Type 2 diabetes (T2D) has been associated with a large number of genomic loci, many of which encompass multiple genes without a definitive causal gene. This complexity has hindered efforts to clearly identify functional candidate genes and interpret their role in mediating susceptibility to disease. Here we examined the relevance of individual genes found at T2D-associated loci by assessing their potential contribution to a phenotype relevant to the disease state: production and maintenance of β-cell mass. Using transgenic zebrafish in which β-cell mass could be rapidly visualized in vivo, we systematically suppressed the expression of orthologs of genes found at T2D-associated genomic loci. Overall, we tested 67 orthologs, many of which had no known relevance to β-cell mass, at 62 human T2D-associated loci, including eight loci with multiple candidate genes. In total we identified 25 genes that were necessary for proper β-cell mass, providing functional evidence for their role in a physiological phenotype directly related to T2D. Of these, 16 had not previously been implicated in the regulation of β-cell mass. Strikingly, we identified single functional candidate genes at the majority of the loci for which multiple genes were analyzed. Further investigation into the contribution of the 25 genes to the adaptive capacity of β-cells suggested that the majority of genes were not required for glucose-induced expansion of β-cell mass but were significantly necessary for the regeneration of β-cells. These findings suggest that genetically programmed deficiencies in β-cell mass may be related to impaired maintenance. Finally, we investigated the relevance of our findings to human T2D onset in diabetic individuals from the Old Order Amish and found that risk alleles in β-cell mass genes were associated with significantly younger age of onset and lower body mass index. Taken together, our study offers a functional approach to assign relevance to genes at T2D-associated loci and offers experimental evidence for the defining role of β-cell mass maintenance in genetic susceptibility to T2D onset.