Cold-water coral diversity along the continental shelf margin of northwestern South China Sea

Mei Xia Zhao, Yu Zhong, Shu Qi Zhang, Pu Guo, Da Peng Jiang, Hong Qiang Yan, Jian Wen Qiu, Qi Shi, Duan Xin Chen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Scleractinian cold-water corals (CWCs) are one of the most important habitat engineers of the deep sea. Although the South China Sea (SCS) abuts the biodiversity center of scleractinian CWCs in the western Pacific, only a few sporadic records are available. We discovered new CWC sites by means of trawl sampling and video observation along the continental shelf of the northwestern SCS. All trawled scleractinian CWC specimens were identified to species level according to skeleton morphology and structure. The living CWCs and associated fauna recorded in the video were -identified to a higher level of classification. Scleractinian corals were identified to genus level, while non-scleractinian CWCs were identified to family level and given general names such as gorgonian corals, bamboo corals and black corals. Associated benthic dwellers were divided into major categories. A total of 28 scleractinian CWC species were identified to 7 families, 15 genera, and 1 additional subgenus. Among them, 13 species were colonial, including important habitat-forming species in the genera Eguchipsammia, Dendrophyllia and Cladopsammia. Non-scleractinian CWCs were identified to 7 families, including 4 families gorgonian corals, 1 family bamboo corals, and 2 families black corals. Gorgonian corals were the most abundant non-scleractinian CWCs in this region. Meanwhile, starfish, sea anemones, fish, gastropods, echinoderms, and other associated benthic fauna were recorded in the CWC habitats, with starfish belonging to the order Brisingida being most common. New scleractinian CWC assemblages were discovered along the continental seabed mounds in the northwestern SCS. This study highlights the remarkable diversity of cold-water scleractinian corals in the whole SCS, and shows the potential widespread distribution and conservation prospect of CWC habitats in this region.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106110
JournalMarine Environmental Research
Early online date22 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Pollution

User-Defined Keywords

  • Biodiversity
  • Cold-water corals
  • Conservation perspectives
  • Habitat-forming species
  • Scleractinia
  • South China sea


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