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  Habitats - The Great Barrier Reef    

Kelp Forests

Ecology - Energy flow

In the same way that trees provide shelter and food for many different species of plants and animals that live beneath them, kelp forests are the true forests of the sea.

The habitat created by a kelp forest provides homes and shelter for a broad range of species in much the same way that trees create habitat for other plants and animals. In kelp forest the shading created beneath the blades provides ideal conditions for the growth of delicate soft red and pink algae. These in turn provide food for a range of grazing animals such as snails that other feed directly on the encrusting algae or the pieces of algae that accumulate on the bottom. The spaces between plants provide suitable substrate for encrusting non-moving animals such as sponges and sea squirts that filter their food from the plankton and detritus in the water. In addition the blades and stipes of the kelps provide an anchoring point for small epiphytic algae which in turn can be eaten by grazing animals.

The leaves of kelps are eaten directly by relatively few animals. There are however a number of grazing animals such as sea urchins that can directly consume the leaves. When fragments of kelps wash ashore they are also attacked by small crustaceans such as sand hoppers which in turn provide an important food source for shore birds such as gulls.

Because of the moderating effect the blades of kelps have on currents and waves, kelp forests provide more sheltered environments for many species. A large number of species use these forests as nurseries including a number of our major commercially harvested species such as rock lobsters, abalone, snapper and wrasse.

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