Darwin’s Paradox

Darwin’s Paradox originated around 200 years ago from none other than famed naturalist, Charles Darwin. Darwin’s Paradox asked the question of how thriving coral reef ecosystems are able to flourish in otherwise barren areas of the Pacific Ocean.

To explain this phenomenon, coral reefs and their contribution to ocean ecosystems must first be understood. Coral reefs contain some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, and are teeming with biodiversity. Around 25% of the ocean’s fish rely on coral reef ecosystems to survive since reefs are able to provide organisms with shelter, food sources, and mating sites. Shallow water coral reefs survive by having a symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic algae that lives in their tissue. Deep water corals reefs however do not possess photosynthetic algae, and instead rely on plankton to survive. Other than environmental benefits, coral reefs provide many economic opportunities such as a source of medicine, tourism, and flood protection.

Darwin’s Paradox is solved by the understanding the coral reef’s formation. Originally Darwin thought that coral reefs were formed by volcanic activity on the ocean floor, which caused tectonic plates to lift thereby allowing shallow regions to support coral reef ecosystems. However recent research determined that Darwin’s Paradox is based on the availability of phytoplankton and the Island Mass Effect (IME). The IME is a phenomenon that occurs when phytoplankton growth is increased in areas near reef ecosystems. Phytoplankton acts as a primary food source in coral reefs and is the foundation for the food web of the entire ocean. The IME essentially acts as a positive feedback loop that is continuously reinforced by factors such as upwelling, geomorphology, and activities of organisms which ultimately helps to stimulate coral reef growth.

But what is the importance of Darwin’s Paradox and why does it matter to humans? Since phytoplankton is an energy rich resource, large amounts of it could be extremely detrimental to coral reef ecosystems. By studying the IME and phytoplankton growth, agriculture and industrial runoff that contain high nutrient levels on islands can be minimized. Additionally conservation efforts such as those aimed at preserving coral reef ecosystems can be promoted due to a better understanding of phytoplankton and ocean processes.

Darwin’s paradox should not be viewed as an isolated phenomenon, but instead it should serve as inspiration to learn more about the ocean ecosystems and marine wildlife.

-Allen Shen

Sources: https://blog.education.nationalgeographic.org/2016/04/11/scientists-solve-darwins-paradox/

https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/marine-life-education-resources/coral-reef-ecosystems

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