How I use altmetrics data in my proposals

Recently I was asked to describe how I was using altmetrics data in my proposals (this request came from a tweet I wrote in march). So after answering this request I though it could be useful to share my experience, in the case it helps to other researchers that would like to use altmetrics to highlight the impact of their work (see also this related and very interesting article just published in PLOS Biology).

As part of an application I made earlier on this year (which by the way was succesfull!) I had to describe five relevant publications. Together with the description of the articles themselves, I included several measures of the impact of these publications, including altmetrics. Here are two examples of how I did it (note that the numbers correspond to the moment I prepared this application, in February 2014):

1. Maestre, F. T. et al. 2012. Plant species richness and ecosystem multifunctionality in global drylands. Science 335: 214-218.

This study presents the first set of analyses of a global network of dryland sites (224 from all continents except Antarctica), which has been led by Dr. Maestre as part of his European Research Council-funded Starting Grant BIOCOM ( While many experiments have suggested that biodiversity enhances the ability of ecosystems to maintain multiple functions, such as carbon storage, productivity, and build-up of nutrient pools (multifunctionality), this study was the first in evaluating the relationship between biodiversity and multifunctionality in natural ecosystems at a global scale. Its main finding was that multifunctionality was positively and significantly related to species richness; the best-fitting models used accounted for over 55% of the variation in multifunctionality, and always included species richness as a predictor variable. The results of this work suggest that the preservation of plant biodiversity is crucial to buffer negative effects of climate change and desertification in drylands, which collectively cover 41% of Earth’s land surface and support over 38% of the human population. Some indicators of the relevance of this article and its impact among the scientific community are the number of citations it has received so far (55 and 90 according to ISI´s Web of Science and Google Scholar, respectively), which have made it be named as a “Highly cited” article by ISI, and the three evaluations received from Faculty of 1000 (F1000) members, which have rated it as a “Must read”/ “Recommended”  article ( This study has also been widely discussed in the social media, as indicated by an Altmetric score of 50, which makes it scoring higher than 98% of its contemporaries and includes it into the top 5% of all the articles tracked by Altmetric (more than 1,660,000; see for details). In addition, this work has been featured by newspapers, magazines, web pages and blogs from around the world (see for a selection of news).

2. Delgado-Baquerizo, M., F. T. Maestre, et al. 2013. Decoupling of soil nutrient cycles as a function of aridity in global drylands. Nature 502: 672-676.

Using the network of sites deployed in the framework of the BIOCOM project, this study reports a negative effect of aridity on the concentration of organic C and total N, but a positive effect on that of inorganic P, in dryland soils worldwide. Aridity was negatively related to plant cover, which may favor the dominance of physical (i.e. wind-blown sands that abrade exposed rock surfaces) over biological (i.e. litter decomposition) processes. The results of this study indicate that the predicted increase in aridity with climate change by the end of this century will uncouple the C, N and P cycles in dryland soils, thus negatively affecting the provision of key ecosystem services by drylands, such as the buildup of soil fertility and carbon fixation. This article has attracted lots of attention from scientists since its publication, as it was the object of a “News & Views” in Nature (Wardle, 2013, Nature 502: 628-629), and has been viewed more than 6300 times since its publication two months ago (see for details). This article has also been widely discussed in the social media, as indicated by an Altmetric score of 151, which makes it scoring higher than 99% of its contemporaries and includes it into the top 5% of all the articles tracked by Altmetric (more than 1,730,000; see for details). This study has also received substantial attention by newspapers, magazines, web pages and blogs from around the world (see for a selection of news).

I think that altmetrics are a nice complement to traditional measures of the impact of publications and other research outputs, and I would certainly advice you to start using them in your proposals. If you have suggestions about how to do this more effectively please comment below!


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