Robert "Bob" Paine, the ecologist famous for identifying "keystone species," died Monday in Seattle of acute myeloid leukemia. He was 83.
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1933, Paine said he was "utterly fascinated" by ants as a toddler, and he went on to spend his life studying the natural world. Paine, a zoology professor at the University of Washington from 1962 to 1998, was a "giant in the field of ecology," Jennifer Ruesnik, a University of Washington biology professor, told the Los Angeles Times.
In the 1960s, Paine conducted several experiments off the coast of Washington that introduced the concept of a keystone species, which maintains the diversity of its ecosystem. His experiments showed that if you remove the top predator from the shoreline, the common sea star, it changes everything, with the mussels that starfish once ate pushing out other species. He made this discovery during an era when conducting experiments in the field wasn't the norm. "He used to refer to it as 'Rambo ecology' because you had to do dramatic intervention to understand how the natural world works," Ruesnik said.
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