Who eats what in the coral reef food chain? We have a number of examples, such as fire corals, Blacktip reef sharks, and Phyllidia nudibranchs. But how many of these creatures are directly responsible for the decline in coral reefs? And how many of them are threatened by commercial fishing? Let’s explore the question one by one. Here are the main players in the food chain and how they contribute to the health of coral reefs.
Blacktip reef sharks
Mostly found in the shallow waters of the Indo-Pacific, blacktip reef sharks live throughout the region, including the waters surrounding Japan, China, Indonesia, and Malaysia. They are also found in northern Australia, including the islands of Hawaii. In addition to its native range, the blacktip is found in the waters surrounding South Africa, the Seychelles, the Red Sea, and Pakistan. However, the blacktip reef shark is rarely seen in freshwater.
When mating, blacktip reef sharks move in a sinusoidal pattern near the bottom of the ocean. They are accompanied by a male that follows with its snout pointed down. Mating occurs in the presence of a female, and males may attack the female behind the gills or pectoral fins. Mating wounds usually heal in 4-6 weeks.
Although the blacktip reef shark is relatively small – averaging about 5 feet long – it is often praised by Hawaiian residents as a protector of the shore. Their preferred habitat is the coral reef, where they feed on the primary food source of reef fish. While these sharks are not responsible for many attacks, they can become aggressive near speared fish. They should not be harmed by spearfishing, but they are known to attack when disturbed by an overbearing swimmer.
It’s not clear exactly how fire corals eat. They do a lot of sifting in the water with their tentacles to catch small fish. Then they shoot their prey down to the mouth of the coral where the mucus-coated prey is sucked in. The brain coral polyps are sessile and resemble tiny anemones.
Because they are obligate symbiotic, fire corals use endo-symbiotic Dinoflagellates as food. They also filter feed with their short furry tentacles and nematocysts. When feeding fire corals, you can either place live brine on the polyps or spray them with animal-based food. If you’re unsure what to offer, shut off the water pump for a few days and guard against overgrowth.
There are a variety of species of fire corals. Fire corals live in shallow reefs of the Caribbean and Pacific. These creatures have alternating asexual and sexual generations. The asexual generation attaches itself to the reef, produces medusae, and sends eggs into the water. Then, the free-swimming larva grows and settles down on the bottom.
A healthy ecosystem relies on a well-functioning food chain. This means that energy passes through the system in a way that sustains local communities. In the Serengeti, for instance, the lion, the top predator, helps keep the ecosystem balanced by picking off weak prey. In coral reefs, sharks serve the same function, but scientists are not able to see how it works.
Phyllidia nudibranch species live in coral reefs and are considered keystone organisms of the food chains. They are apex predators of other reef-dwelling species. Their larvae feed on planktonic organisms and metamorphose into tiny adults. Because they can’t feed on their own, they need other organisms to live.
Phyllidia nudibranch species are not common in aquariums, but they can live for decades in captivity. These animals have a very specific diet that is unsuited to aquariums. They feed on one particular species of food. This restriction can reduce the lifespan of aquarium nudibranchs significantly. However, the lack of this particular species can help to improve the health of other reef animals.
Many nudibranch species are highly photogenic. Many nudibranch species are called butterflies of the sea, as they are so tiny and blend in with their surroundings. Although nudibranchs’ eyes don’t function in the same way as those of other animals, their bright colours warn predators of their toxic properties and prevent them from consuming them. This has the disadvantage of increasing demand for these nudibranchs, causing them to be removed from the oceans. The increase in demand for nudibranchs may also place a strain on wild populations. Further, because these creatures are dependent on specific habitats and specialized diets, they may become targets for overfishing.
While it’s not clear whether Phyllidia nudibranch species actually eat sea slugs, some research suggests that they do. In the Indian and Pacific oceans, they live alongside corals and other fish. Although they are not considered harmful to corals, they do pose a significant threat to fish populations. While they are reef-safe, they should not be kept in a reef aquarium.