Keystone species

Species that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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A keystone species is a species which has a disproportionately large effect on its natural environment relative to its abundance, a concept introduced in 1969 by the zoologist Robert T. Paine. Keystone species play a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community, affecting many other organisms in an ecosystem and helping to determine the types and numbers of various other species in the community. Without keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether. Some keystone species, such as the wolf, are also apex predators.

The jaguar: a keystone, flagship, and umbrella species, and an apex predator
The beaver: a keystone species, and habitat creator, responsible for the creation of lakes, canals and wetlands irrigating large forests and creating ecosystems

The role that a keystone species plays in its ecosystem is analogous to the role of a keystone in an arch. While the keystone is under the least pressure of any of the stones in an arch, the arch still collapses without it. Similarly, an ecosystem may experience a dramatic shift if a keystone species is removed, even though that species was a small part of the ecosystem by measures of biomass or productivity. It became a popular concept in conservation biology, alongside flagship and umbrella species. Although the concept is valued as a descriptor for particularly strong inter-species interactions, and has allowed easier communication between ecologists and conservation policy-makers, it has been criticized for oversimplifying complex ecological systems.