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Coral Reef Food Web

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.

Coral Reef Fish

Coral Reef Fish – Large Colonies, Varied Shapes, Colors and Behavior Patterns

Coral reefs give home to an incredible number of marine animals, coral reef fish presenting the widest variety possible in terms of size, coloring, feeding and mating habits. Large-size, fierce predators are just as easily found in these stunningly rich eco-systems as small fish that serve as prey for the larger species. This biodiversity, however, comes with some features shared by all these fish species as a result of having to adapt to the special conditions of reefs. In what follows, we would like to present a few of these features.

Fish Body Shapes Adapted to Living in Coral Reef Environments

Though the fish species that inhabit coral reefs are all different in coloring and size, they all share a kind of thin, flattened, elongated shape as a result of adaptation. These species developed as a result of millions of years of evolution. The characteristic body shape of these fish species enables the animals to change directions, stop and take turns suddenly and it also makes it possible for the fish to enter the very confined spaces between the corals to search for food.


The color patterns of these fish species also developed as a result of getting adapted to the environment. The first thing you notice when you look at a coral reef fish colony is how colorful they are. The flamboyant colors serve numerous purposes: they facilitate mating by attracting other fish, they serve the purpose of hiding among the colorful corals and they are used as weapons against predators.

Modified Feeding Apparatus

Coral reef fish can be categorized into herbivores, like surgeonfish or parrotfish; planktivores; carnivores like butterfly fish, snappers or trigger fish that eat various other animals and piscivores, stalking, pursuing and ambushing predators alike that eat only other fish.
Coral reefs serve as abundant food sources, but the species that live in them need to have special abilities. Most herbivorous species, for example, have beak-like extensions on their heads to facilitate the scraping of the algae off the surfaces of corals. Carnivorous species usually have generalized mouthparts to be able to prey on small animals and other fish.
Predators, prey fish, plant eaters and carnivores are all to be found on coral reefs. These special eco-systems abound not only in colors and shapes, but in behavior patterns as well, making coral reef fish the most spectacular of all fish colonies of the world.

Coral Reef Animals

Coral Reef Animals – Colorful Creatures in a Diverse and Environment

Coral reefs are among the most special and most interesting habitats to explore, coral reef animals stunning with their diversity and colorfulness. Fish, sharks, shrimps, urchins, eels and many-many more live and strive among the corals, some reefs hosting as many as 3,500 different species. Coral reefs are popular places because they provide food and shelter as well. Prey animals can easily hide among the flowers and branches of the corals, while predators can find plenty of prey to catch, creating the complex food web of the coral reef.

In what follows, we would like to present a few of the major animal species that inhabit coral reefs, in an attempt to prove that coral reefs are indeed the most diverse habitats in the world’s seas.

Vertebrate Animals

This category of coral reef animals includes turtles, fish, sea snakes and manatees, with fish being the most populous and the most varied.

Coral reefs have specific structures that define the composition of the marine life surrounding it, the fish living in this environment being species that have adapted to these special conditions. The fish that live among corals have a thin, flat body to be able to pass through narrow ways and to take sharp turns if necessary. These coral reef animals display special color combinations, too, the bold, bright colors serving purposes of concealment and mating. The feeding apparatus of these fish has also adapted to the special environment, making them able to scrape or cut into algae.

Invertebrate Species

Invertebrates are the primary builders of the reef itself and also the most populous category from all coral reef animals. Sponges, mollusks, crustaceans and echinoderms are to be found among corals in great variety, their existence being crucial for the survival of the reef.

Echinoderms are perhaps the most spectacular of all these animals. They derive their name from their spiny skin and the class includes such famous members as sea stars and sea urchins.

Invertebrate coral reef dwellers also include crustaceans like shrimps, crabs or lobsters as well. Crustaceans also play a very important role in the biological balance of the coral reef: scavengers clean the reef of the remains of decayed animals, while omnivores and predators also have their distinct, crucially important role.

Coral reef animals make up the world’s most colorful eco-system – each species has its well-defined role in the life of the reef and each of them is delightful in its own way.

Coral Reef Facts

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coral farm My travels to date have taken me throughout much of the Caribbean to many wrecks & reef systems. While I have more exploration here in the future, I'm going to divert my travels for now to the far Pacific. I have included some of my best Caribbean dive photos here.
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