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Robert Treat Paine III (1933–2016)

  1. Mary E. Powerf
  1. aDepartment of Biology, Stanford University, Pacific Grove, CA 93950;
  2. bDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95060;
  3. cInstitute of Environment and Sustainability, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095;
  4. dEcology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544;
  5. eDepartment of Integrative Biology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331;
  6. fDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720

Robert Treat Paine III passed away June 13 in Seattle surrounded by family and friends. RTP, as he was known, was an emeritus Professor at the University of Washington, where he developed a career that helped define the field of community ecology. Ever an avid naturalist who paid close attention to the specifics of a bird song or a starfish’s diet, RTP’s best-known contributions were the concepts of keystone species and trophic cascades. Keystone species have effects on communities or ecosystems that are much larger than their abundances would suggest. Trophic cascades are the many changes in species diversity or abundance that ensue when a consumer is removed from an ecosystem (see ref. 1 for a more detailed synopsis). RTP was also well-known as a champion of the use of experimental methods in field ecology, helping to show that simple experiments in complex natural communities could reveal a wealth of information about how species interacted with one another. Another enduring dimension of his legacy was his mentoring and inspiration of several generations of graduate students and postdocorates in the adventure of working out the complex wiring of species interactions, all within the wild dynamics of natural ecosystems.

Robert Treat Paine III. Image courtesy of Robert Steneck (University of Maine, Orono, ME).

RTP was a descendent of a celebrated clan in Boston that included Thomas Paine and Robert Treat Paine Sr., a signer of the US Declaration of Independence, as well as the great mathematician George Birkhoff. RTP grew up in Boston as an avid naturalist and bird watcher, and attended …

?1To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: spalumbi{at}stanford.edu.

Online Impact

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