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International Cosmos Prize

The Prizewinner 2013

Name Dr. Robert Treat Paine
Born on April 13, 1933
Nationality U.S.A
Title Professor emeritus of Zoology, University of Washington

Reason for Awarding

Diverse life forms coexist on the Earth. The distinguished U.S. marine biologist and ecologist Dr. Robert Treat Paine has demonstrated, through explicit field experiments, that predators play essential roles in the stable maintenance of biotic communities. Dr. Paine has had great impact not only on ecology, but also on conservation biology, as well as on the general public’s understanding of biodiversity.

When he was an assistant professor at the University of Washington, Dr. Paine engaged in experimental research on biotic communities comprising multiple species, including limpets, on rocky intertidal shores. He found that when a common starfish (Pisaster ochraceus) - a top predator of the food web in the experimental areas - was removed from a community, the entire community collapsed, and a species of mussel (Mytilus californicus) became predominant. Dr. Paine was first in the world to demonstrate experimentally that even a single species with a small population may be crucial to the stability of an ecological community, and that predators having negative impact on other species play vital roles in maintaining entire communities. He published this work in the American Naturalist in 1966. In 1969, in the same scientific journal, he proposed the concept of the keystone species, which refers to a species – such as the above-mentioned starfish – that, relative to its abundance, has a disproportionately large effect on its environment and plays a crucial role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community. A series of Dr. Paine’s works has brought new perspective to the field of community ecology, which addresses biodiversity; the series has been widely cited not only in ecology textbooks, but also in high school textbooks in Japan.

Although Dr. Paine’s work on the starfish was conducted nearly half a century ago, its significance is still highly valued today. For instance, in 1995 Dr. James A. Estes and Dr. David D. Duggins published the results of their studies of kelp forests around Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, proving that the sea otter (Enhydra lutris), as a top predator, plays a pivotal role in maintaining the biodiversity of kelp forests. As well, a report on the conservation of mammals in North America, edited by Dr. John Terborgh and Dr. Michael Soulé, stated that: “the absence of top predators appears to lead inexorably to ecosystem simplification, accompanied by a rush of extinctions.” A book published in recent years “Where The Wild Things Were: Life, Death and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators,” authored by William Stolzenburg (Japanese translation published by Bungeishunju Ltd., 2010), describes the importance of predators in preserving biodiversity.

Interdependence and interaction among various life forms enriches the Earth. This is not simply a matter of cooperation and collaboration; eat-or-be eaten struggles and competition also play essential parts. Dr. Paine has clarified these facts using very explicit approaches, providing important guidance for considering present-day biodiversity. This achievement has made Dr. Robert Treat Paine truly deserving of the International Cosmos Prize, which upholds the principle of “Harmonious Coexistence between Nature and Mankind” and rewards optimal solutions to the preservation of biodiversity on the planet.


1954 A.B.1954 Harvard University
1961 Ph.D.1961 University of Michigan


1962–1967 Assistant Professor of Zoology, University of Washington
1967–1971 Associate Professor of Zoology, University of Washington
1971–1998 Professor of Zoology, University of Washington
1990–1998 Chair, Department of Zoology, University of Washington
1998- Professor emeritus of Zoology, University of Washington


  • MacArthur Award, Ecological Society of America, 1983
  • The Ecology Institute Prize (Germany), 1989
  • Sewall Wright Award, American Society of Naturalists, 1996
  • Eminent Ecologist, Ecological Society of America, 2000

Major Books

1994 Marine Rocky Shores and Community Ecology:an Experimentalist's Perspective. Ecology Institute (Germany). 152 pp.
2002 A. W. Rosenfeld with R.T. Paine. The Intertidal Wilderness. University of California Press.

Major Articles

1966 Food web complexity and species diversity. American Naturalist 100:65-75.
1969 A note on trophic complexity and community stability. American Naturalist 103:91-93.
1969 Paine, R.T. and R.L. Vadas. The effects of grazing by sea urchins, Strongylocentrotus spp. ,on benthic algal populations. Limnology and Oceanography 14: 710-719.
1974 S.A. Levin and R.T. Paine. Disturbance, patch formation and community structure. Proceeding of the National Academy of Science USA 71:2744-2747.
1980 Food Webs: linkage, interaction strength and community infrastructure. Journal of Animal Ecology 49: 667-685.
1981 R.T. Paine and S.A. Levin. Intertidal landscapes: disturbance and the dynamics of the pattern. Ecological Monographs 51:145-178.
1995 A conversation on refining the concept of keystone species. Conservation Biology9: 962-964.
1996 Power, M.E., 8 other authors, and R.T. Paine. Challenges in the quest for keystones. BioScience 46:609-620.