Biodiversity of Caribbean Cold-Water Corals
The biodiversity of corals inhabiting deep waters (>100 m) in the wider Caribbean region is staggering; to date we know of nearly 350 species living in this region, and there are undoubtedly many more waiting to be discovered. Many of these host a variety of other animals themselves, further enhancing overall deep-sea biodiversity in the Caribbean.
- There are at least 147 species of gorgonian corals, 44 of which form important habitat for a variety of marine life. These include Acanthogorgia goesi, Callogorgia americana americana, Diodogorgia nodulifera, Ellisella barbadensis, E. elongata, Narella bellissima, N. pauciflora, Nidalia deichmannae, Nicella obesa, N. guadelupensis, Riisea paniculata and Swiftia exserta.
- We know of at least 99 species of scleractinians, at least nine of which are structure-forming or branching, including Dendrophyllia alternata, Desmophyllum dianthus, Lophelia pertusa, Madracis myriaster, Solenosmilia variabilis, Madrepora carolina and M. oculata, Enallopsammia profunda and E. rostrata.
- At least 41 species of hydrocorals are known from these water depths in this region, including Stylaster atlanticus and S. spatula, as well as the potentially habitat-forming species such as Distichopora sulcata.
- There are 32 species of antipatharian black coral are known from this region, including some key habitat-forming species such as Stylopathes americana, A. caribbeana, Plumapathes pennacea, Tanacetipathes hirta, and Parantipathes tetrasticha.
- At least 20 species of fleshy alcyonacean soft corals, including Stereotelesto corallina and the potentially habitat-forming species Spongodes portoricensis also occur.
- There are at least 8 species of sea pens in this region. These include Renilla reniformis, the widespread species Funiculina quadrangularis that grows over 2 m in height , and Umbellula magniflora, which was reported from waters 6300 m deep in the Caribbean!
- To date only one species of gold coral is known, Savalia sp. (typically known by its junior synonym, Gerardia)