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Ecologists and environmental scientists often prioritize research efforts with conservation importance. Dominant, widespread, or locally abundant species at low risk of extinction receive relatively little attention unless they are invasive. Native foundation species create habitats and environmental conditions that support many associated species and modulate local-scale ecosystem processes, but the generally high local or regional abundance of foundation species may lead to less research about them. We used citation analysis (2005-2014) to examine research following from a suggestion to identify and study foundation species while they were still common and not threatened. We explored the use and expanding definition of the foundation species concept, as well as the trajectory and ecological focus of research on foundation species throughout the world in 378 papers published in this nine-year span. Contemporary authors who cite key papers defining a foundation species pay little attention to its actual definition and species studied in this context rarely were identified as foundation species. Although functions and roles of foundation species, such as creating unique microclimates or supporting dependent species, are being studied, less research is focused on identifying them before they are threatened or lost from the ecosystem that they otherwise define. Invasive species were identified as the most common threat to foundation species. Our citation analysis and synthesis provides a new conceptual framework linking identification of and research about foundation species with their functional roles and our ability to manage emerging threats to them.