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Coral Reef Ecosystems

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Exploring the life cycle of coral larvae, this overview delves into their settlement and survival strategies. It also examines the contributions of various organisms to reef building, including corals, algae, and bivalves. The text addresses Darwin's paradox, highlighting the nutrient cycling and acquisition that allow coral reefs to thrive in nutrient-poor waters, and the oceanographic influences that support their biodiversity.

Mechanisms of Coral Larvae Settlement and Survival

Coral larvae, or planulae, face a critical phase of their life cycle as they seek suitable substrates for settlement after being released into the ocean. This settlement process is essential for the perpetuation of coral species and can last from days to weeks. To navigate toward favorable habitats, planulae utilize environmental cues such as reef-generated sounds, which are especially important at long distances, and chemical signals when closer to potential settlement sites. Despite these sophisticated orientation mechanisms, the survival rate of coral larvae is low due to predation and harsh environmental conditions. Only a small proportion of planulae successfully secure themselves to a substrate, where they must then compete for resources to grow and eventually contribute to the reef structure and its biodiversity.
Vivid underwater scene of a coral reef with colorful fish, colorful corals and coral larvae, illuminated by sun rays.

Contributions of Various Organisms to Reef Building

Coral reefs are complex ecosystems built not only by corals but also by other calcifying organisms such as coralline algae, certain sponges, and bivalves. These organisms contribute to the reef's structure by depositing calcium carbonate. Coralline algae, for example, solidify the reef by creating a calcareous crust that protects against wave action, despite their slower growth rate compared to corals. Sponges, including sclerosponges, have been part of reef ecosystems since the Cambrian era, although their role in modern reefs is less pronounced. Bivalves, like oysters, form extensive colonies called oyster reefs, which are vital for the survival of many marine species. The now-extinct rudist bivalves were once the dominant reef builders during the Cretaceous period, flourishing in conditions that were challenging for corals.

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Coral offspring, known as ______, must find the right base to attach to after entering the sea, a crucial step for the continuation of their species.



During their search for a home, coral ______ are guided by sounds from reefs at greater distances and by chemical signals when nearer to a site.



Role of coralline algae in reef stability

Coralline algae solidify reefs with calcareous crust, protecting against waves.


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