An interview with José M. Riascos, our new Marine Ecology Section Editor

José M. Riascos is a professor of Marine Ecology at Universidad de Antioquia, Colombia and an associate researcher at the Corporation Center of Excellence in Marine Sciences ( His research interests include the dynamics of coastal ecosystems and their responses to the effects of human impacts and extreme weather conditions. Prof Riascos recently joined our Section Editorial board. In this blog post, we talk about his enthusiasm for open science, the sea and his motivations coming to this new role.

PLOS: You have recently become our new Section Editor for Marine Ecology. Why did you decide to join our Editorial Board and what motivates you about your new role?

JMR: I love books -I used to go to the library sometimes just to smell them- and so I discovered journals and started to understand how they work. I was amazed at the central role that peer-review has played for the development of science -editors and reviewers act as gatekeepers of science. Being involved in peer-reviewing is both an honour and a responsibility, so when I was invited to become a section editor for marine ecology I had no doubts, it is an opportunity to promote the advance of ecology as a scientific discipline. The centuries long tradition of peer-review as a self-regulation mechanism talks about its pivotal role, but it is far from perfect. There are acknowledged biases and in a period of unprecedent anthropogenic global changes we need truly global editorial boards: the participation of scientists from lower-middle income countries (LMIC) has been conventionally scant, although they are in the frontline of major ecological challenges.  

PLOS: Being a marine ecologist from Colombia, what are, in your opinion, the unique challenges that scientists from LMIC face?

JMR: Many Colombian students starting their studies in ecology have the feeling that ecology and environmentalism are intertwined things. There is a famous piece, entitled the Ecological Science and the Human Predicament (, authored by renowned ecologists, which basically called young ecologists to devote part of their professional lives to stemming the tide of environmental degradation and the associated losses of biodiversity and its ecological services, and to teaching the public about the importance of those losses. I think that this kind of approach is wrong and biased by beliefs of what is good or bad and I feel that ecologists from LMIC are more permeated by those ideas because biological diversity is higher there. We are increasingly seeing studies that seem only devoted to galvanizing a narrative of the destruction of nature, which when reconsidered by other scientists, often render contradictory results. These biases, soon or later, erode the credibility of ecological science –contradictions often benefit deniers. As ecologists, our primary mission is to establish and maintain a strong, value-free evidence base that is truthful for decision making and policy.

PLOS: What role can Open Science and PLOS ONE in particular play to help overcome these challenges?

JMR: We live in a world where commercialism is encroaching every human activity -including the development of science. Scientific publishing is now recognized as one of the most lucrative industries, which is not necessarily good news for science or the society. I like how PLOS arose as a response to pay-walled publishing to offer an alternative model for research communication underpinned by Open Science principles that research should be available and accessible to everyone without fees or other barriers (although the APC-model has its own challenges). That PLOS is a non-profit means these funds are reinvested in the journals themselves and initiatives that benefit the research community.

PLOS: What are, in your opinion, the most pressing issues in marine ecology that people should be aware about? But also, what are the most overlooked successes that give experts like you hope?

JMR: The rate and magnitude of changes are so fast and big that sometimes I feel that marine ecology is not progressing fast enough to face the more pressing challenges. Marine ecology, particularly in LMIC, is still dependent on conceptual subsidies from classical terrestrial ecology and is often too committed to scientific traditions.  For example, jellyfish (a highly diverse taxonomic group) are claimed to be proliferating as a response to human transformation of coastal habitats. To describe the life cycle, a basic knowledge to understand population dynamics of these pelagic animals, we still rely on old fashioned husbandry experiments of a few representative species. That sounds as if we would claim that we can understand how vertebrates would react to climate change by studying the life cycle of a few species confined in a zoo. For me, one of the more pressing issues in Marine Ecology is the need to integrate new observational technologies that collectively will permit an overview (i.e. the so-called “macroscope”) of the global problem of anthropogenic transformation of biodiversity. With scientists from LMIC having restricted access to most of those technologies, open science and open data is critical.  

PLOS: What advice would you give to a young scientist that would like to become a marine ecologist?

JMR: There is a proliferation of big data sets that is influencing the advance of many areas of biological research (satellite images, global observation networks, bio-loggers, environmental DNA, etc). I would recommend ecologists to train themselves and embrace this new focus on big data sets to address classic questions in ecology, particularly the problem of scale and pattern in ecology. Much in the same way microscopy changed the way we understand the world during the XVII century, a macroscopic view of life on Earth is going to change the way ecologists understand the world.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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An interview with Anthony Fiorillo, our new Paleontology Section Editor

Anthony Fiorillo is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Earth and Man at Southern Methodist University (Dallas, USA). His research interests are in vertebrate taphonomy and particularly its role in understanding dinosaur paleoecology, the evolution of Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems, and the distribution of Mesozoic vertebrates in western North America. Dr Fiorillo recently joined our Section Editorial board. PLOS ONE Section Editors are advisors to the journal staff, working on special issues including policy development and reporting guidelines. In this blog post, we talk with Dr Fiorillo about his enthusiasm for paleontology and his motivations coming to this new role.

Dr Anthony Fiorillo

Why did you want to become a palaeontologist? What do you like the most about your job?

My parents credit my grandmother for my career path because as a very young child she would take me to the local natural history museum. So, while almost all small children are introduced to dinosaurs, I tend to think the question for me is, why didn’t I outgrow the fascination? And to that question, I don’t have an answer because the work remains fun and rewarding even now as a senior scientist. Paleontology remains a field-based science, so as a paleontologist I think I should be dirty. The ability of get outside and explore is of primary importance to me, especially if it is an opportunity to get somewhere new. But the exploration is not complete until the study has been published, so there is tremendous satisfaction that comes from publishing peer-reviewed papers. Each paper is a statement of success in problem solving, representing if you will, a milestone in moving a project forward.

Everyone is a fan of dinosaurs, but what other exciting palaeontology topics do you think should be more popular?

Dinosaurs are a gateway for most children to be introduced to science.  Many kids are given a bag of plastic dinosaurs early on, and at some point, they begin to wonder where are these animals now? That question begins the process of understanding the evolution and extinction of life on Earth.  As such, dinosaurs can be a powerful tool, but they are not the only significant component of paleontology. New technologies are finding new ways to address the record of life in new and exciting ways. For example, who would have imagined even a few years ago that whole groups of colleagues would be discussing color variation in long-dead animals?  Rather than begin a process of listing other innovative aspects of paleontology, my own perspective is that one of the most compelling contributions the science makes is when our work crosses discipline boundaries and thus is relevant to others. For example, paleontology provides important perspectives on biodiversity through time, as well as the interplay between biota and climate. These are pressing issues in understanding how our modern world is changing, and paleontology provides vital insights.

You have recently become our new Section Editor for Palaeontology. Why did you decide to join our Editorial Board and what motivates you about your new role?

I greatly appreciated being approached to become Section Editor for Paleontology because I have come to see the tremendous importance of open-access journals like PLOS ONE. As Section Editor for Paleontology, I hope to contribute to the ongoing evolution of one of the most important journals in my discipline, PLOS ONE. As my engagement has increased, I have come to appreciate that the management and editorial team is a community of dedicated individuals that want to help improve not only the scientific process, but science literacy in general. Their commitment makes me extremely excited about joining the team.

What are, in your opinion, the most important challenges for the palaeontology community?

Considering increased funding pressures, I think perhaps the most important challenge ahead for paleontology is to improve the case for the relevance of the study of life through time to the global audience beyond the biggest, the smallest, the oldest, the youngest whatever. Many times, the lay public can get caught up in the commercialism of the field such as the major movies or toys that become available. And while all of this can be fun, there is the risk of losing sight of the real science behind the stories being told. We are competing at times with the entertainment industry, which has a quite different set of goals than science, so we need to work harder at making it clear to the public why our science matters. An open access format, which is one platform for the public, provides a mechanism for the public to understand how we tell the stories we tell.

How important is Open Science for the palaeontology community? What role can PLOS ONE play to contribute to palaeontology research?

As a gateway for building the bridge of trust for the public to understand the scientific process and what science can do for them, paleontology can play a leading role in demonstrating the value of Open Science. PLOS ONE is one of the global leaders for open access publishing and they should continue the work hard at making the professional community understand the journal, as well as perhaps other Open Science options. There are likely many case studies demonstrating the societal value of Open Science, but the one that I hold as perhaps most significant personally stems from my own research program. Our field sites are in very rural parts of Alaska, and open access publishing allows me a way to get the science back into the communities that often support the logistics of my program.


If you are interested in Paleontology research, please check our Paleoecology and Paleobiology of Extinct Species curated collection. This collection showcases recent PLOS ONE publications that aim to reconstruct extinct species’ interactions with both the abiotic and biotic environment, including unraveling past faunal communities from fossil assemblages and fossil trackways to analyzing interactions between species from tooth wear patterns and paleopathology.


Featured image: ‘Dinosaurs of Denali’ by Karen Carr.

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