Lithophyllon coral (Lithophyllon undulatum)

Lithophyllon undulatum colony
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Lithophyllon coral fact file

Lithophyllon coral description

GenusLithophyllon (1)

A colourful coral of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Lithophyllon undulatum initially forms encrusting colonies, but as it increases in size it grows in flat, leaf-like plates with lobed margins (3) (4). The colonies of Lithophyllon undulatum are composed of numerous tiny, anemone-like animals called polyps. The polyps secrete a hard skeleton, and the skeleton of each individual polyp is known as a ‘corallite’ (3). Within the corallites of each polyp of Lithophyllon undulatum, the septa radiate from the centre in an alternating pattern and become longer and thinner near the periphery (4). Prominent grooves also run across the colony surface (3)

Lithophyllon undulatum is variable in colour, usually being deep green or brown in the northern part of its range, but often dark blue with white corallite centres in the south (3).

Lithophyllon lobata.

Lithophyllon coral biology

Lithophyllon undulatum receives the majority of its nutrition from symbiotic algae, known as ‘zooxanthellae’, which live within its tissues. The algae provide the coral with nutrients through photosynthesis, and in return receive a stable environment in which to live. A dependence on photosynthesis restricts corals such as Lithophyllon undulatum to living in relatively shallow, clear, warm waters, but enables them to grow quickly and form large reef structures. Lithophyllon undulatum also feeds actively on tiny zooplankton, which it catches using stinging cells on the tentacles of the polyps (3).


Lithophyllon coral range

Occurring in the eastern Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean, Lithophyllon undulatum ranges from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, north to Japan and the East China Sea, south to Australia, and east to Samoa and Palau (1).


Lithophyllon coral habitat

Lithophyllon undulatum is usually found growing on hard substrate or rocky walls of reef slopes, between depths of 1 and 20 metres (1) (4).


Lithophyllon coral status

Lithophyllon undulatum is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Lithophyllon coral threats

With an estimated 20 percent of the world’s coral reefs already destroyed, Lithophyllon undulatum faces many of the threats that are affecting coral reefs globally (7) (8). Worldwide, there is increasing pressure on coastal resources resulting from human population growth and development. There has been a significant increase in domestic and agricultural waste in the oceans, poor land-use practices that result in an increase in sediment running on to the reefs, and over-fishing, which can have knock-on effects on the reef (7)

However, the major threat to corals is global climate change, with the expected rise in ocean temperatures increasing the risk of coral ‘bleaching’, in which the stressed coral expels its zooxanthellae, often resulting in the death of the coral (8). Climate change may also lead to more frequent, severe storms, which can damage reefs, and rising carbon dioxide levels may make the ocean increasingly acidic. Such stresses can also make corals more susceptible to disease, parasites and predators, such as the crown of thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) (7) (8) (9).


Lithophyllon coral conservation

Parts of the range of Lithophyllon undulatum fall within Marine Protected Areas (1), although enforcement within these can often be poor (9). It also occurs in the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Australia, where a range of conservation and research programmes are underway (10). International trade in the mushroom coral should be carefully regulated under its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (2)

Recommended conservation measures for Lithophyllon undulatum include research into its populations, abundance, ecology and resilience to threats, as well as monitoring and regulation of its harvest for the aquarium trade (1). It would also benefit from the expansion of Marine Protected Areas, together with further research into coral diseases and efforts to combat climate change (1) (8) (9).


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Simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
Asexual reproduction
Reproduction that does not involve the formation of sex cells (‘gametes’). In many species, asexual reproduction can occur by fission (or in plants ‘vegetative reproduction’); part of the organism breaks away and develops into a separate individual. Some animals, including vertebrates, can develop from unfertilised eggs; this process, known as parthenogenesis, gives rise to offspring that are genetically identical to the parent.
A group of organisms living together. Individuals in the group are not physiologically connected and may not be related, such as a colony of birds. Another meaning refers to organisms, such as bryozoans, which are composed of numerous genetically identical modules (also referred to as zooids or ‘individuals’), which are produced by budding and remain physiologically connected.
The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
Possessing both male and female sex organs.
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Metabolic process characteristic of plants in which carbon dioxide is broken down, using energy from sunlight absorbed by the green pigment chlorophyll. Organic compounds are made and oxygen is given off as a by-product.
Typically sedentary soft-bodied component of cnidaria, a group of simple aquatic animals including the sea anemones, corals and jellyfish. A polyp comprises a trunk that is fixed at the base, and a mouth that is placed at the opposite end of the trunk and is surrounded by tentacles.
In a coral, radial elements that project inwards from the corallite wall (the skeletal wall of an individual coral polyp).
Symbiotic relationship
Relationship in which two organisms form a close association. The term is now usually used only for associations that benefit both organisms (a mutualism).
Tiny aquatic animals that drift with currents or swim weakly in water.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2011)
  2. CITES (May, 2011)
  3. Veron, J.E.N. (2000) Corals of the World. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townville, Australia.
  4. Dai, C. and Horng, S. (2009) Scleractinia Fauna of Taiwan: Complex Group. National Taiwan University, Taiwan.
  5. Richmond, R.H. and Hunter, C.L. (1990) Reproduction and recruitment of corals: comparisons among the Caribbean, the Tropical Pacific, and the Red Sea. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 60: 185-203.
  6. Veron, J.E.N. (1993) Corals of Australia and the Indo-Pacific. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, Hawaii.
  7. Wilkinson, C. (2008) Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Reef and Rainforest Research Center, Townsville, Australia. Available at:
  8. Carpenter, K.E. et al. (2008) One-third of reef-building corals face elevated extinction risk from climate change and local impacts. Science, 321: 560-563.
  9. Miththapala, S. (2008) Coral Reefs. Coastal Ecosystems Series (Volume 1). Ecosystems and Livelihoods Group Asia, IUCN, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Available at:
  10. UNEP-WCMC: Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia (May, 2011)

Image credit

Lithophyllon undulatum colony  
Lithophyllon undulatum colony

© Charlie Veron / From Coral ID (Veron and Stafford-Smith, 2002)

Charlie (J.E.N) Veron


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