIFF files preferred). The file name should consist of the lead author’s last name and the figure number (and letter where part of a multipart/multipanel figure [eg Smith Figure 2a]). If photographs are embedded within a table or figure, please also supply high-resolution versions of those photos as separate files

Figure Layout
In laying out figures, keep things clear and simple and try to maximize the space given to the data. Avoid both wasted empty space and clutter.

  • Frontiers figures are most often between 3.5 and 4.5 inches (8.9–11.4 cm) wide; please create your original images as close to these dimensions as possible to avoid distortion caused by shrinking or enlarging, and to preserve the best resolution
  • Titles or labels not absolutely necessary for understanding the figure should be removed and/or explained in the figure legend
  • Graphics should be provided on a white background; we can add colored tints to the background
  • Use of color for the graphic elements (lines, symbols, etc) is welcomed, particularly where this helps readers to understand what is being illustrated
  • Use solid symbols for plotting data if possible, unless data overlap or there are multiple symbols; make symbols large enough that they will be distinguishable when the figure is reduced
  • Do not use three-dimensional graphics unless absolutely necessary
  • Scales or axes should not extend beyond the range of the data plotted
  • Standard line weight (thickness) is 0.5 points for boxes, graphs, etc, but this can be increased to up to 2 points for line graphs
  • Keys to symbols should be kept as simple as possible and be positioned so they do not needlessly enlarge the figure; details can be included in the captions
  • Tick marks along the axes of graphs should point outwards from the axis (left of y-axis and below x-axis)

Figure Captions

  • Each figure needs an explanatory caption; all caption should be listed at the end of the paper, after the References section
  • Each caption should be under 100 words, and preferably under 50. Be clear and concise. Information in overlong captions should be integrated into the text
  • Credits for images, when these come from ANY source other than the author, should be given after a caption, in the format “Courtesy of AB Johnson” or “© Oxford Scientific Films”; authors are not credited for their own images
  • Include figure captions and image credits in a single list, at the end of the manuscript, after the References and tables


  • Tables of reasonable size and sidebars (panels) containing extra information are also welcomed; very large tables may have to be displayed as Web-only material on the electronic version of the journal
  • Do not place tables within the manuscript text; these should be placed after the References
  • Try to limit tables to 200 words and five columns; if you have more information than this, please consider, in order of preference, (1) trimming down the information, (2) dividing it into multiple tables, or (3) contacting editorial staff for guidance on Web-only material (see also below)

References Section: Examples

Article in Journal

Mathews R and Richter BD. 2007. Application of the indicators of hydrologic alteration software in environmental flow setting. Am Water Resour As 43: 1400–13.

Romme WH, Allen CD, Bailey JD, et al. 2009. Historical and modern disturbance regimes, stand structures, and landscape dynamics in pinyon–juniper vegetation of the western United States. Rangeland Ecol Manag 62: 203–22.


Ehrhart LM, Bagley DA, and Redfoot WE. 2003. Loggerhead turtles in the Atlantic Ocean: geographic distribution, abundance, and population status. In: Bolten AB and Witherington BE (Eds). Loggerhead sea turtles. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books.

Chapter in Book

Lambers H, Chapin III FS, and Pons TL (Eds). 2008. Life cycles: environmental influences and adaptations. In: Plant physiological ecology. New York, NY: Springer.

Conference Proceedings

Schaefer M. 1975. Experimental studies on the importance of interspecies competition for the lycosid spiders in a salt marsh. Proceedings of the 6th International Arachnological Congress; 19–20 Mar 1974; Amsterdam. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Nederlandse Entomologische Vereniging.

Scientific and Technical Reports and their Parts

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). 2007. Climate change 2007.: synthesis report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II, and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Geneva, Switzerland: IPCC.

Grant GE, Lewis SL, Swanson F, et al. 2008. Effects of forest practices on peakflows and consequent channel response: a state-of-science report for western Oregon and Washington. Portland, OR: US Department of Agriculture. PNW-GTR-760.

Conference Presentations (Papers) and Abstracts

Smith RD. 1992. Little brown birds are really interesting. In: Jones X (Ed). Interesting birds of North America. Proceedings of the symposium at the 112th meeting of the American Birding Society; 1992 Mar 2-4; Los Angeles, CA. Washington, DC: American Birding Society.

Dissertations, Theses, and Their Parts

Feth JA. 1947. The geology of Northern Canelo Hills (PhD dissertation). Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona.


Poole A (Ed). 2005. The birds of North America online. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Viewed 16 Sep 2009.

GVU’s 8th WWW user survey. (nd). survey 1997–10. Viewed 8 Aug 2000.

Newspaper Articles

Baker JK. 1999. Switch to dollar bodes ill for Ecuador. Washington Post. Sept 12: Sect B: 2.

Documents In Press

Fulton RS. Predator–prey relationships in an estuarine littoral copepod community. Ecology. In press.

Web-only Materials
It is possible to include supplementary materials in the online version of your article. This should not be seen as a way to bypass Frontiers’ space limitations, but as a way to supplement your manuscript with a limited amount of extra information, including figure or tables that will be of less relevance to the general readership but that interested readers would find useful, or that is too large to fit on the printed page.

If you think you have materials that fits these criteria, include them as part of your manuscript, after the References, with a heading indicating “Web-only material”. Please note, however, that if these materials add up to more than four journal pages, an extra charge will be added to the pages for the article.

Very large tables (eg datasets) can be converted to pdf format and posted as web-only material at no extra charge. Such materials will not be edited and will not be converted to the journal style, so accuracy and presentation are entirely the responsibility of the author(s).

If used, Web-only materials are cited in the text  as WebFigure 1; WebTable 1; or WebPanel 1, etc.

Editorial Queries
Editorial office staff are happy to respond to questions and to work with authors, to help them with the style and tone of their article, and to answer any questions. Please feel free to contact us  to discuss your article.

Editor-in-Chief: Sue Silver
Executive Editor: Peter Mooreside
Assistant Editor: Heidi Swanson