Open Access Journals and Free Access Peer-Reviewed Papers

One of the great difficulties of completing graduate school was losing free access to an enormous range of peer-reviewed scientific journals and articles.  Of course, access was not actually “free” considering that I was paying tuition, but it felt as though it was free.  I accessed JSTOR, Web Of Science (via Endnote), and many resources daily during graduate school.  Any time I had a question that I wanted to know more about I could delve into a vast repository of information.  Losing access to that was like losing one of my senses and detrimental to following my interests post-graduate school.

The United States has a particular problem when it comes to science communication and access to scientific articles.  Much of the research done in the US is, at least in part, publicly funded, particularly in my field of conservation and ecology.  Despite taxpayer money going to pay for the research, the results of this research are often hidden behind pay-walls where it is not at all uncommon for access to s single article to be $35.  Many of the scientific journals charge at both ends, researchers are required to pay the journal for the privileged of submitting their work to the journal which then sells that that work to others, pulling in money from both the producers of knowledge and the consumers of knowledge.

News reports often focus on the lack of scientific literacy  in the US and assume that this is due to a lack of interest and motivation to learn.  In my experience this is not the case.  Nearly everyone I meet is very interested in various branches of science and online science forums are heavily visited (the Reddit r/science page for example), but most people have no idea where to go to get accurate scientific information, and even if they do the articles are often not accessible.

Some countries, such as the UK, have begun changing information access policies, making all tax-payer funded research open access to the tax payers.  This is, in my opinion, long overdue and vital if we wish for the upcoming generations of citizens to be scientifically literate.

Giving a presentation in the Peruvian Amazon on the influence of continental  glaciers on tropical ecosystems

Giving a presentation in the Peruvian Amazon on the influence of continental glaciers on tropical ecosystems

Unfortunately, in the US we are not yet so forward thinking.

Despite this there is a large number of open access, peer reviewed journals available, some quite good.  Recently I decided to begin compiling a list of some of these on topics I find interesting.  Clearly the main subjects are ecology, conservation, and the like.  These journals are from all around the world.  Most of the ones on this list are in English, or are bilingual.  Over time I will be expanding this list, and clearly this is only, and will always be, a partial list of the vast array of free resources available online.

One source, listed first and separately, is the Directory of Open Access Journals, a large repository of links to both journals and articles with a very good search option that allows one to search numerous journals for articles on specific topics and in specific languages.

For any of you on the author side of the science publication game, many of these journals do have author fees, but they are not nearly as high as the non-open access journals.

One further note of caution, especially for authors.  Apparently there is little regulation in the setting up of a journal and some unscrupulous types have gotten into the game.  Jeffery Beall has a list of what he calls “predatory journals” on his site.  I have not checked these publications myself, so I cannot speak to the veracity of the claim.  What constitutes a “predatory” journal is a good question and a case can be made for many of the more well known and established non-open access journals to be considered predatory, but for the purposes of Jeffery Beall’s list the criteria he used is explained on this page: Criteria for Determining Predatory Open-Access Publishers (2nd edition).


Directory of Open Access Journals
Approximately 10,000 open access journals with search function for both journals and articles


This is a general purpose science writing site aimed at getting scientists to write lay-person friendly summaries of their research



Acta Geographica Debrecina. Landscape and Environment Series

African Primates

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation

Annali di Botanica


Asian Journal of Conservation Biology

Avian Conservation and Ecology

Biodiversity Journal

European Geosciences Union

Conservation Evidence

Current Zoology

Ecological Processes

Ecology and Evolution

Part of the ESA Journals system

(Spanish language)

Environmental Systems Research


Frontiers of Biogeography

Herpetological Conservation and Biology

Ideas in Ecology and Evolution

International Journal of Ecology
part of the Hindawi Publishing Corporation out of Egypt

International Society for Tropical Ecology

Journal of Biodiversity and Ecological Sciences

Journal of Ecosystems
part of the Hindawi Publishing Corporation out of Egypt (Spanish language)

Journal of Threatened Taxa

Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins including Tropical Diseases

Journal of Vietnamese Environment

Koedoe : African Protected Area Conservation and Science

Madagascar Conservation and Development

NAMMCO Scientific Publications

Nature Conservation

Focused on alien species and biological invasions

West Australia focus

The Open Ecology Journal

Pachyderm : Journal of the African Elephant, African Rhino and Asian Rhino Specialist Groups

This is the index page to a wide range of PLOS One subjects

Revista Sociedade & Natureza
Brazilian – Portuguese and English

USFS searchable database of publications

Tropical Conservation Science

Web Ecology
via the European Ecological Federation

Wildlife Biology in Practice


Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS)

Lakes Reservoirs and Ponds

Mires and Peat

Pan American Journal of Aquatic Sciences


Life Sciences and Biomedicine

Ethnobiology and Conservation

Ethnobotany Research and Applications


Communicating Astronomy with the Public

International Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics


Polar Research


Atmospheric and Climate Sciences

British Journal of Environment and Climate Change


Climate of the Past
European Geosciences Union

20 comments on “Open Access Journals and Free Access Peer-Reviewed Papers

  1. Chris Kirkby says:

    Great list, thanks! Any recommendations regarding e-journals in Spanish, that people here in Peru could read, preferably ones that deal with ecology, development, tourism, agriculture, economics, etc.

  2. Thanks for posting this list! I made a similar attempt to catalog bird-related open-access journals, which you can view by clicking on my name above this comment.

  3. Sara Mynott says:

    Lovely list Neahga! I experienced the same problem when leaving my institution. You’ll be pleased to know there are a few more you can add to it!

    – All the PLoS journals are open access. Given your focus, PLoS ONE ( and PLoS Biology ( are the most relevant but there are others that could fall into your selection here:

    – Copernicus also have a lot of OA publications, including Biogeosciences (, Climate of the Past ( and Web Ecology ( amongst other Earth science journals

    – There’s an abundance of journals published by frontiers – go here and search by subject ( – sorry, there are too many to pop them up individually ;)

    – F1000 Research is an open access journal for the life sciences (and science communication):

    – PeerJ for biological & medical sciences:

    And for preprints check, of course, these aren’t peer reviewed, but the’re a good OA alternative if you can’t access the original, or if you want to get to the science early.

    I think that’s enough for now! Hope this helps :)

  4. A little self promotion (for the journal I am an Editor of). Web Ecology is the open access initiative of the European Ecological Federation, it deals with all aspects of ecology and publication fees are waived at the moment, so it’s free to publish!

  5. […] and ecologist Neahga writes about an issue I’ve encountered several times since leaving college – lack of access to scientific journals and […]

  6. […] science (or science writing) outside academia can become an exercise in journal-envy. A list of open-access journals in conservation and ecology can help. […]

  7. Aliette Frank says:

    These are great links, thank you.
    It’s a nice list with diversity from what you normally see.

  8. David Haden says:

    Many thanks for this list, I hope to include some or all of these in my JURN search-engine, by the end of the summer. Though I can add that SORA is already indexed in JURN – SORA being a nice neat single-topic repository for some 80,000 articles from historical U.S. ornithology journals.

    May I suggest that ecologists look into the free Google Custom Search as a handy tool for quickly creating a dedicated unified open access ejournal search tool. Anyone signed into Google has access to 5,000 URLs with which to create a custom search filter that runs on the top of Google Search. I’d be happy to give some advice on the best ways approach this, having spent five years building JURN.

  9. […] they’re currently a nicely compact set of ejournals and open resources to include. Thanks to Writing for Nature for his recent trawling of the DOAJ for ecology titles, and to Ornithology Exchange for a big and […]

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