Robert T. Paine (zoologist)

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Robert Treat Paine
Born 1933 (age 81–82)[citation needed]
Institutions University of Michigan
University of Washington
Harvard University
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
United States Army
Alma mater Harvard University (undergraduate)
University of Michigan (postgraduate)
Thesis The Life History and Population Dynamics of Glottidia Pyramidata (Brachiopoda) (1961)
Doctoral students Paul Dayton
Bruce Menge
Jane Lubchenco[1]
Known for keystone species concept[1]
Notable awards Sewall Wright Award (1996)
National Academy of Sciences
International Cosmos Prize (2013)

Robert Treat Paine (born 1933) is an ecologist and retired professor emeritus of zoology at The University of Washington, who coined[2][3] the keystone species[1] concept in order to explain the relationship between Pisaster ochraceus, a species of starfish, and Mytilus californianus, a species of mussel.[4] In his classic 1966 paper, Dr. Paine described such a system in Makah Bay in Washington State.[5] This led to his 1969 paper where he proposed the keystone species concept.[6][7][8]

Early life and education[edit]

Paine grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and attended Harvard University. After Harvard Paine served in the U.S. Army where he was the battalion gardener. He later entered graduate school at the University of Michigan intending to study paleontology. After he took some courses in zoology and ecology at Michigan, his interests and studies changed. Upon graduating from the University of Michigan, Paine competed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In 1962, Paine joined the University of Washington where he spent the rest of his career and became well known for his work.[9]

Research Interests[edit]

Paine's doctoral research thesis was on the ecology of living brachipods (living marine organisms that have shells on their upper and lower surfaces). As a postdoctoral fellow, he worked on the history and energetics of opisthobranchs (marine gastropods). Much of Paine's work at the University of Washington focused on the organization of marine communities. It was here that much of his research on keystone species occurred.[9]

Keystone Species Concept[edit]

In 1969, Paine coined the term "keystone species". Paine's concept states that an ecosystem may experience a dramatic shift if a keystone species is removed, even though that species was a small part of the ecosystem by measures of biomass or productivity. It has become a very popular concept in conservation biology.[10]



  1. ^ a b c Yong, E. (2013). "Scientific families: Dynasty. Bob Paine fathered an idea — and an academic family — that changed ecology.". Nature 493 (7432): 286. doi:10.1038/493286a. 
  2. ^ "Keystone Species Hypothesis". University of Washington. Retrieved 2011-02-03. 
  3. ^ "Scientists Adopt Tiny Island as a Warming Bellwether". New York Times. 6 Oct 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-25. 
  4. ^ Stolzenberg, William (2008). Where the Wild Things Were: Life, death and ecological wreckage in a land of vanishing predators. Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 1-59691-299-5. 
  5. ^ Paine, R. T. (1966). "Food Web Complexity and Species Diversity". The American Naturalist 100 (910): 65–75. doi:10.1086/282400. 
  6. ^ Paine, R. T. (1969). "A Note on Trophic Complexity and Community Stability". The American Naturalist 103 (929): 91–93. doi:10.1086/282586. 
  7. ^ "Honorary Lifetime Membership Award: Robert T. Paine". The American Naturalist 174 (3): iii–. 2009. doi:10.1086/605920. PMID 19653846. 
  8. ^ Wilbur, H. M. (1998). "1996 Sewall Wright Award: Robert T. Paine". The American Naturalist 151 (1): i–t. doi:10.1086/513833. PMID 18811418. 
  9. ^ a b Root, R.B. (1979). "Robert T. Paine, President 1979-1980". Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 60 (3): 156–157. 
  10. ^ Mills, L. Scott; Soulé, Michael E.; Doak, Daniel F. (1993). "The Keystone-Species Concept in Ecology and Conservation". BioScience 43 (4): 219–224. doi:10.2307/1312122.