The Food Web & Ecosystem of Coral Reefs

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  • 0:00 An Underwater World
  • 0:39 What is a Food Web?
  • 1:30 What are Coral Reefs?
  • 2:08 The Great Barrier Reef
  • 2:58 Deep Sea Coral Reefs
  • 3:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

This lesson covers the food web and ecosystem of coral reefs. We'll learn what a food web is and what coral reefs are and also take a look at a couple of specific examples of coral reef food webs.

An Underwater World

Beautiful beaches abound in the tropics. Luxurious hotels dot the shoreline with chairs, cabanas, and towels clustered near the beach where vacationers gaze at the crystal clear waters. But, swim out slightly farther and an entire underwater world enters into view. This is a coral reef! Bright fish, neon-colored anemones, and giant mammals swim through the maze of living coral. What is this place, and how does it survive? How do the species interact with each other? These are the questions we'll answer as we explore the food web and ecosystem of coral reefs.

What is a Food Web?

A food web is a diagram showing the transfer of energy between species. Since energy is transferred as food, food webs basically show who eats who in an ecosystem. Food webs are complex and involve many species, unlike a food chain, which shows the transfer of energy between single species.

Food webs are organized into layers of who eats who called trophic levels. The bottom trophic level in a food web is the producers. Producers are organisms that make their own food. They are usually green plants, but algae, bacteria, and other microscopic organisms may also be producers. Primary consumers eat producers, making them herbivores. Secondary consumers eat primary consumers, making them carnivores. Tertiary consumers are the top predators in the ecosystem, eating both primary and secondary consumers.

What are Coral Reefs?

Coral Reefs are some of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. Although they occupy less than one percent of the ocean, they hold nearly twenty-five percent of ocean life. Although coral look like plants, they're actually animals, closely related to sea anemones. Coral reefs are usually found in tropical oceans near the coast. However, some coral reefs can be found in the deep sea, near hydrothermal vents, which spew chemicals and hot gases from the center of the earth. These deep sea reefs grow slightly slower than the coastal coral reefs, but are nonetheless beautiful and have nearly as many different species as their coastal counterparts.

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world. Located off of the coast of Australia, it's home to thousands of unique species found nowhere else in the world. The producers in the Great Barrier Reef are microscopic organisms called phytoplankton. Other larger producers, such as seaweed and seagrass, also provide energy. Primary consumers include thousands of fish, such as the brilliant parrotfish.

Zooplankton, microscopic organisms, shrimp, clams, and other crustaceans are also primary consumers. Larger fish, stingrays, octopi, and squid make up the secondary consumers, while sharks are the tertiary consumers, or top predators, in this ecosystem. Sharks eat large fish, seals, rays, squid, and octopi, keeping the food web in balance.

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