Background Deciphering the amount of work provided by different co-authors of a scientific paper has been a recurrent problem in science. Despite the myriad of metrics available, the scientific community still largely relies on the position in the list of authors to evaluate contributions, a metric that attributes subjective and unfounded credit to co-authors. We propose an easy to apply, universally comparable and fair metric to measure and report co-authors contribution in the scientific literature. Methods The proposed Author Contribution Index (ACI) is based on contribution percentages provided by the authors, preferably at the time of submission. Researchers can use ACI to compare the contributions of different authors, describe the contribution profile of a particular researcher or analyse how contribution changes through time. We provide such an analysis based on contribution percentages provided by 97 scientists from the field of ecology who voluntarily responded to an online anonymous survey. Results ACI is simple to understand and to implement because it is based solely on percentage contributions and the number of co-authors. It provides a continuous score that reflects the contribution of one author as compared to the average contribution of all other authors. For example, ACI(i) = 3, means that author i contributed three times more than what the other authors contributed on average. Our analysis comprised 836 papers published in 2014-2016 and revealed patterns of ACI values that relate to career advancement. Conclusion There are many examples of author contribution indices that have been proposed but none has really been adopted by scientific journals. Many of the proposed solutions are either too complicated, not accurate enough or not comparable across articles, authors and disciplines. The author contribution index presented here addresses these three major issues and has the potential to contribute to more transparency in the science literature. If adopted by scientific journals, it could provide job seekers, recruiters and evaluating bodies with a tool to gather information that is essential to them and cannot be easily and accurately obtained otherwise. We also suggest that scientists use the index regardless of whether it is implemented by journals or not.