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Pillar coral

Dendrogyra cylindrus

Listing Status

  • Federal Status: Threatened
  • FL Status: Federally-designated Threatened
  • FNAI Ranks: G3/S? (Globally: Rare/ State: Unknown)
  • IUCN Status: VU (Vulnerable)


pillar coral

Pillar coral is tan colored and can measure from 6.5-8 feet (2-2.4 meters), and a diameter of 2-5 inches (5.08-12.7 centimeters) (Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001, Hudson and Goodwin 1997, K. Semon pers. comm. 2011).  The skeleton resembles brain coral, as it has a series of meandering ridges and valleys.  Tentacles are often exposed during daylight and give a colorful fur-like appearance that is light-brown in color.


Pillar coral harbors symbiotic (depends on the host as the host depends on it to survive) zooxanthellae [autotrophic (creates own food through photosynthesis) dinoflagellates], which photosynthesize and provide energy in the form of carbon compounds (amino acids, glucose, etc.) to the colony.  Pillar coral also feed on zooplankton.

Pillar coral is reproductively gonochoric (unisexual).  Spawning takes place during the middle part of August, approximately one week after the full moon (Szmant 1986).  Pillar coral is a broadcast spawner – it releases eggs and sperm into the water.  Gametes fertilize in the water column to become swimming larvae, which then settle on available substrate and metamorphose into polyps and eventual colonies.


pillar coral map

Pillar coral can be found in warm marine waters throughout the coral reef, rock, or sand substratum (underlying soil layer) of the Caribbean Sea, and the subtropical and tropical West Atlantic Ocean, ranging from the northern coast of South America (Colombia), north to southern Florida (Smith 1971, Veron 2000, Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001). 


As global climate change continues to affect the Earth, all coral faces the threat of bleaching.  Bleaching occurs when the surrounding waters or the coral’s habitat is degraded enough by hotter–than–usual water temperatures to the point where their symbiotic zooxanthellae (protozoan) are expelled by the host, thereby causing loss of pigmentation to the colony.  Global climate change causes an increase in the temperature of marine waters which is detrimental to the coral.  Hurricanes also pose a threat as their intense storm conditions can cause damage to coral.   This species also faces the threat of diseases like the white plague disease, a disease that involves the destruction of tissue by the marine bacteria, Aurantimonas coralicida.  Other threats include damselfish predation, physical colony damage caused by anchors and boats, and bioerosion (erosion caused by organisms) by sponges.

Conservation and Management

The pillar coral is protected as a Threatened species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.

Biological Status Review (BSR)
Supplemental Information for the BSR


Hudson, J. H., W. B. Goodwin, H. A. Lessios, I. G. Macyintyre.  1997.  Restoration and growth  rate of hurricane damaged pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus) in the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, Florida.  Proceedings of the eighth international coral reef symposium,  Panama, June 24-29, 1996.  Pp. 567-570.

Florida Natural Areas Inventory.  2001.  Field guide to the rare animals of Florida.

NatureServe. 2010. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application].Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available (Accessed: document.write(todayString + " ).") April 5, 2011).

Smith, F. G. W. 1971. Atlantic reef corals. University of Miami Press, Coral Gables.

Szmant, A. M.  1986.  Reproductive ecology of Caribbean reef corals.  Coral Reefs 5:43‐53.

Veron, J. 2000. Corals of the World, vol 3. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville,  Australia.