Once again, Biology Letters has had a good year, with a projected 4 per cent increase in submissions over 2010. The impact factor has risen to 3.651 meaning that Biology Letters now ranks 14 out of 85 among general biology journals. The continued increase in submissions means that we are rejecting an even higher proportion of papers than last year (around 78%), which should enhance the reputation of Biology Letters. The average time from receipt to final decision for 2011 is projected to be about 27 days, a highly competitive number.
Once again, I thank our Board Members and referees, who continue to do an excellent job. We will be announcing our top referees of 2011 on the website early in 2012. In addition, we now have two Handling Editors, Joan Herbers and Paul Sniegowski. They have taken on a large part of the burden that I formerly carried, and I am extremely grateful to them for their outstanding work. The efficiency of the editorial office of course plays a crucial role in the success of the journal. Charlotte Wray has now been Publishing Editor for over a year, and has maintained the high standard set by her predecessor. Regrettably, her able assistant Claire Birch has just left us for a post at the Natural History Museum; I am sure you will join me in wishing her every success there. We will shortly announce a replacement for Claire.
This year, we published a Special Feature Cognition in the wild, edited by Richard Byrne and Lucy Bates, and in the February issue we will be publishing a Special Feature titled Models in palaeontology, edited by Paul Barrett and Andrew Smith FRS. We continue to receive a high volume of Meeting Reports, with at least two published per issue, and we are now having to refuse a significant fraction, usually at the stage of presubmission enquiries.
Here is the customary brief commentary on some of the 2011 papers that I found especially stimulating—this is necessarily a rather arbitrary, small selection from a large field of contenders. Perhaps the most unusual event of the year for us was the publication of a paper by a group of primary schoolchildren from Blackawton in Devon, on foraging decisions of bumble-bees, under the guidance of Beau Lotto at University College London . This is probably the first of its kind for a mainstream research journal, and attracted a lot of attention in the media. I am delighted that this venture received the strong support of the handling board member (Chris Frith) and the referees. On a more conventional note, one of my long-standing interests has been the evolution of life histories and ageing; an extraordinary example of extreme longevity in a small (15–20 g) animal is described by Voituron et al. ; this is the ‘human fish’, the European cave salamander Proteus anguinus. A long-term demographic study of a French population shows that it does not reproduce until about 15 years of age, has a very low fecundity, and a mean adult lifespan of 68.5 years (perhaps one should say: demain, l'Internationale sera le poisson humain). Another remarkable observation is the production of seemingly parthenogenetic offspring by a female captive boa constrictor ; genetic data showed that all 22 female offspring were homozygous at four microsatellite loci for which the mother was heterozygous, suggesting some form of automixis without the involvement of fertilization, instead of normal meiosis. The puzzle here is that sex determination in this species involves ZW female heterogamety—was the mother simply W0? There are no cytological differences between the sex chromosomes, so that this is hard to determine. Another puzzle of sex determination is how evolutionary transitions can occur between temperature sex determination and genetic sex determination, or between male and female heterogamety. Quinn et al.  have proposed a model based on a continuously varying sex-determining factor, which must exceed or fall below a threshold value for males versus females to be produced. If there are evolutionary changes in the threshold value, several different forms of sex determination are possible. This represents a significant conceptual advance that should lead to empirical tests. Turning to the plant kingdom for my last example, Singh et al.  examined the mechanism used by aquatic bladderworts to capture their swimming prey (insects or nematodes). This involves use of their bladders as a trap; they maintain lower pressure in the bladder relative to ambient pressure by a pump mechanism. When external sensory hairs are stimulated by moving prey, the trapdoor of the bladder opens within an amazingly short time (300–700 µs), sucking both water and prey into the bladder. Darwin would have been delighted by this, given his interest in plant movements.
- This journal is © 2011 The Royal Society