Researchers from The University of Western Australia’s Biological Oceanography team and the University of Sheffield (UK) have spent the last six weeks at Ningaloo reef tracking the fate of the microscopic plants and animals (plankton) transported to the reef by the waters of the adjacent Indian Ocean.
They have found that the reef production is fed by wave-power from the sea, which pumps plankton cross the reef.
As plankton cross the surf zone they are rapidly consumed by voracious reef feeders - the corals and other animals - that dominate reef ecology at Ningaloo.
This is the first study of its kind directly linking ocean hydrodynamics with reef feeding, and presents the first clear indication that the Ningaloo ecosystem can source its food from the open sea.
"One of the exciting outcomes of this work will be the ability to determine the rate at which the reef feeds on plankton," says Dr Anya Waite, Biological Oceanography Group Leader.
"This in turn should allow us to estimate how much oceanic food the reef requires, and how future changes to the oceans due to climate change might impact the health and abundance of reef animals," she said.
The research is funded by the UK’s National Environment Research Council, The University of Western Australia and the Western Australian Marine Science Institution.
Dr Anya Waite (School of Environmental Systems Engineering) 61 8 6488 3082