Biodiversity & Conservation

Lophelia reefs



Image Murray Roberts - Section of Lophelia pertusa reef, Mingulay, Scotland. Image width ca XX cm.
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Distribution map

SS.SBR.Crl.Lop recorded (dark blue bullet) and expected (light blue bullet) distribution in Britain and Ireland (see below)

  • EC_Habitats
  • UK_BAP

For a list of 2004 characterising species please see the JNCC website.

Species indicative of sensitivity

To assess the sensitivity of the biotope, the sensitivity of component species is reviewed. Those species that are considered to be particularly indicative of the sensitivity of the biotope, and for which research has been undertaken in detail are shown below (see selection criteria). The biology of other component species of the biotope is also taken into account wherever information is known to the researcher.

Species found especially in this biotope

  • Lophelia pertusa
  • Eunice norvegica
Community Importance Species name Common Name
Key structural Lophelia pertusa A cold-water coral
Important functional Eunice norvegica A bristleworm


Lophelia pertusa grows into dense bushes, coppices, thickets and, under favourable conditions, large reefs. The coral skeleton provides additional hard substratum in the form of living and dead coral, and coral sediment. The reefs provides a variety of niches for other organisms within the coral matrix but especially within the dead coral fragments and underlying sediment (see Rogers, 1999). Therefore, Lophelia is regarded as an 'autogenic engineer' or 'ecosystem engineer'. Eunice norvegica builds its tubes within the coral matrix, which are subsequently calcified by the coral, strengthening the matrix. Eunice norvegica may exhibit a non-obligate mutualistic relationship with Lophelia (see ecosystem relationships) (Mortensen, 2001) and is probably an important functional species. The biology of Lophelia is poorly known, so no review of the species has been prepared. Relevant information on its biology has been included in the sensitivity assessment where possible.

The ecological relationships between Lophelia and its associated community are poorly understood (Rogers, 1999) and no characterizing species (sensu Connor et al., 1997a) have so far been identified.

Additional information

Rogers (1999) collated species lists from all previous studies of Lophelia reefs in the north-east Atlantic and noted that about 886 species had been recorded, although this number of species is probably an under-estimate. Diverse species groups include the Foraminifera, Polychaeta, Echinodermata, and Bryozoa. The diversity of polychaetes, echinoderms and bryozoans recorded from Lophelia reefs is similar to that found on shallow water tropical coral reefs (Rogers, 1999). However, Scleractina (corals), Mollusca and Pisces (fish) have relatively low diversities compared to tropical reefs (see Rogers, 1999). Jensen & Frederiksen (1992) suggested that most species present were not strongly associated or endemic to the Lophelia reefs they studied, however the associated community is still poorly understood (Rogers, 1999). Recent studies of the fauna of coral-water coral reefs on seamounts off Tasmania by Koslow et al. (2001) recorded 262 species of invertebrates of which 24 -43% were new to science and 16 -33% were restricted to the seamount environment, while De Forges et al. (2000) recorded 850 species of mega and macrofauna of which 29 -34% were new to science and were potential seamount endemics. Overall, cold water coral reefs represent biodiversity hot spots within their area. For example, Masson et al. (2003) reported that initial studies suggested that invertebrate density was about 2-3 times higher on the Darwin Mounds than the surrounding sediments. Further study is required to estimate the biodiversity of northeast Atlantic Lophelia reefs and seamounts.

This review can be cited as follows:

Tyler-Walters, H. 2005. Lophelia reefs. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Sub-programme [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 30/11/2015]. Available from: <>