For marine biologists and not only, the coral reef ecosystem represents a fascinating object of study, as almost 25% of the marine creatures species are concentrated in the coral reefs area.
Here is some information about the elements of this ecosystem and the role each of them has:
• Algae – An important source of food for many of the marine creatures populating the reef area, these plants are represented mainly by red algae, scientifically named Rhodophytae. Macroalgae and coralline algae are other varieties that can be found in a coral reef. Some algae varieties are very competitive, expanding over the coral colonies’ territory and killing them in the process.
• Sponges – The feeding cycle of these life forms made them the “farmers” of the coral reef. They filter the waters that surround them, taking the nutrients they need for surviving and growing. On the other hand, sponges’ excretory products are a precious food source for both corals and algae.
• Invertebrates – Many species of creatures in this category are part of the coral reef ecosystem. Sea urchins, especially those known as Diadema antillarum, keep the algae populations under control. Some invertebrate species, generically known as “cryptofauna”, inhabit hard coral colonies. A great variety of shrimps, lobsters and other crustaceans also populate these waters.
• Fish – Without a doubt, this is the most representative class of sea creatures having coral reefs as home. More than 4,000 distinctive species of fish can be found in the areas where coral reefs are present. The bluefin tuna, the queen angelfish, the toadfish or the mandarin fish are just some of the varieties that can be spotted in different parts of the reef. Read more interesting facts here – www.thesea.org coral reef ecosystem.
The Food Chain of a Coral Reef Ecosystem
• Primary producers – As the name suggests, their role is to produce food for other inhabitants of the reef. Phytoplankton, coralline algae and seaweed are some of the primary producers populating the reef’s shallow waters.
• Primary consumers – Zooplankton, sea urchins and sea snails belong to this category. These herbivorous creatures consume the primary producers. Larger sea life, like surgeonfish, green sea turtles, parrotfish or herbivorous crabs are also primary consumers.
• Secondary consumers – They are both predators and prey, as they are hunted by other creatures positioned on top of the trophic chain. Mantis shrimp and lobsters, for instance, have small invertebrates as source of food. The piscivores, fish eating other fish, are a distinctive class of secondary consumers.
• Tertiary consumers – Known under the name of “apex predators”, they have no natural enemies. Seals, tuna, dolphins and sharks are among the most representative tertiary consumers part of a coral reef ecosystem.