Keystone Species

Have you ever heard of a keystone species? If not, what do you think they are?

Keystone species are unique among wildlife in that they play an crucial role in the structure, function, and integrity of an ecosystem. In nature, all living things have, to a varying degree, some sort of impact in an ecosystem. While some may have minimal influence, the presence, or lack thereof, of others can greatly influence the health of an ecosystem. These are our keystone species. When one of these species is removed from a habitat, the habitat is significant altered. The loss of a keystone species has a domino effect on other species, ultimately resulting in their decline or, in some cases, extinction.

According to ScienceDirect, “keystone species are those that have a disproportionately large impact on their community or ecosystem relative to their abundance.” For example, just a few predators can influence the distribution and population size of a large number of prey species. In Nevada, mountain lions (Puma concolor) affect the behavior, land use, and population size of deer, rabbits, and other prey species. Without them, deer populations, for example, could explode, resulting in overgrazing, decline in habitat quality, and potentially a decrease in biodiversity.

Denise Peterson

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