Coral Reef Ecosystems


Coral reefs are the most biologically diverse ecosystems of the ocean and are rivaled only by the tropical rainforests on land. As snorkelers and divers know, thousands of beautiful fish, mollusks and urchins are among the amazing marine life that populates coral reefs. In fact, the corals themselves are also marine animals. Almost a thousand coral species currently exist in fantastic shapes ranging from mushrooms to moose antlers, cabbages, tabletops, wire strands, fluted pillars, and wrinkled brains.


With the majority of humankind living in coastal regions, many people depend on living coral reefs for food and protection from storm surges and erosion, as well as the additional benefits of medical research, tourism and aesthetic beauty. Coral reefs contribute about 25 percent of the total fish catch in developing countries, providing food for one billion people in Asia alone. The calmer area behind a reef can shelter sea grass beds and mangrove forests that service as important nurseries for the young of even more fish and shellfish.


 General: all groups have the same questions:

1. Compare the terms ecosystem, community, species, and population as they relate to ecology.
2. What is the difference between exponential and logistic growth? What are some density-dependent factors that keep populations from growing exponentially indefinitely? What are some density-independent factors?
3. What is an ecological niche? What happens when two species have identical niches? How does the fundamental niche differ from the realized niche?
4. Explain an example of resource partitioning, and explain how natural selection can lead to character displacement.
5. Describe an example of each of the three types of symbiosis discussed in your text.
6. Explain how energy moves through the living components of an ecosystem (starting with primary productivity and including a discussion of food webs and ecological pyramids).
7. Explain how water, carbon, and nitrogen cycle through ecosystems, and give at least one example for each of how human activities can alter the cycle.
8. Seven different biomes are described in your textbook. If you were in charge of global ecosystem conservation but were told you had to focus all of your resources on preserving two of the seven types of biospheres, which would you choose, and why?


Specific to this Case Study:

  1. Describe the global distribution of coral (where are they most likely to be found?)
  2. Describe the amount of species diversity characteristic of coral reefs relative to other ecosystems. Why do coral reefs support so much diversity?
  3. Describe the key symbiotic relationship upon which corals rely.
  4. What is coral bleaching? Discuss the extent and geographical distribution of this problem.
  5. Global warming is considered to be a major threat to coral reef ecosystems. Explain the likely impacts of global climate change on coral. Try to find solid examples demonstrating these effects.
  6. Describe other major threats to coral reef ecosystems. Again, try to provide some examples to illustrate your answer.
  7. What negative consequences might accompany large scale loss of coral reefs?
  8. What steps can reef managers and others concerned with the health of coral reef ecosystems take to protect these systems?