Institute of Evolution and Ecology (EvE)

Fluorescence ecology

Update coming sooon

The colourfulness of marine fish can only be seen in shallow water, because water absorbs very short (UV) and long (red) within a distance of a few meters. This only leaves intermediate wavelengths (blue-green) that are scattered, but not absorbed as much. This explains why deep water appares blue-green and why everything looks pale blue-greenish when diving below 15 m. This fact has contributed to the assumption that red does not play an important role in marine fish behaviour and ecology. Red is, however, abundant in deeper water, where red fluorescent members of all major phyla contribute to a red glow on the reef. More surprisingly, we also found a number of marine fish to fluoresce in red. Moreover, they seem to do so in patterns suggestive of a function in communication both between and within species.

Here, we want to elucidate the function and mechanisms behind red fluorescence in fish. The key question is: Can they see it, and do they use it? In other words: is there an adaptive benefit associated with the production of red fluorescent tags. This research programm is supported by a generous Reinhard Koselleck grant from the German Science Foundation (DFG) and will run for 7 years.

Starting August 2009, this site will be regularly updated with news, pictures, useful links and practical tips.

Key publications from this project

  • Anthes, N., Theobald, J., Gerlach, T., Meadows, M.G. & Michiels, N.K. (2016): Diversity and Ecological Correlates of Red Fluorescence in Marine Fishes. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 4: 126.
  • Gerlach, T., Theobald, J., Hart, N. S., Collin, S. P. & Michiels, N. K. (2016): Fluorescence characterisation and visual ecology of pseudocheilinid wrasses. Frontiers in Zoology 13, 1-8.
  • Harant U.K., Michiels N.K., Anthes N., Meadows M.G. (2016): The consistent difference in red fluorescence in fishes across a 15 m depth gradient is triggered by ambient brightness, not by ambient spectrum. BMC Research Notes 9:1-10.
  • Melissa G. Meadows, Nils Anthes, Nico K. Michiels et al. (2014): Red fluorescence increases with depth in reef fishes, supporting a visual function, not UV protection  [Proceedings B]
  • Gerlach, T., D. Sprenger & N.K. Michiels (2014): Fairy wrasses perceive and respond to their deep red fluorescent coloration. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 281: 20140787.
  • Michiels, NK et al. (2008): Red fluorescence in reef fish: a novel signalling mechanism? BMC Ecol. 8:16.


Nico Michiels
  +49 7071 29 78876
room E5P21

Funded by

DFG Reinhard Koselleck project to Nico K. Michiels for 7 years (2009-2016)