Statement of the IAVS Latin American and African sections on the possible adoption of article processing charges of IAVS journals

Prepared by Glenda Mendieta-Leiva, Miguel Alvarez, Susan Aragon, Jaime Bernal-Hadad, Marius Bottin, Adalgisa Chaib, Dylan Craven, Gabriella Damanesco, Lucas Enrico, Federico Gallego, Melisa A. Giorgis, Reginald T. Guuroh, Lucrecia Lipoma, Luis López-Mársico, Cloe X. Perez-Valladares, Juliana Texeira & Florencia Yannelli

Geographical definition of Global South (red countries) and Global North (blue countries). Source: Wikipedia.

This Commentary is a part of the series asking the question: should Applied Vegetation Science, the journal owned by IAVS and published by Wiley, become Gold Open Access? For the context and link to other Commentaries, please visit Editorial.

One of the principal barriers for research in the Global South is the limited investment in science (Stocks et al. 2008). Consequently, research from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Middle East, Asia, Pacific islands and Eastern Europe/Russia is underrepresented in international scientific journals. Even in the conservation and biodiversity literature, megadiverse regions from the Global South are poorly represented (Hazlett et al. 2020, see Fig. 1). These limitations preclude researchers from accessing cutting-edge developments, due to the increasing costs of journal subscriptions and article processing charges (APC), potentially impacting the quality and impact of research produced in the region.

Figure 1: Coauthorship map showing patterns of interconnections between conservation papers, modified from Hazlett et al. (2020) with authorization from the authors.

Recently, Wiley proposed to switch Applied Vegetation Science (AVS) to Golden Open Access Policy by 2021 and to do the same with the Journal of Vegetation Science (JVS) in the near future.  This motivated us, the IAVS Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and the future African sections, to share with the global IAVS community our concerns about the possible impacts of Wiley’s proposal. While this model will enhance the accessibility of publications to readers, it may negatively impact our ability to publish in IAVS journals in the future. Despite the clear advantage of Open Access models for the availability of science results in low-income countries, we are concerned about how this transition would likely accentuate existing inequalities in authorship between low- and high-income countries (Nuñez et al. 2020).

According to Kristensen and Cunningham (2006), minimum wages for Latin America and the Caribbean range between $US 45 and $US 546, which pales in comparison to the APC proposed by Wiley ($US 2500; 5-50 times the minimum wage). Researchers with permanent positions in universities are often paid more than the minimum wage, but many early career researchers are not. Furthermore, many research projects are expected to produce international publications in peer-reviewed journals, but the corresponding costs may not be included in their budgets. Consequently, researchers may be confronted with the decision of paying a PhD student or a research assistant for one year, or paying the APC for one article.

Science is not a priority in many countries of LAC and Africa (UNESCO 2019), which invest relatively little in research and development (Fig. 2), and are in the process of developing academic and scientific infrastructures that contribute substantially to the specific social, health, and economic challenges of the region. While North America and Western Europe invested 2.4% of its GDP on research and experimental development in 2016, Latin America and the Caribbean invested only 0.7% of its GDP and Africa only 0.4% of its GDP during the same period (UNESCO 2019). This problem is reflected in the management of institutional budgets and funding agencies, and the adoption and development of national STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs. Many universities and national/federal funding agencies do not include publishing costs in their budgets. Therefore, adopting APCs will strongly impact the capacity to publish at any career stage, but young researchers will be especially affected. Although over 35% of the countries in the LAC and African regions may qualify for a 50% discount, the suggested APCs would still be prohibitively expensive in all countries. Researchers would therefore be relegated to submitting much of their research to local scientific journals in local languages (Ramírez-Castañeda 2020) with less international visibility, thus reducing their competitiveness for jobs and research funds and precluding the sharing of their discoveries with a broader audience. This shift in the publication landscape will have further repercussions on science more generally, affecting the inclusion of studies from biodiverse, but data-poor regions in global syntheses of key ecological patterns (e.g. Meyer et al. 2016).

Figure 2. The investment in research and development for 15 countries from Latin America and the Caribbean in relation to each country’s Gross Domestic Product. For comparison, average values for Europe and USA/Canada are 1.80, and 2.65, respectively. Source: UNESCO (2019).

We would like to support the planning of a more reasonable strategy for the publication model of IAVS journals that will minimise the negative effects of high APCs on researchers in LAC and Africa, as well as in other regions with similar situations across the globe. Although we understand that IAVS’ income to support its activities heavily depends on publisher profits, we suggest lowering the proposed APCs drastically as well as implementing fee waivers for early career researchers from the Global South. We also highlight the importance of considering other ways to support IAVS activities. Therefore, we encourage the IAVS community to participate actively in the debates concerning our dependence on large publishers such as Wiley, to keep track of the advantages and disadvantages of the current publishing model, and, if needed, to propose innovative solutions for funding scientific associations such as IAVS.

We believe that it is of critical importance to remind publishing companies that researchers from all over the world are a crucial part of their economic model. We provide free labor as editors or reviewers for many journals. Imposing unaffordable APCs to publish in journals such as JVS or AVS would enhance current inequities in science and would force many researchers in the region to consider other outlets for our research. We want to support the IAVS in the discussion with the publishers, by bringing awareness to the issue and by suggesting alternatives that benefit authors, the association, and science more generally.


The IAVS regional section “Latin America and the Caribbean” was created in 2020 to promote local, regional and international collaborations between vegetation researchers who are interested in Latin America and the Caribbean. Proposed “African regional section” is planned to be established in near future to offer IAVS platform for collaboration among researchers from African countries.