Cumulative meta-analysis: a new tool for detection of temporal trends and publication bias in ecology.
Leimu R., Koricheva J.
Temporal changes in the magnitude of research findings have recently been recognized as a general phenomenon in ecology, and have been attributed to the delayed publication of non-significant results and disconfirming evidence. Here we introduce a method of cumulative meta-analysis which allows detection of both temporal trends and publication bias in the ecological literature. To illustrate the application of the method, we used two datasets from recently conducted meta-analyses of studies testing two plant defence theories. Our results revealed three phases in the evolution of the treatment effects. Early studies strongly supported the hypothesis tested, but the magnitude of the effect decreased considerably in later studies. In the latest studies, a trend towards an increase in effect size was observed. In one of the datasets, a cumulative meta-analysis revealed publication bias against studies reporting disconfirming evidence; such studies were published in journals with a lower impact factor compared to studies with results supporting the hypothesis tested. Correlation analysis revealed neither temporal trends nor evidence of publication bias in the datasets analysed. We thus suggest that cumulative meta-analysis should be used as a visual aid to detect temporal trends and publication bias in research findings in ecology in addition to the correlative approach.