Author Experience: “innovative and intriguing”

Chunxiao Li, postdoctoral researcher in vertebrate paleontology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China, shares her experience of publishing a Reviewed Preprint with eLife.

We asked Chunxiao Li, postdoctoral researcher in vertebrate paleontology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China, to share her experience of publishing a Reviewed Preprint with eLife. Thank you Chunxiao for your responses!

Can you tell us briefly about your paper?

The elephant, the largest terrestrial mammal, is renowned for its distinctive feature: the flexible and sensitive trunk. The trunk, comprising at least 40,000 muscles and a highly developed nervous system, is among the most sensitive organs in vertebrates. During the Oligocene and Miocene epochs, various proboscideans exhibited elongated mandibles and had lower tusks, showcasing a high degree of morphological diversity in these structures. However, how developed were the trunks of the ancestral groups of elephants? How do elephant ancestors utilize their diverse mandible and lower tusk for feeding?

Our research used enamel stable isotope and finite element analysis, to reveal the feeding behavior of elephant ancestors and the evolutionary process of their trunk and mandible. In elephant ancestors, the elongated mandible and lower tusk were the primary feeding organs, while the trunk served only as an auxiliary tool. As the paleo-environment gradually became more open and drier during the late Miocene, the trunk evolved towards greater flexibility and stronger grasping capabilities. This evolutionary process led to elephants' feeding function entirely shifting to the elongated trunk, ultimately resulting in the shortening of their original feeding organs – the mandible and lower tusk.

The adaptability of feeding behavior in open environments served as the catalyst for the evolution of the trunk's grasping function. This study provides crucial evidence for understanding the evolution of elephants’ trunk and mandible. It offers new insights into how proboscideans adapted to their environment and how environmental changes shaped the evolution of unique organs.

Why did you choose to submit your paper to the new model at eLife?

eLife is a renowned interdisciplinary journal in biology, highly esteemed by researchers worldwide. Our research integrates various cutting-edge methodologies and has been the result of diligent efforts. Therefore, we aim to publish our work on eLife to make them accessible to a broader audience interested in paleontology.

To be honest, we only realized eLife had adopted a new publishing model when preparing our submission. This new model is quite innovative and intriguing. Articles are rapidly published as preprints on the website, with each one displaying the main text and figures directly. Additionally, a "Peer review" page follows, showcasing reviewer comments and authors' responses. This new model enhances transparency and expedites the publication process.

How did you find the new process of publishing?

This is my first encounter with this new publishing process, and initially, I felt quite confused. Especially as a non-native English speaker, I spent a lot of time researching the submission process on the website to avoid any mistakes. Fortunately, there is an excellent editorial team at eLife who provided detailed instructions via email at each stage, making the whole process smooth.

In this new process of publishing, authors have significant autonomy over their papers. The entire publication and review process are more transparent. Once the article passes the editorial review, it can be published on eLife in the future.

While the time for my paper to be available online and citable has been shortened, the time for the formal version to be released is still somewhat slow (which is probably due to delays with the reviewers).

What were your thoughts about the reviews and eLife assessment?

I think these assessments are quite good, and the transparency of the reviews is high. When reading an article, readers can not only see the authors' perspectives but also the reviewers' viewpoints, providing readers with more inspiration and reflection.

How did you find the speed and efficiency of the process?

I submitted my article in July 2023, but it has not been published as a Version of Record yet and the entire process has taken 10 months. Although the time for the article to be available online and citable has been shortened, the release of the Version of Record is still relatively slow. (Of course, this is probably because my paper also faced delays with the reviewers.)

Do you have any advice for people who are unsure about eLife’s new model?

I suggest first understanding the working principles and advantages of this new model. This can be achieved by reading relevant information on the eLife website or by discussing with peers who have already published articles in eLife, thus gaining a deeper understanding of the journal's publication process and review standards. For researchers interested in publishing their work in eLife, this new model is worth a try.

Editor's note: If you’d like to learn more about how our new model works you can read about Reviewed Preprints, eLife assessments, or what to expect when you submit with us.

Chunxiao Li bio:

Chunxiao Li received her Ph.D. degree from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2022. Currently, she is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China.

Her research primarily focuses on fossil proboscideans across the world and their relevant paleoenvironments.