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Healthc Policy. 2016 Aug;12(1):12-7.

Of Mussels and Men.

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Faculty, Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.


Some species are more equal than others. Robert T. Paine (American ecologist, 1933-2016) discovered that if you remove starfish - what he called a "keystone species" - from a tide pool, the complex ecosystem collapses. Without the predator starfish, mussels choke out other animals and plants. This phenomenon is general. Sea otters eat the sea urchins that eat the kelp that provides food and habitat for other species. On the vast Serengeti plains, wildebeest "mow" the grass, protecting habitat for many other species. Understanding the "rules" that govern the numbers and diversity of species in an ecosystem is essential to efficient and sustainable management. But those same rules apply to us. Free of predation, humans are swarming over the planet, choking out other species. We are the planetary mussels. What next? A "mussel-bound" world, or perhaps renewed microbial predation?

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