Rain forests of the sea??

Don McAllister mcall at superaje.com
Thu May 25 16:01:45 EDT 2000

John Ware wrote:

>         I am not sure that this is a 'controversial topic', but the
> coral list has been pretty quiet lately.  Are coral reefs really
> analogous to rain forests or is the coral reef community just taking
> advantage of a catchy 'sound bite' to gain status in the eyes of the
> ecologically minded public?

I think the conservation community, including myself (!) has taken
advantage of this analogy, although really coral reefs stand on their own
tentacles.  However,  work of the IUCN SSC Coral Reef Fish Specialist Group
suggests that about 25% of marine fish species are found on coral reefs.
That's a pretty high level, given that coral reefs occupy less than 1% of
the World Ocean, some 230,000 km2 according to a recent estimate.
Hopefully Callum Roberts and Julie Hawkins will publish this year their
fabulous species density maps for coral reef fishes of the world that will
show the global hotspots for these fishes.

Marjorie L. Reaka-Kudla in Biodiversity II, however comes up with a better
broad answer.  She estimates that over 900,000 species (plants, animals,
microbiota) inhabit coral reefs.

Another answer can be provided by a scuba/snorkel transect across a reef
and into adjacent sandy areas.  Lots of species in the first, few in the

But it isn't just a tropical affair (:-->), Norwegian studies show 300
species in deepwater coral 'reef' areas off their coasts.  We haven't
studied such areas thoroughly enough elsewhere to be sure of countes.  But
mapping deepwater corals off the West Coast of Canada, shows they are much
more frequent there than had been hithertoo suspected and the available
clues suggest a rich variety of biota.  This would suggest that it is the
three-dimensional structural diversity in the tropics and boreal zones
which provides shelter and food, that intensifies biodiversity.

Don McAllister

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