You might only see a big stretch of gorgeous water if you look out over the water above a coral reef. However, if you get beneath the surface, you’ll find one of the most complicated communities on the planet.
The many creatures that live on the reef collaborate in five different ways.
Let’s take a look at the reef while learning about the different types of relationships. Let’s take a look at two living species on the reef—coral polyps and algae—that coexist in a way that benefits both of them. The coral provides a safe haven for the algae, as well as carbon dioxide and nutrients. The algae nourishes the coral the carbohydrates it produces, as well as providing oxygen. Both the coral and the algae benefit from this type of association, which is appropriately referred to as mutualism.
The next interaction observed in coral reef communities is commensal, which literally means “coming together.” Living sea sponges that attach themselves to coral skeletons and provide a hiding spot for little shrimp and crabs are a superb example of commensalism.
The sponge does not profit from the shrimp or crabs, but neither do they hurt it. Despite their attractive look, not all reef life is serene and quiet. Competition between living things is necessary to keep the reef ecosystem in balance, but not all living things can win.
On the reef, competition for resources such as space and food is a way of life. Butterflyfish and clownfish are two examples of reef-dwelling creatures that compete. These fish are fighting for access to the swaying sea anemone for different reasons. Sea anemones’ stinging tentacles, or arms, eaten by butterflyfish. Clownfish, on the other hand, reside amid the anemone’s arms and rely on them for protection.
When a hungry butterflyfish comes, the clownfish must defend its home by acting as a guard. That’s a competition right there! Take a look at this coral reef for a bit. It’s lovely and vibrant, but it’s also a location where organisms hunted for food. When a squid consumes a shrimp, it becomes prey.
The squid devoured by a huge fish that comes along. That fish is then eaten by a ravenous shark. Predation is the term for this type of partnership. Is that a word you’ve heard before? Perhaps you’re more familiar with the phrase predator.
The coral reef is home to a diverse range of predators and prey, including creatures that consume other animals as well as those that feed plants or algae. Not only do giant marine creatures seek for larger animals to feed on, but lesser sea creatures do as well. You may be aware that fleas can survive on a dog and feed on its blood.
Fleas are parasitic insects. Parasitism can also occur in the sea, and this is the last form of interaction we’ll discuss.
Smaller species can consume the bodies of larger creatures or drink their fluids without them even realizing it. Our coral reefs are home to millions of animals, and each one plays an important role in the complex coral reef community, whether they have friendly, helpful, or competing connections.