Within Queensland there are several major ecosystem types that are sometimes referred to as biomes. A biome is a region of interacting ecosystems with a similar climate, and plant and animal species. The community of living organisms, the physical environment that affects it, including the flow of energy and cycling of nutrients, is called an ecosystem. The term habitat is used for the place where a given species lives, including its food, water, shelter and the conditions suitable for its survival and reproduction.
Biomes may be freshwater, marine, desert, forest, grassland or tundra. Marine biomes cover about 75 percent of the Earth's surface and comprise oceans and coral reefs. They differ from freshwater biomes as they have high levels of salts in the water. In some areas such as estuaries, where rivers meet the sea and fresh water mixes with seawater, organisms have to cope with changes in salt concentration.
Organisms that live in marine habitats have specific abiotic (or physical) factors to contend with, such as:
There are several activities that investigate these Physical Factors of Marine Environments in the For Teachers Section.
The biotic components of marine habitats refer to the organisms that live within them and the relationships that exist between them. Some interesting sessile marine organisms can be found on the sea floor. Sessile organisms are ones that remain fixed in place and generally don’t move about in the adult stage, although most have motile larval stages. Some examples are sponges, corals, giant clams, sea anemones and ascidians (tunicates and sea squirts). Sponges and ascidians are of special interest for research purposes as they produce many bioactive chemicals.
Scientists from the Queensland Museum have been investigating some sessile sea creatures for possible biochemicals. ‘Biodiscovery’ refers to the collection of small amounts of native biological resources (plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms) and screening them to identify any bioactive compounds that may be used for commercial purposes, such as pharmaceuticals and insecticides.
Dr. John Hooper, Head of Biodiversity and Geosciences at the Queensland Museum, has been researching sponges and other sessile marine invertebrates for years. Through his collaborations, it was found that certain chemicals extracted from these organisms have the potential to:
The benefits of these chemicals for human health are obvious.
Many of the organisms on the Reef live in special relationships with other organisms. Some types of relationships between organisms are:
You may like to try the Animal Adaptations and Marine Food Webs activities in the For Teachers section.
Useful web link: Diving the Gold Coast with Ian Banks