Data Max


How Might You Add Keystone Species to the Concept Map?

Table of Contents

How might you add keystone species to the concept map?

Let’s start with answering the question of the day, ‘How might you add keystone species to the concept map?’

  • A. Keystone species increase competition among all populations in a community.
  • B. Keystone species are the most abundant members of communities.
  • C. Keystone species always live with other species in symbiosis.
  • D. Keystone species influence the diversity of communities.

To answer the question of how to add keystone species to the concept map, it's important to note that keystone species are essential components of ecological communities that have a significant impact on the diversity and health of the ecosystem they inhabit.

Out of the options given, option D - "Keystone species influence the diversity of communities" - is the correct answer. This is because keystone species play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of their ecosystem and regulating the populations of other species. Their loss could cause dramatic changes in the entire ecosystem, resulting in a decline or loss of other species and a significant impact on the ecosystem's overall health and stability.

In the following sections of this article, we'll delve deeper into what keystone species are, how they operate, and why they are crucial to the survival of many other species on our planet.

What Are Keystone Species?

Keystone species are species whose impact on an ecosystem is disproportionate to their abundance or biomass. This means that they may not be the most numerous or largest organisms in a community, but they play a critical role in maintaining the balance and function of that community. Keystone species can be predators, herbivores, pollinators, engineers, or any other functional group that has a significant impact on the ecosystem.

The concept of keystone species was first proposed by ecologist Robert Paine in the 1960s. Paine conducted experiments in intertidal rocky shores in Washington state, where he removed the top predator, a starfish called Pisaster ochraceus, from the ecosystem. He observed that the absence of Pisaster led to an explosion in the population of its prey, mussels, which outcompeted other organisms for space and resources, reducing the diversity of the community.

Paine concluded that Pisaster was a keystone species that regulated the diversity and structure of the rocky shore ecosystem. Since then, scientists have identified many other keystone species in different types of ecosystems, such as seagrass meadows, savannas, and wetlands.

The importance of keystone species lies in their ability to exert indirect effects on the ecosystem by influencing the abundance, distribution, or behavior of other species. They may create or modify habitats, control the population of other species, or facilitate interactions among different species. Without keystone species, ecosystems may lose their resilience and stability, leading to cascading effects on the entire community.

How Do Keystone Species Operate?

Keystone species have a disproportionately large effect on the ecosystem relative to their abundance. They often play critical roles in regulating populations of other species, controlling invasive species, and maintaining biodiversity.

For example, sea otters are a classic example of a keystone species in marine ecosystems. They prey on sea urchins, which, if left unchecked, can overgraze kelp forests and destroy the entire ecosystem. By controlling the sea urchin population, sea otters help maintain the health and diversity of the kelp forest ecosystem.

The Importance of Keystone Species

Keystone species play a crucial role in maintaining the health and diversity of ecosystems. Here are some of the key reasons why they are so important:

Maintain Biodiversity

Keystone species help to maintain the biodiversity of ecosystems by regulating the abundance and distribution of other species. They may control the populations of certain species, prevent the overgrowth of others, or create habitats that allow for the survival of multiple species.

By keeping the ecosystem in balance, these species ensure that a wide variety of organisms can coexist and thrive.

Enhance Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services are the benefits that humans derive from natural ecosystems, such as clean water, fertile soil, and pollination. Keystone species often provide critical ecosystem services by regulating nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, and water quality.

For example, beavers are a keystone species in wetland ecosystems, as their dam-building activities create ponds that serve as habitats for many other species and filter pollutants from the water.

Increase Ecological Resilience

Ecological resilience is the ability of an ecosystem to withstand and recover from disturbances, such as natural disasters, climate change, or human activities. Keystone species can increase ecological resilience by providing a buffer against environmental changes or by facilitating the recovery of the ecosystem after a disturbance.

Good examples are the elephants in African savannas. These elephants are keystone species in the ecosystem as their browsing and grazing behavior creates a mosaic of habitats that supports many other species and increases the ecosystem’s resistance to drought.

Contribute to Cultural Heritage

Many keystone species are also culturally significant to humans, as they have played important roles in human history, mythology, or traditional knowledge. For example, salmon is a keystone species in Pacific Northwest cultures, as it has provided food, economic resources, and cultural identity for indigenous communities for thousands of years.

Why Are Keystone Species Crucial to the Survival of Other Species?

Keystone species are essential to the survival of other species because they help maintain the health and balance of the ecosystem. They provide vital ecological services such as pollination, nutrient cycling, and seed dispersal, among others.

When keystone species are lost or their populations decline, the entire ecosystem can be thrown out of balance. This can result in the decline or loss of other species and a significant impact on the ecosystem’s overall health and stability.

Examples of Keystone Species

Let's take a closer look at some examples of keystone species that we have already mentioned in this article. These species can be found in a variety of ecosystems and play important roles in maintaining the health and diversity of these ecosystems.

Sea Otters

Sea otters are a keystone species in kelp forest ecosystems, as they prey on sea urchins, which are herbivores that can overgraze kelp beds. By controlling the population of sea urchins, sea otters allow kelp forests to thrive, providing habitat for many other species and serving as nurseries for commercial fish species.

African Elephants

African elephants are another keystone species that can be found in savanna ecosystems. These elephants are large herbivores that feed on trees and shrubs, creating a mosaic of habitats that support many other species. Their browsing and grazing behavior also contribute to the nutrient cycling and seed dispersal of the savanna ecosystem.

Prairie Dogs

Prairie dogs are a keystone species in grassland ecosystems. They are burrowing rodents that create complex underground tunnels that improve soil quality, increase water infiltration, and support the growth of grasses and other vegetation. They also provide food for many predators, such as hawks, eagles, and coyotes.


Beavers are another important keystone species worth mentioning. They live in wetland ecosystems and are regarded as keystone species there because of their notorious dam-building activities that create ponds and wetlands that support a wide range of aquatic and terrestrial species. Their dams also help to regulate water flow, prevent erosion, and filter pollutants.


Hummingbirds are a keystone species in many plant-pollinator networks, as they are highly efficient pollinators that visit many different species of flowers. By pollinating a diverse range of plants, hummingbirds contribute to the stability and resilience of plant communities. At the same time, they provide food for many other species that rely on nectar and fruits.

How to Identify Keystone Species

Identifying keystone species can be a complex process that involves a combination of ecological, behavioral, and statistical analyses. Let's go over some general approaches that scientists use to identify these species.

Looking at Their Ecological Impact

Keystone species have a disproportionately large impact on the structure and function of ecosystems, often through indirect effects on other species. Scientists may measure the ecological impact of a species by observing changes in the abundance, distribution, or diversity of other species in the ecosystem. For example, if the removal or addition of a species leads to a significant change in the abundance or diversity of other species, it may be considered a keystone species.

Their Keystone Traits

Some species may be identified as keystone species based on their specific traits or behaviors that have a significant impact on ecosystem dynamics. For example, a species that creates or modifies habitats, regulates nutrient cycling, or facilitates pollination may be considered a keystone species. Scientists may use experimental manipulations or modeling to test the importance of these traits.

Network Analysis

Keystone species are often embedded in complex networks of species interactions, such as food webs or mutualistic networks. By analyzing the structure and function of these networks, scientists can identify species that have a particularly important or central role in maintaining the integrity of the network. For instance, a species that connects different trophic levels or links otherwise disconnected species may be considered a keystone species.

Ways to Conserve Keystone Species

As one of the fundamental components of any ecosystem, keystone species play a crucial role in maintaining its health and stability. These species have a disproportionate impact on their environment, often acting as a bridge between different species or playing a critical role in maintaining biodiversity. Protecting keystone species can help ensure that the ecosystem remains balanced and functional. Here are some effective ways to conserve keystone species:

1. Protect and Restore Their Habitat

One of the most significant threats to keystone species is habitat loss and fragmentation. Therefore, it is essential to protect their habitat from human encroachment, deforestation, or industrialization. Additionally, habitat restoration projects can help revive degraded ecosystems, providing a safe haven for these species.

2. Reduce Pollution and Climate Change

Pollution and climate change have a profound impact on keystone species, causing changes in their behavior, reproductive patterns, and migration routes. Therefore, reducing carbon emissions and pollutants can help slow down the rate of climate change and protect these species from the effects of pollution.

3. Manage Invasive Species

Invasive species can disrupt the delicate balance of an ecosystem, often outcompeting native species or consuming them. Managing invasive species can help prevent the loss of keystone species and ensure that the ecosystem remains healthy.

4. Implement Sustainable Fishing and Hunting Practices

Keystone species such as fish and large mammals are often hunted or fished for food or sport. However, unsustainable hunting and fishing practices can lead to a decline in their populations, affecting the ecosystem's stability. Implementing sustainable practices can help ensure that these species remain abundant and healthy.

5. Educate and Raise Awareness

Raising awareness about the importance of keystone species and their conservation can help mobilize public support for their protection. Educating communities about the role these species play in maintaining the ecosystem's health and stability can inspire action and help foster a culture of conservation.

In conclusion, keystone species play a critical role in maintaining the health and stability of an ecosystem. Protecting these species is essential for ensuring that the ecosystem remains functional and can provide valuable ecosystem services such as air and water purification, soil health, and carbon sequestration. By implementing these conservation strategies, we can help conserve keystone species and safeguard the ecosystem's stability for future generations.

Caroline Buckee

Caroline Flannigan is an epidemiologist. She is an Associate Professor of Epidemiology and is the Associate Director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top