Research Ecologist U.S. Geological Survey Moab, UT, United States
Keystone plant species can have inordinate effects on the persistence of other species and can even shape entire ecosystems. Perhaps their ecological roles and importance are, at least in part, shaped by their ability to establish in locations that would be impossible for other species to accomplish. In doing so, these species are oftentimes ecosystem engineers and modify their environments to an extent that new, occupiable habitat is created for associated species. Nowhere is this more obvious than in drylands. We describe early life traits that likely explain why some dryland species can and do act as keystone species.