Luiz Rocha


Luiz Rocha is the Curator and Follett Chair of Ichthyology at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, CA. He also holds adjunct professor positions at the University of California in Santa Cruz and San Francisco State University. A native of Brazil, Luiz’s research interests center on the evolution, biogeography, and ecology of coral reef fishes. His overarching goal is to understand what drives the extremely high biodiversity found in tropical reefs, and he has published over 65 peer-reviewed research articles about reef fish diversity, evolution, ecology, conservation, taxonomy and systematics.

He has embarked on numerous expeditions around the world, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Micronesia, the Caribbean, the Red Sea, South America, and Africa. His field work led to the discovery of numerous new species, including wrasses, gobies, parrotfishes and angelfishes, and DNA and modern genomic techniques are tools constantly used in his research. More recently, Luiz has invested a lot of time and resources into mesophotic reef (300 to 400 feet depths) exploration aiming to better understand those unknown communities.

Since 2001, Luiz has served as a Coral Reef Fish Specialist for the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Species Survival Commission, providing his expertise to the Red Listing efforts of such charismatic fishes as surgeonfish, angelfish, parrotfish, wrasses, and groupers. Before joining the Academy, he has held positions at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, the University of Hawaii, and the University of Texas. Rocha received his B.S. and M.S. from the Universidade Federal da Paraiba in Brazil, and his Ph.D. in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences from the University of Florida. [Academic Website]

Speciation in Coral Reef Fishes
Covering less than 0.1% of the ocean’s surface, coral reefs harbor ~5,000 fish species, or about a third of all marine fishes. Interestingly, very few strong biogeographic barriers exist in the oceans, and most coral reef fishes have a widely dispersing pelagic larval stage. This observation creates a paradox of high species diversity combined with apparently few opportunities for the commonly accepted allopatric speciation model.
I will present a summary of current hypotheses to explain this paradox, as well as phylogeographic and phylogenetic data for several groups reef fishes and talk about how next generation sequencing and genomics are revolutionizing studies in this field. Additionally, I will show how these concepts apply to deep reef fishes and summarize our work of mesophotic reef exploration in the Coral Triangle, the Caribbean and beyond.