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Interview with Robert Paine, July 30, 2012

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:14 - Early life and education

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Partial Transcript: So Bob, my first question, can you just tell us a little bit about your background, where you grew up, where you went to school and things like that?

Segment Synopsis: Paine talks about growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts and becoming interested in nature at a young age because of his father's interested in mushrooms and because of his neighbors who were ornithologists. Paine talks about attending Harvard University, and enlisting into the U.S Army after he graduated. He talks about attending the University of Michigan for graduate school, where he majored in zoology. After graduating from graduate school, he had a one year post-doc at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and then became a professor at the University of Washington in 1962.

Keywords: Life Histories of Birds; Belmont High School; Boston, Massachusetts; Brewer's sparrow; Chiapas, Mexico; Ernest Mayr; Fred Smith; James Lee Peters; Japan; Ludlow Griscom; North American Wood Warblers; WWII; Washington D.C; armature bird watching; trilobites

00:09:31 - Important contributions to ecology

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Partial Transcript: So what do you know consider, after a long career, to be your most important contribution to ecology? And what lead you to whatever that was?

Segment Synopsis: Paine talks about valuing his relationship with his graduate students. On the research side, he says that his most important work was with Simon Levin at Tatoosh Island in Washington, with whom he wrote a paper about the disturbance patch formation and community structure of the island in 1974.

Keywords: Gordon Orians; Tommy Edmonton; University of Washington; marine ecology; patchy enviornments; primary succession; secondary succession; spatial ecology

00:14:28 - Philosophy for graduate student instruction / Keystone species hypothesis

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you to elaborate on a couple of things you talked about. You did talk about your students. Do you have any particular philosophies for training students?

Segment Synopsis: Paine talks about training graduate students and says that he was doing a lot of work at Tatoosh Island during that time, so he was "suffering along" with his students. Paine also discusses his keystone species hypothesis, which he developed by studying food webs in Makah Bay in 1966. When he removed the starfish from Makah Bay he found that the ecosystem became dominated by mussels, so he coined the term "keystone species" to describe a species that has a significant effect on an ecosystem if it is removed.

Keywords: Charles Elton; NSF fellowship; Scripps Institution of Oceanography; University of Washington; clams; competitively dominant prey; food chain; food cycle; food preference; marine invertebrates; moon snails; predator; prey

00:24:00 - Disturbances in natural communities

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Partial Transcript: So Bob, among other things you were one of the first ecologists to investigate the role of disturbance in natural communities.

Segment Synopsis: Paine discusses the role of disturbance in natural communities, saying that they go through annual cycles of disruption and recovery. He also talks about how many influences came together at the same time to get ecologists interested in studying disturbances.

Keywords: Dick Root; George Mercer Award; Simon Levin; equilibrium communities; mussels; predators; rocky shores; secondary succession; transient states; winter waves

00:30:20 - Single site studies

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Partial Transcript: This was a question that was posed by one of your students. You've long been a champion of experimental ecology but you've also collected observations about a single place over decades and the same place without disturbance. How do these two different kinds of approaches to ecology interact in your work?

Segment Synopsis: Paine talks about the advantages of single site studies, saying that it is easy to provide guidance on these types of studies and that they can also be generalized to a larger scale. He also discusses using mathematical models to make predictions.

Keywords: Caribbean; Jeremy Jackson; Keystone species; Simon Levin; disturbance; predation; sea turtles

00:37:17 - Ecologists and policy issues

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Partial Transcript: Changing gears a little now, you personally have never been particularly involved in national politics or policy issues, but some of your students have been very active, and also some of your colleagues. What's your view on the role an ecologist can play, or should play, in politics and policy issues?

Segment Synopsis: Paine talks about some of the different ways that ecologists can get involved in politics and policy issues, saying that they can do it through publications or by being directly involved. He mentions two of his former students who have been directly involved in politics: Jane Lubchenco who became the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Steve Palumbi, who has been educating people about epidemics and genetics.

Keywords: University of California; University of Washington; barnacles; carnivorous gastropods; conservation; consumption; evolution; mussels; predation; rocky shores; skunk cabbages; starfish

00:42:58 - Change over time: ESA, field of ecology

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Partial Transcript: So you've been involved with Ecological Society for a long time.

Segment Synopsis: Paine discusses his involvement in the Ecological Society of America (ESA), saying that it has grown much more complex since he was president in 1979. He talks about how the ESA's journals such as Ecology, Ecological Monographs, and Ecological Applications have changed dramatically as ecology has grown more complex. Paine also reflects on his career, saying that he has had a "terrific time" studying ecology.

Keywords: NSF fellowship; acidification of oceans; anova tables; barnacles; oysters; sea level; sea urchins; shoreline development; starfish