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This World list of Scleractinia ever described is part of the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), a global initiative to provide an online register of scientific names of all marine organisms. In this continuously updated list, users can find the taxonomic classification of scleractinians, with valid and invalid names of families, genera and species.


Owing to their calcareous (calcium carbonate) skeletons, scleractinian corals are well known as “stony corals”. They have been major reef-builders since the Triassic and became dominant after the Cretaceous. Nowadays, coral reefs are of economic importance as a source for food and as recreational attraction. Corals are important to other reef species that use them as food, shelter and substrate. Due to their attractive shape and colours, corals are harvested for the aquarium trade. They are popular research objects for many marine scientists. Hence, scleractinian corals have essential ecological, economic and scientific roles. Thus, there is a need for detailed overview of their names and classification. This overview has become available through the Word list of Scleractinia.


Scleractinia is an order in the subclass Hexacorallia, together with the subclasses Ceriantharia and Octocorallia. The three subclasses constitute the class Anthozoa, which is part of the phylum Cnidaria.



This section of the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) presents a continuously updated overview of scientific names and classifications of stony corals belonging to the order Scleractinia. This list started with overviews presented by Van der Land (1994) and Cairns et al. (1999, 2001). It was partly revised by Cairns (2009) for azooxanthellate species, which is periodically updated at: Taxa have been entered in the WoRMS database since 2007, for which the online Aphia platform of the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) is used. Details on the history of WoRMS are presented by Appeltans et al. (2008, 2011), Costello et al. (2013) Horton et al. (2017), and Vandepitte et al. (2015, 2018). Through WoRMS, the contents of World list of Scleractinia is also updated in the Catalogue of Life (CoL)

Background and goal

A separate portal for the World list of Scleractinia has been introduced in 2018 to increase the list's recognition and visibility. It is aimed to present names that result from a science-based taxonomy, in which morphological and molecular criteria are used (Kitahara et al. 2016). In the last decade, various phylogeny reconstructions of scleractinian families and genera were published; for example on Acropora and Isopora (Wallace et al. 2007), Psammocoridae (Benzoni et al. 2010), Fungiidae (Gittenberger et al. 2011; Benzoni et al. 2012, Oku et al. 2017), Agariciidae (Kitahara et al. 2012), Deltocyathiidae (Kitahara et al. 2013), Dendrophylliidae (Arrigoni et al. 2014a), Lobophylliidae (Arrigoni et al. 2014b; Huang et al. 2016), Merulinidae (Huang et al. 2014), Pocilloporidae (Schmidt-Roach et al. 2014), and Poritidae (Kitano et al. 2014). Application of these phylogenetic models to taxonomic revisions resulted in new classifications, in which taxa moved from one genus or family to another one, usually forming new combination names.

Problematic identifications

A science-based approach is usually not practiced in field guides and other popular publications, where the classification reflects the superficial overall similarity of coral morphologies. In the World list of Scleractinia, many species that resemble each other because of convergent evolution have become separated and do not belong to the same genus or even family anymore. This is not a new development. In the past, some superficially resembling species were also classified in different genera and families when their skeletal characters revealed other affinities, such as in the genera Heterocyathus (Caryophylliidae) and Heteropsammia (Dendrophyllidae). Both genera represent free-living, mobile corals that host a sipunculan worm inside their skeleton (Hoeksema and Best 1991, Hoeksema and Matthews 2015). They look very similar because of their convergent evolution but the structures of their skeletons differ and reveal that they are phylogenetically not closely related. One has to recognize the species by itself in order to know its name and not through its generic position.

Invalid names

Synonyms and old combination names are also mentioned in the World list of Scleractinia. When pages of specific taxa are consulted, information on their validity and possible synonyms is given. Valid new names are entered as soon as possible after their official publication. When the status of a name is unclear, it is indicated as nomen dubium (name of unknown or doubtful application) or nomen inquirendum (doubtful identity requiring further investigation). More explanations on the use of World list of Scleractinia can be found on the homepage of WoRMS

Two categories of scleractinians

World list of Scleractinia contains 1 605 valid names of living coral species, which either house symbiont unicellular algae of the genus Symbiodinium, or not, or only facultatively so, and are therefore categorized as zooxanthellate, azooxanthellate, or apozooxanthellate, respectively (Schuhmacher and Zibrowius 1985, Best 2001, Hoeksema and Matthews 2015). Most zooxanthellate coral species (about 50% of the total number) are reef-building (hermatypic) and live in warm, shallow water, whereas the majority of azooxanthellate scleractinians occur in deep, cold water, where only a couple of species are reef-building. So far, less than 100 names of extinct scleractinians are included but it is the intention of the editors to include more in the future. The editorial work is divided by the following editors:


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All illustrations: Bert W. Hoeksema scleractinia

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