Transcription factor AP2 (Tfap2) genes play essential roles in development of the epidermis and migratory cells of the neural crest (NC) in vertebrate embryos. These transcriptional activators are among the earliest genes expressed in the ectoderm and specify fates within the epidermis/crest through both direct and indirect mechanisms. The Tfap2 family arose from a single ancestral gene in a chordate ancestor that underwent gene duplication to give up to five family members in living vertebrates. This coincided with the acquisition of important roles in NC development by Tfap2 genes suggesting that this gene family was important in ectodermal evolution and possibly in the origin of NC. Here, we show that a zebrafish tfap2c is expressed in the nonneural ectoderm during early development and functions redundantly with tfap2a in NC specification. In zebrafish embryos depleted of both tfap2a and tfap2c, NC cells are virtually eliminated. Cell transplantation experiments indicate that tfap2c functions cell-autonomously in NC specification. Cells of the enveloping layer, which forms a temporary skin layer surrounding the ectoderm, also fail to differentiate or to express appropriate keratins in tfap2c deficient embryos. The role of Tfap2 genes in epidermal and NC development is considered here in the broader context of ectodermal evolution. Distinct, tissue-specific functions for Tfap2 genes in different vertebrates may reflect subfunctionalisation of an ancestral gene that consequently led to the gain of novel roles for different subfamily members in patterning the epidermis and NC. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 308B:679–691, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.