Keystone Species 38 Key Question: What are keystone species and why do they species. They are often top (apex) predators, or have a have a disproportionate effect on ecosystem processes? critical role in seed dispersal or nutrient cycling. The loss of Every species has a functional role in an ecosystem (its a keystone species can have a large and rapid impact on the niche), but some have a much bigger effect on ecosystem structure and function of an ecosystem, changing the balance processes and stability than their abundance would suggest of relationships and leading to instability. This has important because their activities are crucial to the way the ecosystem implications for the management of threatened ecosystems as a whole functions. These species are called keystone because many keystone species are endangered. Why are keystone species important? The term keystone species comes from the analogy of the keystone in a true arch. An archway is supported by a series of stones, the central one being the keystone. If the keystone is removed, the arch collapses. The idea of the keystone species was first hypothesized in 1969 by Robert Paine. He determined through experimentation that the ochre starfish (Pisaster), a predator in rocky shore communities, had a role in maintaining community diversity. When the starfish were removed, their prey species increased, crowding out algae and reducing species richness in the area from 15 to 8. Return of gray wolves to Yellowstone Gray wolves are a top predators in North American Yellowstone wolves run down a bull elk ecosystems, yet federal extermination programs in the late 1800s-early 1900s reduced them to near extinction in the US, including in the Yellowstone National Park 120. A. Wolves 350 D.
Aspen height” (YNP) where National Park status did not protect them. 250 80 Once the wolves were gone, numbers of elk (their $200 – Upland primary prey) increased and the deciduous vegetation 240 Riparian became severely overgrazed. This had a number of 20 consequences. Without wolves, coyotes also increased, 0 and the numbers of pronghorn antelope (coyote prey) then declined. Beavers became largely absent. 2007 E. Cottonwood In 1974, the gray wolf was declared endangered under 150 the Endangered Species Act (1973) and in 1995 its reintroduction to the park began. Since that time, wolf 10 100 numbers in the park have grown, elk have declined and shifted into less favorable habitats, deciduous vegetation has recovered, beavers have returned, and the coyote population has stabilized at a lower level. 20T F. Willow Figures, right, show some of 12 C. Beaver ecological changes 15 recorded in YNP following the 1995/1996 reintroduction of gray wolves. Individual plots show numbers of wolves (A), elk (B), and beaver (C), together with vegetation changes. Aspen heights recorded in areas with downed logs, which regenerate somewhat faster than areas without downed logs. Dashed lines represent time 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 periods with at least 1 year of missing data. 300 Arms with doga 5100 60 M Height (cm) 150 100 50 0 20. B. Elk “Ime.com damar bragt 15 Population (x1000) Number” 5 50 De Waard AL 2012 Tronton Woonhe 15 years at waren duten Wologica Centro 146 2.8-213 0 pening and growth in der 10 8 Number foolonies Ring area (mm) Year Year 1. Use the figures (A-F) above to discuss the evidence for the role of gray wolves as a keystone species:
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