The Coral Reef Food Web – A Structure with a Delicate Balance
The term coral reef food web is used for denoting the intricate, dynamic system of interaction between the dwellers of a coral reef – in more simple terms it is the who-eats-whom relationship between the inhabitants of the reef. Coral reefs are among the most exciting and at the same the least mapped and known eco-systems of the world. Giving home to an incredible diversity of species, all organisms dwelling the reef have their own role and function in the food chain, marine plants just as much as fish, crabs, false crabs, sponges or shrimps.
The Theory of the Inverted Food Pyramid
The universe of coral reefs is still being explored, so the theories developed to account for and to describe the system itself are in constant change. Until recently, scientists believed that the coral reef food web looks like the food pyramid of other ecosystems, only upside down, due to the lack of plants that serve as the most basic nutrient producers. It was discovered that there is a unit, the zooplankton, that is to be found at the base of the entire web. Zooplanktons are essential for the corals to strive and grow. Consequently, a coral reef food web also looks like a usual pyramid, with plants at the base of the triangle and predators at the top.
Levels of the Pyramid
The basic level of plants is followed by herbivores, then by carnivores at the third, topmost trophic level. The system also defines levels in terms of the strength of the species categorized as well as in terms of the biomass produced, that is, in terms of the quantity of the biological matter generated by the species on a certain level. Species rely on one another for survival and the plants to be found at the base of the pyramid generate the highest quantity of biomass, making life possible for the corals. The environment created by the corals make life possible for crustaceans and fish, which are, in turn eaten by larger predators like sharks and fish.
Coral reefs provide habitat for as many as 10-20 percent of all fish species of the world and there are also creatures that are able to survive only in the environment created by the corals. All these and many other factors make the coral reef food web not only a very special and unique system, but also a very important one, a biome that must be protected against all harmful external factors that could destroy its delicate balance.