Build a lesson around any TED-Ed Animation, TED Talk or YouTube video
Create a Lesson

The secret lives of baby fish - Amy McDermott

  • 143,945 Views
  • 1,020 Questions Answered
  • TEDEd Animation

Let’s Begin…

Coral reef fish, like the yellow tang surgeonfish, begin life in a fascinating and weird way – as tiny floating larvae! These babies are capable of drifting thousands of miles on ocean currents, far from the reefs where they were born. Amy McDermott describes how these tiny trekkers travel across vast oceans, searching for the far-flung reefs they will one day call home.

Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animation lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Amy McDermott
  • Producer Stephen Whittle
  • Animator Lucy Lee
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Narrator Michelle Snow

Share

Additional Resources for you to Explore
Coral reefs are incredibly diverse marine ecosystems, supporting hundreds of thousands of species worldwide (1). In their shallow sunlit waters, coral reef fishes have evolved for over 50 million years (2), diversifying into myriad colors, shapes, and sizes.

Today, coral reef fish are found in tropical waters around the world, but where did they first emerge? We don’t know for sure, but evidence strongly suggests that the area of reefs bounded by Indonesia and the Philippines is their evolutionary crucible (3).

This region falls in the Coral Triangle (the area of reefs bounded by Indonesia, The Philippines, and Papua New Guinea). It is the epicenter of marine biodiversity today, containing half of the planet’s reefs, with the highest diversity of reef fishes and corals known (4) . It’s likely that all modern reef fish species are derived from this center of origin and have radiated out over time.

Why here? The answer is, in part, likely related to the geography of the Indonesian and Philippine Region. Many small islands are also scattered throughout the area, which could have served as isolated, distinct habitats. Over time, fish living on adjacent, but isolated reefs would have met unique challenges, and evolved into many distinct species to meet those challenges (3).

In recent evolutionary history, sea level has also changed frequently throughout the Coral Triangle. As sea level changed, some fish populations would have been split by geographic barriers– perhaps isolated by very deep, or by very shallow channels. A history of frequent isolation and reintroduction through sea level change could also contribute to the rapid diversification of reef fishes (3).

For more on reef fish evolution and larval dispersal see this excellent video lecture by California Academy of Sciences research biologist Luiz Rocha.

What’s it like to study coral reef fish? Amy McDermott and Erin Eastwood write about life in marine research, while studying coral reef fish evolution and conservation in Fiji.

Dig deeper references:

1. M.L. Reaka-Kudla, in Biodiversity II, M.L. Reaka-Kudla, D.E. Wilson, E.O. Wilson, Eds. (Joseph Henry Press, Washington, DC, 1997), pp. 83-108

2. Bellwood, David R., Lynne van Herwerden, and Nicolai Konow. "Evolution and biogeography of marine angelfishes (Pisces: Pomacanthidae)." Molecular phylogenetics and evolution 33.1 (2004): 140-155.

3. Mora, Camilo, et al. "Patterns and processes in reef fish diversity." Nature 421.6926 (2003): 933-936.

4. Bellwood, David R., and Christopher P. Meyer. "Searching for heat in a marine biodiversity hotspot." Journal of Biogeography 36.4 (2009): 569-576.
Teded square logo
TED-Ed
Lesson Creator
New York, NY
In an age of massive environmental degradation, with limited funding for conservation, how can the global community best utilize our resources to protect dispersive marine species?
07/07/2014 • 
 5 Responses
 / 5 Updates

Customize This Lesson

Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animation lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Amy McDermott
  • Producer Stephen Whittle
  • Animator Lucy Lee
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Narrator Michelle Snow

Share

Log In to Take or Create a Lesson

Log In to participate

Please Log In or Register to Apply

Please Log in to Access Leader Resources

If you have already logged into ted.com click Log In to verify your authentication. Click Register if you need to create a free TED-Ed account.
Log In    Register

Enter your name

Your name and responses will be shared with TED Ed.

To track your work across TED-Ed over time, Register or Login instead.