Lophelia pertusa

Geographic Range

Deepwater white coral has a vast geographic range, including the Atlantic coast of the southeastern United States, the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean, and the New England seamounts. This species may be found along the coasts of Brazil and West Africa as well. Outside of the Atlantic Ocean, deepwater white coral may be found in the Mediterranean Sea and Pacific, Indian, and Southern Oceans (latitudinal range of approximately 56ºS-71ºN). The largest known reef is west of Røst Island in the Lofoten archipelago, Norway. ("Deep water corals", 2013; "The State of Deep Coral Ecosystems in the United States: 2007", 2007; Cairns, 1994; Fosså, et al., 2002; Hiscock, et al., 2005)


This species is a cold-water stony coral, preferring temperatures of 4-12º C. Deepwater white coral can be seen at depths ranging from 39-3000 m, but is most commonly found at depths of 200-1000 m. Sunlight does not reach to these depths; this species filters food from the water column, and therefore is most often found in areas with fast currents. While this coral requires a hard substrate for attachment, the specific type of substrate may vary, from small stones to man-made oil rigs. ("Deep water corals", 2013; "The State of Deep Coral Ecosystems in the United States: 2007", 2007; Davies, et al., 2008; Fosså, et al., 2002; Hiscock, et al., 2005)

  • Range depth
    39 to 3000 m
    127.95 to 9842.52 ft
  • Average depth
    200-1000 m

Physical Description

This species is a cold-water coral that lives as a polyp throughout its entire lifespan. Bushy growths branch out and fuse together, forming colonies, known as reefs. Individual polyps are connected by their skeletons but have no internal connection to each other; individual skeletons may be up to 12 mm in diameter. Live growths cover dead coral in the center of a reef; reefs may be strongly calcified, with larger polyps, or delicate, with smaller polyps. Such variation may be a response to physical conditions, such as temperature differences. Because the morphology and size of the coral varies, reefs can be circular, dome-shaped, or elongated. The size of the colony is proportional to age in a given environment: the bigger the colony, the older the coral. The largest known intact reef is the Røst Reef, located off the coast of Norway; it is 40 km long by 3 km wide. Unlike corals found in warmer waters, deepwater white corals do not have any symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae). A Lophelia polyp may have up to 16 tentacles surrounding an opening which acts as the animal's mouth and anus; these tentacles may be seen extending from the reef structure. Polyps are yellowish, pink, or white in color and are translucent. ("Deep water corals", 2013; "The State of Deep Coral Ecosystems in the United States: 2007", 2007; Cohen, et al., 2006; Hiscock, et al., 2005; Peckett, 2003; Roberts and Wicks, 2013)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike


During sexual reproduction, polyps release oocytes into the water column, where they are fertilized. This species has a lecithotrophic larval stage; larvae undergo metamorphosis without consuming external food and do not have a mouth or other feeding structures. Although the duration of this larval stage is not known, it is thought that larvae grow for several weeks before settling and attaching to a substrate. Distribution is likely passive, based on water currents. Once settling, a polyp remains in that location for the rest of its life. In its sessile stage, the estimated annual growth rate of polyps is 30 mm. (Kempf and Hadfield, 1985; Morrison, et al., 2008; Pitcher, et al., 2007)


There is no available information about the mating systems of this species in the literature; it is known, however, that all polyps in a given colony are the same sex and that gametes are released into the water column. ("Deep water corals", 2013)

This species is dioecious, meaning that separate individuals are distinctly male or female. Polyps are broadcast spawners, releasing oocytes or sperm into the water column, where fertilization and development occur. Each polyp can produce approximately 3,000 oocytes/year, which are released in January and February. Oocytes are very small, only 140 µm in diameter on average. Asexual reproduction can also occur through fragmentation or budding. ("Deep water corals", 2013; "The State of Deep Coral Ecosystems in the United States: 2007", 2007; Pitcher, et al., 2007)

  • Breeding interval
    Oocytes are released once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season is during January and February.
  • Average number of offspring

This species exhibits no parental care beyond the production of gametes. ("Deep water corals", 2013)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


Live polyps grow on the skeletal remains of coral from previous generations. Polyps are thought to live no more than 20 years. As a whole, deepwater white coral reefs may exist for hundreds or even thousands of years. ("Deep water corals", 2013; "The State of Deep Coral Ecosystems in the United States: 2007", 2007; Hiscock, et al., 2005)


Larvae require a hard substrate in order to settle. After landing on and attaching to a hard substrate, they may can expand across areas of soft sediment. Polyps live together in large groups, creating reefs. Reefs develop through “thicket” and “coppice” stages, forming rings roughly 10-13 m in diameter. “Thicket” refers to a very dense population of overlapping corals, while “coppice” refers to the outgrowth of new corals from the remnants of the stump of an older coral. Boring organisms may attack the central older regions of cold-water corals, leaving a patch with outer living coral and an inner dead skeleton, creating a habitat that can support a diverse fauna. (Hiscock, et al., 2005; Le Goff-vitry, et al., 2004; Roberts, et al., 2003)

Home Range

The home range of individual polyps is limited to the spot in which they settle. ("Deep water corals", 2013; "The State of Deep Coral Ecosystems in the United States: 2007", 2007)

Communication and Perception

There is no information currently available in the literature regarding communication and perception in this species. In general, however, cnidarians possess a nervous system composed of noncentralized nerve nets, and they are usually capable of detecting tactile and chemical stimuli. (Brusca and Brusca, 2003)

Food Habits

Polyps may catch live prey, including zooplankton, calanoid copepods, and euphausiid crustaceans, by extending their tentacles. When touched by a tentacle, a prey item is injected with venom by its cnidocytes (stinging cells). This species is a generalist feeder, even known to consume particles from dead fishes or other animals. ("Deep water corals", 2013; Purser, et al., 2010; Roberts, et al., 2003)


There is no information regarding specific predators of this species reported in the literature; it is possible that any of the animals living within and around its reefs may consume polyps. ("Deep water corals", 2013)

Ecosystem Roles

This species' reefs sustain high levels of biodiversity. The corals create a three-dimensional habitat for fish and other organisms and increase the habitat complexity on the continental shelf, slope, and seamounts. Their hard surfaces act as an attachment point for many sessile organisms. Organisms that live in these cold-water coral habitats in the Sula Ridge, for example, include rockfish, saithe, and squat lobsters. Other typical members of ecosystems created by these reefs include polychaetes, echinoderms, bryozoans, and many demersal fishes. Cold-water coral habitats are also known to provide increased food availability, functioning as feeding, breeding, and nursery habitats for many kinds of fishes. The distribution of this species in the Faroe Islands increases breakage of internal tidal waves, which is thought to increase vertical nutrient flux, thereby increasing phytoplankton production. The waves also increase the food available to benthic feeders farther down the slope. (Costello, et al., 2005; Fosså, et al., 2002; Hiscock, et al., 2005; Roberts, et al., 2003; Sulak, et al., 2008)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • creates habitat
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

This species has a positive impact on the commercial fishing industry; without the habitat created by coral skeletons, many commercially fished species would not be as abundant. (Costello, et al., 2005; Le Goff-vitry, et al., 2004; Roberts, et al., 2003)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative effects of this species on humans.

Conservation Status

There are currently no measures in place to protect this species, nor is it considered endangered or threatened by any agency, although the potential for significant damage to seabeds by trawling activities is very high. These deep-water reefs had no protection in the United Kingdom until August 2003, when the Darwin Mounds received protection under a European Fisheries regulation disallowing the use of bottom trawls for commercial fishing. Since 2000, cold-water reefs in the Northeast Atlantic, particularly those in the Darwin Mounds (off the northwest coast of Scotland), have continued to be damaged by trawling, hydrocarbon exploration, and oil drilling. This species was listed under CITES Appendix II in 1990, but has not been listed more recently. ("The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources", 2013; Hiscock, et al., 2005)


Emma Shaw (author), The College of New Jersey, Sean Sussman (author), The College of New Jersey, Keith Pecor (editor), The College of New Jersey, Renee Mulcrone (editor), Special Projects, Jeremy Wright (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

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living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

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Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

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living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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on or near the ocean floor in the deep ocean. Abyssal regions are characterized by complete lack of light, extremely high water pressure, low nutrient availability, and continuous cold (3 degrees C).


reproduction that is not sexual; that is, reproduction that does not include recombining the genotypes of two parents


Referring to an animal that lives on or near the bottom of a body of water. Also an aquatic biome consisting of the ocean bottom below the pelagic and coastal zones. Bottom habitats in the very deepest oceans (below 9000 m) are sometimes referred to as the abyssal zone. see also oceanic vent.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


having a worldwide distribution. Found on all continents (except maybe Antarctica) and in all biogeographic provinces; or in all the major oceans (Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific.


an animal that mainly eats decomposed plants and/or animals


particles of organic material from dead and decomposing organisms. Detritus is the result of the activity of decomposers (organisms that decompose organic material).

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body


union of egg and spermatozoan


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


a distribution that more or less circles the Arctic, so occurring in both the Nearctic and Palearctic biogeographic regions.

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Found in northern North America and northern Europe or Asia.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats plankton


the regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

radial symmetry

a form of body symmetry in which the parts of an animal are arranged concentrically around a central oral/aboral axis and more than one imaginary plane through this axis results in halves that are mirror-images of each other. Examples are cnidarians (Phylum Cnidaria, jellyfish, anemones, and corals).


structure produced by the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral polyps (Class Anthozoa). Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow oceans with low nutrient availability. They form the basis for rich communities of other invertebrates, plants, fish, and protists. The polyps live only on the reef surface. Because they depend on symbiotic photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, they cannot live where light does not penetrate.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


non-motile; permanently attached at the base.

Attached to substratum and moving little or not at all. Synapomorphy of the Anthozoa


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


animal constituent of plankton; mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. (Compare to phytoplankton.)


2013. "Deep water corals" (On-line). CoRIS: NOAA's Coral Reef Information System. Accessed December 31, 2013 at http://www.coris.noaa.gov/about/deep/#pertusa.

2013. "The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources" (On-line). Accessed December 31, 2013 at www.iucnredlist.org.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The State of Deep Coral Ecosystems in the United States: 2007. CRCP-3. Silver Springs, MD: NOOA Coral Reef Conservation Program. 2007. Accessed December 29, 2013 at http://www.coris.noaa.gov/activities/deepcoral_rpt/DeepCoralRpt2007.pdf.

Brusca, R., G. Brusca. 2003. Invertebrates. Second Edition.. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

Cairns, S. 1994. Scleractinia of the Temperate North Pacific. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology. Accessed December 29, 2013 at http://www.sil.si.edu/smithsoniancontributions/zoology/pdf_hi/sctz-0557.pdf.

Cohen, A., G. Gaetani, T. Lundälv, B. Corliss, R. George. 2006. Compositional variability in a cold-water scleractinian, Lophelia pertusa: New insights into “vital effects”. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 7/12: Q12004. Accessed December 29, 2013 at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2006GC001354/abstract.

Costello, M., M. McCrea, A. Freiwald, T. Lundälv, L. Jonsson, B. Bett, T. van Weering, H. de Hass, J. Roberts, D. Allen. 2005. Role of cold-water Lophelia pertusa coral reefs as fish habitat in the NE Atlantic. Pp. 771-805 in A Friewald, J Roberts, eds. Cold-water Corals and Ecosystems. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag. Accessed December 29, 2013 at http://mcbi.marine-conservation.org/what/what_pdfs/Costello_et_al_2005.pdf.

Davies, A., M. Wisshak, J. Orr, J. Roberts. 2008. Predicting suitable habitat for the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa (Scleractinia). Deep-Sea Research Part 1: Oceanographic Research Papers, 55/8: 1048-1062. Accessed December 29, 2013 at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0967063708000836.

Fosså, J., P. Mortensen, D. Furevik. 2002. The deep-water coral Lophelia pertusa in Norwegian waters: distribution and fishery impacts. Hydrobiologia, 471: 1-12. Accessed December 29, 2013 at http://www.imr.no/Dokumenter/fossa.pdf.

Hiscock, K., J. Sewell, J. Oakley. 2005. Marine Health Check 2005. A report to gauge the health of the UK’s sea-life. WWF-UK: Godalming. Accessed April 09, 2013 at http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/marine_healthcheck05.pdf.

Kempf, S., M. Hadfield. 1985. Planktotrophy by the lecithotrophic larvae of a nudibranch, Phestilla sibogae (Gastropoda). Biological Bulletin, 169: 119-130. Accessed December 29, 2013 at http://www.biolbull.org/content/169/1/119.full.pdf.

Le Goff-vitry, M., O. Pybus, A. Rogers. 2004. Genetic structure of the deep-sea coral Lophelia pertusa in the northeast Atlantic revealed by microsatellites and internal transcribed spacer sequences. Molecular Ecology, 13: 537-549. Accessed April 09, 2013 at http://evolve.zoo.ox.ac.uk/evolve/Oliver_Pybus_files/GeneticStructureOfLophelia.pdf.

Morrison, C., R. Johnson, T. King, S. Ross, M. Nizinski. 2008. Molecular assessment of deep-sea Scleractinian coral biodiversity and population structure of Lophelia pertusa in the Gulf of Mexico. Pp. 4.1-4.70 in K Sulak, ed. Characterization of Northern Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Hard Bottom Communities with Emphasis on Lophelia Coral: Lophelia reef megafaunal community structure, biotopes, genetics, microbial ecology and geology (2004-2006). New Orleans, LA: U.S. Geological Survey. Accessed December 31, 2013 at http://fl.biology.usgs.gov/pdf/4_CHAPTER_4_LOPHELIA_GENETICS.pdf.

Peckett, F. 2003. "Lophelia pertusa: A cold water coral" (On-line). Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Sub-programme. Accessed December 31, 2013 at http://www.marlin.ac.uk/speciesinformation.php?speciesID=3724.

Pitcher, T., T. Morato, P. Hart, M. Clark, N. Haggan, R. Santos. 2007. Seamounts: Ecology, fisheries & conservation. Garsington Road, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Purser, A., A. Larsson, L. Thomsen, D. van Oevelen. 2010. The influence of flow velocity and food concentration on Lophelia pertusa (Scleractinia) zooplankton capture rates. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 395/1-2: 55-62. Accessed December 29, 2013 at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022098110003308.

Roberts, J., L. Wicks. 2013. "Lophelia" (On-line). Accessed December 31, 2013 at http://www.lophelia.org.

Roberts, J., D. Long, J. Wilson, P. Mortensen, J. Gage. 2003. The cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa (Scleractinia) and enigmatic seabed mounds along the north-east Atlantic margin: are they related?. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 46/1: 7-20. Accessed December 29, 2013 at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12535964.

Sulak, K., R. Brooks, K. Luke, A. Norem, M. Randall, A. Quaid, G. Yeargin, J. Miller, W. Harden, J. Caruso, S. Ross. 2008. Demersal fishes associated with Lophelia pertusa coral and associated biotopes on the continental slope, northern Gulf of Mexico. Pp. 2.1-2.61 in K Sulak, ed. Characterization of Northern Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Hard Bottom Communities with Emphasis on Lophelia Coral: Lophelia reef megafaunal community structure, biotopes, genetics, microbial ecology and geology (2004-2006). New Orleans, LA: U.S. Geological Survey. Accessed December 31, 2013 at http://fl.biology.usgs.gov/pdf/2_CHAPTER_2_LOPHELIA_FISHES.pdf.