Sunday, January 20, 2013

Keystone species, Keystone teacher?

Keystone species are members of ecological communities that have a disproportionate effect on the community if they are removed. They need not be the most abundant element, but may play an important role, e.g. in keeping down the population of some other species that would otherwise dominate.

The classic experiment was performed in the 1960s by ecologist Bob Paine, who removed a species of sea star Pisaster ochraeus from a rocky shore intertidal environment. In months, the community became dominated by mussels and decreased in diversity. Because of this, he coined the term "keystone species" for the role that this sea star was playing in this community.

Pisaster ochraeus (via Wikimedia)
Paine himself has had a disproportionate influence on the academic community in the field of ecology. This profile article describes his career and students, and illustrates well how a single teacher can not only be a good mentor to his or her students, but also go beyond that to build a scientific family.

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