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  • 1 School of Biological Sciences Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability (ACES), University of Aberdeen & Macaulay Institute 23 St. Machar Drive AB24 3UU Aberdeen Scotland, UK
  • 2 The Macaulay Institute Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen AB15 8QH Scotland, UK
  • 3 University of Aberdeen Department of Zoology Tillydrone Avenue Aberdeen AB24 2TZ Scotland, UK
  • 4 Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Bush Estate Penicuik Midlothian EH26 0QB Scotland, UK
  • 5 Hill of Brathens Centre for Ecology and Hydrology — Banchory Research Station Banchory AB31 4BW Scotland, UK
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In restructuring environmental research organisations, smaller sites generally disappear and larger sites are created. These decisions are based on the economic principle, ‘economies of scale’, whereby the average cost of each unit produced falls as output increases. We show that this principle does not apply to the scientific performance of environmental research institutes, as productivity per scientist decreased with increasing size of a research site. The results are best explained by the principle ‘diseconomies of scale’, whereby powerful social factors limit the productivity of larger groupings. These findings should be considered when restructuring environmental science organisations to maximise their quality.