In theoretical physics, I was used to the fact that, at the point of submitting a manuscript to a journal, most authors would make this manuscript available to the community by uploading it on a public preprint server (in physics, this server is practically always the arXiv). These preprints also act as a database that grants “Open access to 574,264 e-prints in Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Quantitative Biology, Quantitative Finance and Statistics” (arXiv count from today). Together with the option that authors update their manuscript, it is practically certain that new scientific results are made available to all researchers in the field, independently of whether their institutions are able to pay the fees for accessing journals.
The ecology community, with its often lengthy review process, could particularly benefit from such a system. Except for a little extra work, there are only advantages. Preprints are no threat to the peer-review system and to publishing in commercial journals. Rather, they are an addition that ensures a rapid dissemination of new results, they encourage additional comments from colleagues prior to publication, and they attract more attention to the work of the authors.
So why are preprints not used more frequently? I’m not sure why, actually. I notice that many people think that preprints violate copyright agreements. This, however, is not true. Most journals, also in ecology, allow the public posting of preprints prior to submission (see the SHERPA database). Also, the infrastructure for is available and free, in form of various free preprint archives. The arXiv, as the largest archive for quantitative methods, has already sections on quantitative biology and statistics, but these are unfortunately not frequently used by ecologists.