Meet the Editor: Andy Hector

We’re delighted to announce that Professor Andrew Hector has recently been appointed as a new Senior Editor for Journal of Ecology. Andy has been an Associate Editor with the journal since 2015 and we’re thrilled to welcome him to his new role. Andy is a community ecologist interested in biodiversity loss and its consequences for the stability and functioning of ecosystems and the provision of ecological services. He currently works mainly in grassland and forest ecosystems. 

Andy Hector with colleagues celebrating a successful end to a tropical ecology field course at the University Dar Es Salam, Tanzania, May 2022 (Left to right: Chacha Warema, Andy Hector, Jestina Katandukila, Owen Lewis)

Tell us a bit about your research

I was lucky enough to be starting my research career when the question of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning came to prominence. That has been the central thread in my research for my career since, and I expect for the remainder of it too!

What can you tell us about the first paper you published?

Nothing of much interest, as a minor author I contributed one section and some general comments as I recall. Instead, let me recommend a few of my personal favourite papers which include a history-of-science sideline – Hector and Hooper 2002 – and two of my favourite (and I think best) experiments: Hautier et al. 2009 and O’Brien et al. 2014. In Hautier et al. 2009 we showed loss of diversity following fertilization was due to increased competition for light (by adding the light back to the grassland understory and preventing species loss). In O’Brien et al., by growing dipterocarp seedlings under different light conditions in different orders we were able to manipulate a functional trait of interest (non-structural carbohydrate levels) while keeping all other traits the same (something I am not aware of anyone else doing – although that could be my increasing inability to keep up with the exploding literature!). We could then experimentally demonstrate drought mortality in these tropical forest tree seedlings was due to hydraulic failure (not carbon starvation) and that higher levels of non-structural carbohydrates give resilience to the effects of drought both within and across species. These were the types of neat experiments I hoped to do as a young scientist. Even better, they were PhD projects led by two of my favourite long-term collaborators, Yann Hautier and Mikey O’Brien, both a pleasure to work with.

What’s your favourite species and why?

That’s an impossible question to answer if you love nature. As a scientist it is impossible not to get sucked into the detail in your work roll, so I try in my life to keep an appreciation of the whole natural world and not fixate on one aspect. I do get to pick species to go on the cover of my stats book which is fun!

Please share a [funny] story about a paper you had rejected

Rejection – funny?! We had one paper we tried to get into a journal with a very high IF, got rejected, ‘settled’ for a more obvious and natural venue – which then rejected us too! One co-author got (jokingly) outraged and we decided to go back up the IF scale – successfully. Now as an editor I understand why rejection decisions are sometimes a bit subjective and that it is probably an inevitable part of the (largely voluntary) system we have which we have to (mostly) learn to live with until we invent a better system.

If you had one superpower, what would it be and why?

To bring back recently extinct species lost before their time due to human activities.

What’s your signature dish?

My top vegan (lower carbon) tip for something that should be better known is tempeh, an ancient fermented soya-based food from Indonesia which blows modern processed food meat substitutes away (tempeh doesn’t seem to be seen as a meat alternative in SE Asia, as it is often an ingredient in combination with meat). I have various alternatives to traditional dishes including (sticking with the tempeh theme) Tempeh Cawl (Welsh vegetable soup with tempeh instead of the lamb) and TLT (Tempeh-Lettuce-Tomato) bagels.

If you could recommend one place for people to travel to on holiday, where would it be and why?

Well, my favourite places are too busy so I am not sure I want to make things worse! My two favourite places are Danum Valley Field Centre in Sabah (for research) and the Serra Tramuntana on Mallorca (for holidays – although we did write a paper on carob seed size based on data we collected there). Otherwise, anywhere by the sea – I love running barefoot on the beach.

If any fictional character could join your lab, who would it be and why?

Genly Ai from The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin, for two reasons. First, to hear about life on another planet. Second to give this book a plug, it should be much better known than it is – it is one of my favourites and I am slightly obsessed with it!

What are you most looking forward to about being an editor on Journal of Ecology?

I am mainly worried about the extra workload on top of the day job, and having to reject papers that are basically fine but don’t make the subjective cut to be considered for publication (we need to get rid of this inefficient and unpleasant feature of publishing to avoid wasted editor and reviewer time – perhaps by more referral of papers to other suitable outlets). But I am looking forward to being able to accept some great research and make some authors happy (especially early career authors).

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