Keystone Species

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Keystone species maintain ecological communities by providing structure and balance for their habitat. The concept behind a keystone species is that they support species diversity through their presence, activities and abundance within the community (Mills et.al. 1993). If a disturbance happens within the community and the keystone species disappears, the organization and diversity drastically shifts. To be defined as a keystone species, there are a few characteristics a species must demonstrate. The first is that their presence within the community must help structure and assist the diversity of their community (Mills et.al. 1993). The second is that they must have some importance to their community in relation to the other species who …show more content…
The preferred prey for sea otters are sea urchins, Strongylocentrotus spp., because they provide the otters a high caloric intake per urchin eaten. This allows them to maintain their high metabolism (Laidre and Jameson 2006). Sea urchins live both in the shallow and deep intertidal off the coast. The sea urchins consume a lot of algae and have the capability to eat large amounts of the kelp forests (Estes and Palmisano 1974). They are considered the primary consumers in the community structure of kelp forests (Estes and Palmisano 1974). Sea urchins are able to last a long time with a reduced food intake through several adaptations to their biotic and abiotic environment (Duggins 1980). Sea urchins are ecologically important to the kelp communities because they provide food to the sea otters. A unique characteristic of sea otters is that they forage for their food in a number of habitat types, ranging from rocky subtidal reefs to sand or mud-bottom estuaries (Laidre and Jameson 2006). Depending on which habitats they live in, sea otters will consume whatever is closest to them. If they are in rocky habitats, they will consume sea urchins, but if they are in the soft-bottom substrate, they will eat clams and other bivalves (Laidre and Jameson 2006). The success of sea otters foraging in rocky habitats has been extensively studied however, their foraging in soft-sediment environments is not as clear. The purpose of
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