Why is it useful to compare rainforests and reefs?

Ursula Keuper-Bennett howzit at turtles.org
Sat May 27 13:44:41 EDT 2000

Hi Alex (others)

re: "coral reef as a city" analogy vs "coral reef as a rain forest".

I've never heard the coral reef/city analogy before but I guess most people 
know more about a city than a rain forest so educators would go with what 
most people know.  I can certainly SEE similarities once I get past the 
huge hurdle that "city" is a human construct and rainforest/coralreef both 
natural treasures are threatened BY human constructs.

Let's see... similarities.... a city is run by movers-and-shakers and there 
sure are movers-and-shakers on any coral reef making everything else 
run.  There's all kinds of interdependency and huge changes in activity 
between day and night.  Scavengers and parasites make do as they 
can...  Anyone being in the wrong place at the wrong time and they won't 
repeat that mistake.

Yes, I can see the analogy.

I still like the coral reef as rainforest analogy better.  Never 
experienced a rain forest --only what I've seen on TV or read about.   But 
a rainforest sure "feels" like a coral reef.  Both are 3D worlds with a lot 
of up and down.

I've shot videotape of a reef system off the coast of West Maui from 1989 
through 1999 and for various reasons, need to return to those tapes 
frequently.  As I fast forward one thing strikes me.

It's possible to forget the footage is underwater especially when reviewing 
wide-angle/distant segments.  And when that happens what I don't see a reef 
system but something that looks for all the world like a furrowed meadow 
with swarms of bees buzzing about.

I'm fortunate to spend two months on the same coral reef every year.  I've 
frequently found myself forgetting I'm underwater.  Very easy to do.  And 
then the corals feel like trees, bushes and hedges, the fish like 
butterflies and bees and the turtles --our beautiful turtles, FLY like 

And here's where our reef is also like a rainforest.  Sometimes we just see 
everything mobile DASH to the bottom hugging the corals.  ZING --like 
that.  And we look around knowing something big scared the lot of 
them.   The "insects" fled to the safety of the "trees".   I'm sure when 
BIG shows in a rainforest, small flees to the trees too.

The analogy DOES break down though no question.  If a coral reef resident 
falls off a coral head (even a huge TALL one) gravity is much more 
forgiving than it is for rainforest trees (even a small short one).

Ursula Keuper-Bennett
At 10:30 AM 5/27/00 -0400, Brylske at aol.com wrote:

>In a message dated 5/27/00 5:41:16 AM, gregorh at pacific.net.hk writes:
><< o add to Bob's ecological comments, I would also note that a major
>between the two ecosystems is that many rainforest organisms such as 
>birds, and mammals are herbivores and EAT the major structural component 
>of a
>rainforest --- trees (leaves, flowers, fruit etc), whereas, there are few
>reef organisms which directly consume corals. Fish are not insects and 
>are not trees. >>
>This is a very important issue. When not used appropriately, analogies are 
>prone to cause misconceptions among learners. Those who have studied the
>phenomenon--and developed prescriptive procedures for analogy-based
>instruction--all emphasize that, as part of the strategy, the learner must 
>told where the analogy BREAKS DOWN as well as where it applies. My
>definition, an analogy is something similar, not exactly the same as
>something else.
>Alex Brylske

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