Coral reefs are massive underwater structures made from the hard limestone exoskeletons of thousands of tiny living organisms (coral polyps) produced one on top of another in warm, clear, shallow ocean waters. Living polyps extend upward and outward from the coral colony center and live on top of the old dead exoskeletons. Coral reef communities are crowded with other animals representing virtually every major animal phylum. Space is at a premium on reefs, corals, seaweeds (various forms of algae), sponges, or other organisms cover virtually every surface. Because both corals and algae require light to survive, access to light, like space, is also a resource subject to competition. Fast-growing, branching corals can grow over slower-growing, encrusting, or massive corals and deny them light. In response, the slower-growing forms can extend stinging filaments from their digestive cavity and kill their competitor's polyps. Undamaged polyps on the faster-growing, branching coral, however, may grow very long sweeper tentacles, containing powerful nematocysts (stingers) that kill polyps on the slower-growing form. The faster-growing form repairs the damage and continues to overgrow its competitor. In addition to sweeper tentacles and stinging filaments, corals have several other mechanisms available for attack or defense. In general, slower-growing corals are more aggressive than fast-growing species. In cases where a competitor cannot be overcome, however, corals may survive by taking advantage of differences in local habitats. Massive corals are generally more shade tolerant and able to survive at greater depths. Therefore, on many reefs it is the fast-growing, branching corals that ultimately dominate at the upper, shallower portion of the reef, whereas more massive forms dominate in deeper areas.   Corals also must compete with other reef organisms, each with its own strategies for survival. Sponges, soft corals, and seaweeds (algae) can overgrow stony corals and smother them. Algae are competitively superior to corals in shallow water but less so at depth. Survival of coral in shallow water, therefore, may depend on grazing by plant-eating echinoderms (starfish and sea urchins) and fishes. In Jamaica, overfishing removed most of the plant-eating fish from coral reefs. Initially, algal growth was kept in check by grazing sea urchins, but in 1982, a pathogen reduced the population by 99 percent. Without grazers, the algae were able to completely overgrow the coral. Competition may occur among other reef communities. Grazing by urchins and fishes is important in preventing seaweeds from overgrowing the reef. The dominant algae on a healthy reef are usually fast-growing filamentous forms or coralline algae, well protected by calcification (hardening) and the production of noxious chemicals. These algae are inferior competitors to larger, fleshier seaweeds, so grazing by urchins and fishes on the larger seaweeds allows these algae to persist. Grazing on plants is greatest in the shallow reef areas but decreases with depth, where lower temperatures and light reduce algal growth. The reef is, therefore, a mosaic of microhabitats with different levels of grazing and different algal communities. An additional complexity arises from the activity of damselfish. Because they are territorial, many damselfish species exclude grazers and other species from certain areas of the reef. Algae grow rapidly in these territories, providing habitat for many small invertebrates but overgrowing the corals. Branching corals tend to dominate in damselfish territories because they are upright and faster growing than the more massive or encrusting forms. Although less studied than on rocky shores, predation almost certainly has a significant influence on the community structure of coral reefs. Fish and other predators may preferentially prey on such competitors of corals as sponges and gorgonians, giving competitively inferior reef corals an advantage in securing space. Many species of fish, mollusks, and crustaceans also feed directly on coral polyps. Several surgeonfish and parrotfish may actually pass coral skeletons through their digestive tracts and add sediment to the reef. Both fish and invertebrate corallivores (coral-feeding organisms) seem to attack faster-growing, branching species preferentially, perhaps preventing slower-growing forms from being overgrown. Corallivores, however, rarely ever completely destroy a coral colony except in cases where tropical storms or humans have already done severe damage. The fact that almost all small invertebrates on reefs are so well hidden or highly camouflaged is another indicator of how prevalent predation is on reefs and its importance in determining reef structure.