Abiotic & Biotic Characteristics of Reefs


Natural coral reefs are composed of thin, stacked layers of limestone, built up over time from the secretions of hundreds of tiny, aquatic animals called coral polyps. When man-made materials are left on a shallow ocean floor, a colony of coral may settle in and begin depositing calcium carbonate secretions around the existing structure. As the secretions crystallize into limestone, a new artificial reef is formed.

The rocky ridges of every reef, both natural and artificial, create a unique aquatic ecosystem that is home to a wide variety of fish, invertebrates and plants.

Elements of an Ecosystem

  • Within every ecosystem there are both living and nonliving components. The word biotic, made up of the prefix “bio-” meaning “life” and the suffix “-ic” meaning “like,” describes the living elements within an ecosystem. Abiotic, with the added prefix “a-,” meaning “not,” describes the nonliving elements within an ecosystem.

Biotic and Abiotic Characteristics

  • The abiotic characteristics of a reef might include the following: temperature of the water, pH of the water, sunlight reaching the coral, salinity of the water, minerals dissolved in the water, wave action, wind and weather.

    The biotic characteristics of a reef would include all life forms living on or near the reef. This would include: the coral polyps that create the reef; populations of echinoderms such as starfish, sea urchins and sand dollars; populations of benthic crustaceans like shrimp, mussels and barnacles; bacteria; plankton; fish; plants and algae such as seaweed.


  • Photo Credit VitalyEdush/iStock/Getty Images
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