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Prof. J Murray Roberts


Professor of Marine Biology

School of Life Sciences

Phone: +44 (0)131 451 3463
  • Room 3.08
    William Perkin Building
  • School of Life Sciences
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • Edinburgh
  • EH14 4AS
  • United Kingdom
J Murray Roberts

Research profile

Roles and responsibilities

Member of Editorial Board Nature Scientific Reports


I am a marine biologist who studies the biology and ecology of deep-sea or cold-water corals.

These organisms vary from single solitary corals to large reef framework-forming scleractinian species. The latter, and long-lived octocorals and black corals, form structurally complex habitats on the continental shelf, slope, offshore banks and seamounts where studies over the last ten years have shown them to form local centres of species diversity and important archives of palaeoceanographic information.

My current research goals can be summarised as ‘working to advance understanding of the biology and ecology of cold-water corals and provide the information needed for their long-term management and conservation’

Selected publications


Roberts JM, Wheeler A, Freiwald A, Cairns SD (2009) Cold-water Corals: The Biology and Geology of Deep-sea Coral Habitats. Cambridge University Press, 334 pp.

Freiwald A, Roberts JM (2005) Cold-Water Corals & Ecosystems. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, 1243pp  (edited volume)

Peer-reviewed papers (selected)

Gass SE, Roberts JM (2011) Growth and branching patterns of Lophelia pertusa (Scleractinia) from the North Sea. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK 91: 831-835

Henry L-A, Davies AJ, Roberts JM (2010) Beta diversity of cold-water coral reef communities off western Scotland. Coral Reefs 29: 427-436

Dodds LA, Black KD, Orr H, Roberts JM (2009) Lipid biomarkers reveal geographical differences in food supply to the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa (Scleractinia). Marine Ecology Progress Series 397: 113-124

Roberts JM, Davies AJ, Henry L-A, Duineveld GCA, Lavaleye MSS, Dodds LA, Maier C, van Soest RWM, Bergman MIN, Hünerbach V, Huvenne V, Sinclair D, Watmough T, Lond D, Green S, van Haren H (2009) Mingulay reef complex: an interdisciplinary study of cold-water coral habitat, hydrography and biodiversity. Marine Ecology Progress Series 397: 113-124

Davies AJ, Duineveld G, Lavaleye M, Bergman M, van Haren H, Roberts JM (2009) Downwelling and deep-water bottom currents as food supply mechanisms to the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa (Scleractinia) at the Mingulay Reef Complex. Limnology & Oceanography 54: 620-629

Davies AJ, Wisshak M, Orr JC, Roberts JM (2008) Predicting suitable habitat for the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa (Scleractinia). Deep-Sea Research Part I 55: 1048-1062

Roberts JM, Henry L-A, Long D, Hartley JP (2008) Cold-water coral reef frameworks, megafaunal communities and evidence for coral carbonate mounds on the Hatton Bank, north east Atlantic. Facies 54: 297-316

Davies AJ, Roberts JM, Hall-Spencer J (2007) Preserving deep-sea natural heritage: emerging issues in offshore conservation and management. Biological Conservation 138: 299-312

Dodds LA, Roberts JM, Taylor AC, Marubini F (2007) Metabolic tolerance of the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa (Scleractinia) to temperature and dissolved oxygen change. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 349: 205-214

Henry L-A, Roberts JM (2007) Biodiversity and ecological composition of macrobenthos on cold-water coral mounds and adjacent off-mound habitat in the bathyal Porcupine Seabight, NE Atlantic. Deep-Sea Research Part I 54: 654-672

Turley C, Roberts JM, Guinotte JJ (2007) Corals in deep water: Will the unseen hand of ocean acidification destroy cold water ecosystems? Coral Reefs 26: 445-448

White M, Roberts JM, van Weering T (2007) Do bottom-intensified diurnal tidal currents shape the alignment of carbonate mounds in the NE Atlantic? Geo-Marine Letters 27: 391-397

Gass SE, Roberts JM (2006) The occurrence of the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa (Scleractinia) on oil and gas platforms in the North Sea: colony growth, recruitment and environmental controls on distribution. Marine Pollution Bulletin 52: 549-559

Henry L-A, Roberts JM (2006) Bedotella armata (Cnidaria, Hydrozoa) discovered on giant Irish deep-water carbonate mounds: do mound fauna have recent Mediterranean origins? JMBA2 – Biodiversity Records.

Roberts JM, Wheeler AJ, Freiwald A (2006) Reefs of the deep: the biology and geology of cold-water coral ecosystems. Science 312: 543-547

Costello MJ, McCrea M, Freiwald A, Lundälv T, Jonsson L, Bett BJ, van Weering TCE, de Haas H, Roberts JM, Allen D (2005) Role of cold-water Lophelia pertusa coral reefs as fish habitat in the NE Atlantic. In: Freiwald A & Roberts JM (eds) Cold-Water Corals & Ecosystems. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg. pp 771-805

Gage JD, Roberts JM, Hartley JP, Humphery JD (2005) Potential impacts of deep-sea trawling on the benthic ecosystem along the northern European continental margin: a review. In: Benthic habitats and the effects of fishing. Barnes PW & Thomas JP (Eds.), American Fisheries Society, Symposium 41, Bethesda, Maryland. pp. 503-517

Kiriakoulakis K, Fisher E, Wolff GA, Freiwald A, Grehan A, Roberts JM (2005) Lipids and nitrogen isotopes of two deep-water corals from the North-East Atlantic: initial results and implications for their nutrition. In: Freiwald A & Roberts JM (eds) Cold-Water Corals & Ecosystems. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg. pp 715-729

Roberts JM (2005) Reef-aggregating behaviour by symbiotic eunicid polychaetes from cold-water corals: do worms assemble reefs? Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK 85: 813-819

Roberts JM, Brown CJ, Long D, Bates CR (2005) Acoustic mapping using a multibeam echosounder reveals cold-water coral reefs and surrounding habitats. Coral Reefs 24: 654-669

Roberts JM, Freiwald (2005) Integrated European research into cold-water coral reefs. Journal of Marine Education (Current) 21: 41-45

Roberts JM, Peppe OC, Dodds LA, Mercer DJ, Thomson WT, Gage JD, Meldrum DT (2005) Monitoring environmental variability around cold-water coral reefs: the use of a benthic photolander and the potential of seafloor observatories. In: Freiwald A & Roberts JM (eds) Cold-Water Corals & Ecosystems. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg. pp 483-502

Roberts JM, D Long, JB Wilson, PB Mortensen, Gage JD (2003) The cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa (Scleractinia) and enigmatic seabed mounds along the north-east Atlantic margin: are they related? Marine Pollution Bulletin 46: 7-20

Roberts JM (2002) The occurrence of Lophelia pertusa and other conspicuous epifauna around an oil production platform in the North Sea. Underwater Technology 25: 83-91

Roberts JM, Anderson RM (2002) A new laboratory method of monitoring deep-sea coral polyp behaviour. Hydrobiologia 471:143-148

Roberts JM, Fixter LM, Davies PS (2001) Ammonium metabolism in the symbiotic sea anemone Anemonia viridis. Hydrobiologia 461: 25-35


Murray Roberts is a Reader in the School of Life Sciences and Director of the Centre for Marine Biodiversity & Biotechnology at Heriot-Watt University.

He studied Biology at the University of York before completing a PhD at the University of Glasgow examining nitrogen cycling in the Anemonia viridis symbiosis. Since 1997 his work on cold-water corals has taken him to sites off the UK, Norway, Ireland and the SE United States.

He discovered the Mingulay cold-water coral reef complex off Scotland in 2003, the only known inshore coral reef in UK waters. In 2007 he undertook a two-year Marie Curie fellowship to develop the first international trans-Atlantic study of cold-water corals, TRACES.

He is senior author of the ‘Cold-water Corals’, the first book covering the biology and geology of these important deep-sea habitats.

Other roles

  • Honorary Research Fellow, Scottish Association for Marine Science, UK and Adjunct Faculty at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, USA
  • Contributing Author, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report.  Chapter 6 ‘Ocean Systems’
  • Academic Editor PLoS One
Further information

Find out more about cold-water coral research and conservation on the Lophelia website.