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The Importance and Fragile Nature of a Coral Reef Food Web

If you’ve read up about coral reefs already, you may have heard references to something called a coral reef food web. Food webs are essentially the interactions between various types of marine creatures living on coral reefs, including anything from the smallest plankton to the largest sharks.

Coral food webs can be very fragile, and any unbalance in the trophic chains associated with the food web of a specific coral reef can have disastrous effects over time.

Trophic Chains

It’s important to learn about coral reef food web to have an accurate idea about what trophic chains are. A trophic chain essentially refers to specific categories of marine species that feed or are fed on by other types of creatures or plants.

Three trophic levels exist: producers, consumers and decomposers; and each of these plays its own vital role in maintaining the food web. Also, there are primary, secondary and tertiary sublevels associated with each trophic level, usually referring to a primary creature being one that is more often consumed by others, while a marine creature belonging to a tertiary category will usually be the one that is higher on the food chain.

Producers are creatures such as small phytoplankton and seaweed that don’t need to eat other creatures for nutrition. Consumers, on the other hand, are like carnivores in the jungle, and they need to consume other consumers or producers to be able to survive.

Decomposers, on the other hand, are a special type of creature on the coral reef food web, being in charge of consuming and breaking down dead organic material, then returning it to the sediment, where producers use them to create energy during photosynthesis, thus completing the trophic cycle.

The Results of an Unbalance

An unbalanced food web is highly dangerous for the coral’s fragile ecosystem. Basically, each creature, even the smallest zooplankton or seemingly less significant primary consumer plays an important role in maintaining the balance and keeping the cycle going.

As such, if, for example, a type of fish were to become endangered or a plankton essential to the formation of coral reefs were to disappear entirely, the cycle would be broken, and either consumer populations would overgrow, leading to the disappearance of smaller consumers and producers, or a type of consumer species would disappear entirely, leading to some species not having enough nutrition, while others overgrow their normal population levels.

Protecting the Coral Reef Food Web

Although there are talks about global warming, severe storms and temperature changes, as well as other natural events being the main cause for the rapid disappearance of some coral food webs, scientists can prove that these actually have a much more diminished negative effect than overfishing, the dumping of industrial chemicals and materials in the ocean and the over-expansion of coastline populations.

Many governments around the globe have put programs into effect to educate their people about the importance of coral reefs and food webs, as well as to reduce overfishing and dangerous fishing methods in endangered areas.

Although many of these have had positive effects, maintaining a healthy coral reef food web has become more difficult in many areas, and scientists often warn that immediate action must be taken if the integrity of natural marine habitats in these regions are to be preserved.