Illuminating audiences

When a fish consumes an ostracod, the ostracod emits large amounts of luminescence in what is thought to be an anti-predator response. The light in this image is produced by an ostracod as it is being chewed by a fish.

UWL research video featured in award-winning documentary on bioluminescence

UWL Associate Professor of Biology Gretchen Gerrish’s underwater research is reaching the general public through an award-winning documentary, which is streaming online through Curiosity Stream and airing throughout most of the world on BBC UK.

Over the last seven years, Gerrish and her UWL student researchers have been studying shrimp-like crustaceans — called marine ostracods — that live in the shallow waters of the Caribbean Sea. These tiny creatures create amazing light displays in the dark water to attract mates. Gerrish and her student researchers film these displays as part of their research on ostracod identification and evolution. Last year they had the opportunity to travel and film with Ammonite Inc., a United Kingdom company that was working on a documentary on bioluminescence narrated by David Attenborough.

Luminescent displays of three new ostracod species over coral reefs in Roatan, Honduras.

Their ostracod research and images were featured in the documentary “Light on Earth,” which began streaming on Curiosity Stream, a site custom built for streaming documentaries, in spring 2016. It was also featured in the BBC version “Life That Glows.”  The film has received numerous awards internationally and just received two Emmy Award nominations, for cinematography and Outstanding Nature Documentary. View a list of the awards.

Gerrish’s research is supported by a National Science Foundation grant and is done in collaboration with four other universities: University of California-Santa Barbara, California State University Los Angeles, Cornell University and University of Kansas.

More on Gerrish’s marine ostracod research

Ostracods emit tiny packets of chemicals that produce bright blue lights. Males produce lights in specific patterns and directions to attract mates, creating a beautiful display and a puzzle for scientists. Gerrish’s work specifically aims to test how the intricate light displays used for reproduction influence the evolution for this group. Across just five locations throughout the Caribbean, the research team has discovered more than 25 new species of ostracods. It could be that unique reproductive displays at each location ‘light’ the way for evolutionary change leading to high diversity of these Caribbean reef residents.

Watch the documentary on Curiosity Stream.