Reef HQ Programs | Students | Reef Guardians | GBR Explorer | Visual Library | Reef Beat |

Reef Ecology

Year Level: 11 - 12

Main idea:

Students explore the ecology of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem and gain an appreciation of the diversity of life that it contains and the evolutionary process that have shaped the plants and animals that live there today.

Key understandings

  • An ecosystem consists of both living and non-living components.
  • Living things can be recognised using various characteristics.
  • Energy flows through ecosystems. Radiant energy from the sun continually enters the system. It may be converted to other forms of energy, used, stored, transformed into heat energy, or reflected back into space.
  • Matter cycles within ecosystems. The cycles of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon and water typify this process.
  • By replacing natural ecosystems with agricultural and/or urban ecosystems, human activity has altered the natural flow of energy and matter.
  • An understanding of the way ecosystems function is a critical part of ecosystem management.
  • Changes in ecosystems may result from natural processes or human activity, or both.

Focus questions

  • What environmental factors contribute to change within populations and communities?
  • How does the spatial distribution of organisms relate to their physical requirements (e.g. food or shelter)?
  • What types of special association may occur between organisms within communities (e.g. symbiosis)?
  • What are biotic and abiotic characteristics?
  • What types of interactions occur between living and non-living components of the ecosystem?
  • How do matter and energy move within an ecosystem?
  • What are some of the impacts of industrialised human societies on the natural environment?
  • What is the scientific evidence for the process of biological evolution?
  • What are some examples of evolutionary events?

Key terms

Abiotic, biome, biotic, biogeochemical cycles, buoyancy, carbon, change, class, community, diversity, ecology, ecologically sustainable, ecosystem, energy, environment, Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) evidence, evolution, human-activity, interaction, interconnectedness, management, matter, nitrogen, organisms, oxygen, phylum, radiant energy, salinity, system, viscosity, water.

Key learning areas:

  • SOSE
  • English
  • Science

Essential learning:

  • Critical thinking
  • Group discussion
  • Analysis/data manipulation
  • Evaluation via criteria
  • Decision-making
  • Research and communication
  • Goal setting

Key competencies:

  • Collecting, analysing and organising information
  • Communicating ideas and information
  • Solving problems
  • Using technology
  • Working with others and in teams


This unit focuses on the following core learning outcomes from the Senior Biology and Multi-Strand Science Syllabuses.


  • Ability to recall learned factual material in text and spatial forms.

Scientific processes

  • Ability to use scientific processes;
  • Ability to collect and organise data;
  • Ability to process and generate information;
  • Ability to communicate information in various contexts;
  • Ability to design and devise investigations;
  • Ability to understand the meaning of information by transforming, interpreting or extrapolating.

Decision-making processes

  • Ability to solve challenging problems;
  • Ability to solve logical decision;
  • Ability to use critical and creative thinking skills.

Attached Documents

You may need Acrobat Reader for some of the following documents.
Get Acrobat Reader
Get Acrobat Reader

Reef Ecology - Teaching Unit
File size: 101k