Marine Biodiversity

, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 157–168 | Cite as

Extraordinary diversity of reef corals in the South China Sea

  • Danwei Huang
  • Wilfredo Y. Licuanan
  • Bert W. Hoeksema
  • Chaolun Allen Chen
  • Put O. Ang
  • Hui Huang
  • David J. W. Lane
  • Si Tuan Vo
  • Zarinah Waheed
  • Yang Amri Affendi
  • Thamasak Yeemin
  • Loke Ming Chou
Original Paper


The South China Sea in the Central Indo-Pacific is a large marine region that spans an area of more than 3 million km2 bounded by the coastlines of ten Asian nation states and contains numerous small islands. Although it abuts the western border of the Coral Triangle, the designated centre of maximum marine biodiversity, the South China Sea has received much less scientific and conservation attention. In particular, a consolidated estimate of the region’s scleractinian reef coral diversity has yet to emerge. To address this issue, we assemble a comprehensive species distribution data set that comprises 16 reef areas spread across the entire South China Sea. Despite containing less than 17 % of the reef area as compared to the Coral Triangle, this region hosts 571 known species of reef corals, a richness that is comparable to the Coral Triangle’s based on a standardised nomenclatural scheme. Similarity profile analysis and non-metric multidimensional scaling demonstrate that most areas are compositionally distinct from one another and are structured according to latitude but not longitude. More broadly, this study underscores the remarkable and unexpected diversity of reef corals in the South China Sea.


Coral reefs Coral Triangle Indo-Pacific Latitudinal gradient Scleractinia Species richness 



We thank Emre Turak and Lyndon DeVantier for providing unpublished data. Kari Ellingsen and an anonymous reviewer provided comments that helped improve the manuscript. DH is supported by US National Science Foundation grant DEB-1145043-1145408, POA by Hong Kong RGC GRF 460013, and STV by the Vietnam National Foundation for Science and Technology Development project 106.14-2010.67.

Supplementary material

12526_2014_236_MOESM1_ESM.xls (182 kb)
ESM 1 (XLS 182 kb)


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Copyright information

© Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Danwei Huang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Wilfredo Y. Licuanan
    • 3
  • Bert W. Hoeksema
    • 4
  • Chaolun Allen Chen
    • 5
    • 6
  • Put O. Ang
    • 7
  • Hui Huang
    • 8
    • 9
  • David J. W. Lane
    • 10
  • Si Tuan Vo
    • 11
  • Zarinah Waheed
    • 4
    • 12
  • Yang Amri Affendi
    • 13
  • Thamasak Yeemin
    • 14
  • Loke Ming Chou
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore
  3. 3.Br. Alfred Shields FSC Ocean Research Center and Biology DepartmentDe La Salle UniversityManilaPhilippines
  4. 4.Department of Marine ZoologyNaturalis Biodiversity CenterLeidenThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Biodiversity Research Center and Taiwan International Graduate ProgramAcademia SinicaNangangTaiwan
  6. 6.Institute of OceanographyNational Taiwan UniversityTaipeiTaiwan
  7. 7.Marine Science LaboratoryChinese University of Hong KongHong Kong SARChina
  8. 8.Tropical Marine Biological Research Station in HainanSanyaChina
  9. 9.Key Laboratory of Marine Bio-resources Sustainable UtilizationSouth China Sea Institute of Oceanology, CASGuangzhouChina
  10. 10.Biological SciencesFaculty of Science, Universiti Brunei DarussalamJalan Tungku LinkBrunei Darussalam
  11. 11.Institute of OceanographyVietnam Academy of Science and TechnologyNha TrangVietnam
  12. 12.Borneo Marine Research InstituteUniversiti Malaysia Sabah, Jalan UMSKota KinabaluMalaysia
  13. 13.Institute of Biological Sciences, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of MalayaKuala LumpurMalaysia
  14. 14.Marine Biodiversity Research Group, Department of BiologyRamkhamhaeng UniversityBangkokThailand

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