Exploring Keystone Species

The term “Keystone Species” was coined in 1969 by ecologist Robert Paine in describing the role of starfish in eating mussels. Starfishes were seen as maintaining key ecosystems or structures of the area through the management of mussel populations.

The National Geographic describes a keystone species as “an organism that helps define an entire ecosystem. Without its keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether. This means if the species were to disappear from the ecosystem, no other species would be able to fill its ecological niche."

Announcing the arrival of the woodpecker and their unique pecking behaviour that serves more than themselves. They have earned the term master carpenters. In search of food, and a home woodpeckers peck cavities into trees. They will quickly abandon nests once the occupants have vacated to start their own journey. These abandoned cavities become “used by many generations of secondary cavity-nesting species.” Some of the grateful new residents include swallows, wrens, owls, ducks, nuthatches chickadees, squirrels, bats and insects.

A venerable, dead tree broken off at the top and perforated with multiple cavities, may actually be one of the most valuable trees in the forest. The snags become multi-level condominium dwellings for a whole host of wildlife.

Seeing beyond and bringing wonder forward, is seeing any wildlife species in its support of one species affects the whole. Curiosity opens us to appreciate the existence of nature’s master puzzle of connecting. 

What is your favourite wild bird? Take time to learn something new about their species and how their existence weaves a story of interconnection.

NOTE: The Pileated Woodpecker was recently included in schedule 1 of the amended Migratory Bird Convention Act Regulations
The addition of the pileated woodpecker is significant in that they are added to the list of species whose nesting sites are protected after active nesting. This is good news for the 30+ species of wildlife that depend on the pileated woodpecker during their life histories.

Addtional Resources:
Meet the Pileated Woodpecker
Woodland Woman

I’m a woodpecker carving out my days on the body of a memoir tree.