3 important keystone food resources

Keystone species are defined as species that have an essential role as to how balanced the ecosystem is. Removing a keystone species from a habitat can often result in the dramatic alteration of the ecosystem, sometimes even resulting in the complete shutdown of that ecosystem.

Many organisms in any biome depend on these keystone species, where the survival of the whole community depends on the fitness of the keystone species. If a keystone species is depleted or goes extinct, the whole community that depend on the keystone species for food and shelter can also follow suit. It is then essential to note that the preservation of keystone species is in the best interests of the whole community.

Keystone food resources are the food that many organisms consume to survive. One keystone food resource is often utilized by many other species that feed on it. As stated above, if there was any event that occurred so as to remove the keystone food resource from the foo web, the whole ecosystem can become very imbalanced, as the organisms that depend on these food resources might migrate elsewhere, or in extreme cases, go extinct, causing a loss in biodiversity. Below are 3 examples of keystone food resources:

1)      Strangler Figs

In a rainforest ecosystem, figs are one of the most important plant species in the rainforest ecosystem. The Strangler Fig, commonly known as the Banyan tree, is found in tropical areas and rainforests. Many species of birds, primates, and bats feed on the fruit of this tree. Due to its ability to bear fruit several times a year, the Banyan tree is considered a keystone species. Different fig species bear fruit at different times, thus, there is a constant supply of food for the animals whose diet consist largely of fruits. It is not difficult to predict the consequences of the depletion or extinction of this species, as it definitely will cause a mass migration, or even more extinction.


2)      Kelp

Kelp grows in underwater “forests”, called “kelp forests”. They are highly productive, and play a major role in ecology and biodiversity. A huge number of animals depend on the kelp forests for food and shelter. Some marine snails, crabs, and fish use the kelp as a major source of food. Due to the delicate nature of the underwater ecosystem, any massive shift in the balance of the ecosystem can have quite severe results for the environment.


3)      California Mussel

The California Mussel is considered a keystone prey, and is found in large bunches on upper intertidal zones. They were an important food source for the Native Americans of a pre-colonised Pacific Coast. They are also an important source of food for another keystone species,the purple sea star. It is said that the purple sea star is a good bioindicator of a healthy intertidal zone. Thus, it is essential that both these species are in constant competition with each other in order to ensure a healthy intertidal zone, for if the Californian mussels are depleted, the numbers of purple sea stars can also decline, resulting in the population of the mussels to increase again. It is a typical predator-prey arrangement. Nevertheless, it is seen that the Californian mussels are a keystone food resource for the purple sea star.


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