Science Magazine has rejected my Brevia submission. Oh well, at least I’m in good company with 10,000 other rejected manuscripts. The cycle for this manuscript is therefore going to be a bit different. Normally I have to cut material from manuscripts as they progress through the process, be it trimming material before it goes to co-authors, trimming following internal review, or trimming following reviewer’s comments. This time I need to build the thing up, since Brevia are so short.
As usual, I’m at a loss to understand why they didn’t want it. It might be because they published a Brevia on a closely related topic the year before. I’d be surprised if they really thought it didn’t have broad impact or appeal.
Anyway, time to expand it for another journal. Here’s the cover letter I wrote, in which I tried incorporate advice on writing cover letters to Science. I welcome any comments.
In their 2008 ScienceBrevia, Cristol et al. (1), concluded that “it is imperative to determine whether the [contaminant] was transported directly to the terrestrial food web by emergent aquatic insects or had been deposited on the floodplain during historical floods”; which is to say: “How do terrestrial invertebrates become contaminated with aquatic pollutants?”We answer this question by documenting the transfer of contaminants (PCBs) derived from aquatic sediments to terrestrial invertebrate predators and explicitly demonstrating its mechanism, the consumption of emergent aquatic insects.
Our study is novel because, although the transfer of nutrients and energy from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems (ecological subsidy) has been thoroughly examined in recent years, the transfer of contaminants by similar means lags shockingly behind. In fact, there is but one study providing evidence that consumption of aquatic insects transfers contaminants to invertebrate predators (2). Our study answers the general question posed by Cristol et al., for another contaminant, without duplicating the food web pathways they examined. That is, they looked at contaminant transfer from terrestrial invertebrate predators (spiders) to birds and we looked at contaminant transfer from aquatic sediments to terrestrial invertebrate predators (spiders and insects). Hence we are bridging the gap exposed by their concluding question.
Our study is a significant advance from previous work because we consider multiple lines of evidence, rather than solely reporting stable isotope data of predators. Starting with stable isotopes, we examined predators in a spatial context, a behavioral context, and most importantly directly examined prey items. This allowed use to not only report the occurrence of sediment-derived contaminant transfer to terrestrial food webs, but for the first time measure the spatial extent of contaminant penetration into the riparian zone, and empirically estimate its magnitude, which is enormous.
Our study reports results of high biological relevance concerning contaminants of serious concern to human health, and thus is high-impact. Moreover, our study has broad implications for contaminant transfer between ecosystems. Indeed, we believe this study is important enough that it needs to be published in a global venue. Because we demonstrate, for the first time, that aquatic insect emergence can transfer massive amounts of contaminants to terrestrial invertebrate predators, we further believe the subject will be easily understood by, and have broad appeal to, Science readers. Moreover, this complete study happens to fit neatly into the Brevia format.
Please accept this manuscript as a Brevia submission to Science. I look forward to the chance to work with your reviewers and editors. Thank you for your attention.