The present study was conducted to provide information about the upper water column distribution of living coccolithophores in the subtropical Gulf of Mexico. In total, 52 plankton samples from 6 stations collected in March 2006 were analysed. Coccolithophore standing crops range from zero in deep-water samples (200 m) to about 23 000 to 46 500 coccospheres per litre at intermediate water depths. From 39 identified taxa, only nine species contribute significant cell numbers of more than 1000 cells 1–1 and comprise more than 5 % of the communities in at least one sample. Emiliania huxleyi was the most abundant species throughout the stations with concentrations of up to 22 700 cells l–1. At all stations, a vertical succession of coccolithophore species was found. Umbellosphaera tenuis (type IV), Discosphaera tubifera, Rhabdosphaera clavigera and, as a minor component, species of the genus Syracosphaera, were mainly restricted to surface waters (≤50 m), all adapted to lower nutrient levels. The assemblage in the deep photic zone (50–150 m water depth) was composed mainly of abundant Florisphaera profunda, Gladiolithus flabellatus and Algirosphaera robusta indicating a tolerance of lower light availability. Thus, the vertical distribution of all coccolithophorid taxa, except the placolith-bearing species, in particular E. huxleyi, was probably controlled by upper photic-zone water temperature and stratification of the water column.