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Keystone Species

  • By: Lynn M. Resler
  • In: Encyclopedia of Geography
  • Edited by: Barney Warf
  • Subject:General Geography, Earth & Environmental Science

Keystone species are plants or animals that have important effects on a particular ecosystem's biodiversity and function, despite having a relatively low abundance. The term keystone originated in the field of architecture to describe a centrally located wedge-shaped stone that supports an entire arch. Robert Paine, an American ecologist, first introduced the keystone species concept to ecology in 1966. The meaning of the term in ecology is analogous to its meaning in architecture; similar to the support function of a keystone within an arch, a keystone species is considered a main supporting component of an ecosystem, without which the system would fail. The loss of a keystone species could result in the loss of several dependent species and critical ecosystem functions.

Paine's original usage of the ...

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