The biology of coral reefs by Sheppard, C.R.C. Davy, S.K. and Pilling G.M. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009. No. of pages: 339. ISBN: 978-0-19-856635-9.


The 20th volume in the Biology of Habitats series deals with one of the most complex and species-rich marine ecosystems: coral reefs. In 10 chapters, the authors provide a concise overview of the occurrence of coral reefs, their dominant organisms and their relation to both environmental conditions and human impact.

The primary contributors to the three-dimensional structure on coral reefs are, by definition, scleractinian corals and their, very special, ecology is described in detail. However, many coral reefs fail to recover after disturbances and have undergone regime shifts from coral to domination by macro-algae, frequently with some intermediate steps. The presence of grazers is important in determining this balance, especially following major disturbances. Whereas the ecology of grazers, and especially reef fishes, and the processes determining these regime shifts are described in sufficient detail as well, relatively little attention is paid to the ecology of reef algae.

When I left university, my ideas about reef morphology was that all reefs consisted of a fringing reef, lagoon and patch reefs. Only when I started visiting Indonesian reefs I found out that next to an overwhelming biodiversity on the reefs, there is also an overwhelming variability between reef systems. Apart from depth, onshore–offshore and nutrient gradients as well as substrate types determine the geomorphology, community structure and diversity of reefs. In The Biology of Coral Reefs, most systems are from relatively oligotrophic reef systems and do not fully cover the specific problems of turbid reef systems. However, despite these two minor caveats, this book provides a good overview of the biology and morphology of coral reefs, and is highly recommended as a textbook for classes in coral reef ecology.