Curator, University of Alberta Museum of Zoology (Ichthyology)
“Joe was one of my lecturers when I was a Zoology undergrad, and I still recall the gentle enthusiasm with which he taught zoological systematics…. He influenced my own attitude towards the value of collections and specimen-based research.”
- Heather Proctor, Curator, Freshwater Invertebrate Collection
Dr. Joseph Nelson served as the Curator of the Ichthyology Collection in the University of Alberta Museum of Zoology from 1979 until his retirement in 2002. An outstanding ichthyologist, systematist, collector, curator, and educator, Dr. Nelson’s importance to systematic ichthyology in Canada and around the world has been repeatedly recognized. Fish biologists everywhere speak with a reverence about “Joe.”
He was an advocate of the importance of museum records documenting the decline of species ranges, endangered species, and expansion of the ranges of invasive species. One of his primary research interests was in the evolutionary loss of pelvic fins and pelvic bones in stickleback fishes, resulting in numerous publications and supporting collections of sticklebacks from many of the lakes in Western Canada. He was also interested in fish diversity and geographic distribution, resulting in his co-authoring Fishes of Alberta as well as his world-renowned book Fishes of the World.
During his tenure as curator, the purpose of the collection expanded from specimens used for undergraduate teaching to include research specimens for graduate students, and the size of the collection expanded substantially to reflect this evolving function. By the time of his retirement, the museum had become an important resource for international and regional researchers. The collection he helped to build now serves many teaching and research roles on campus and globally.
Adapted from nomination and support letters by Mark Wilson, Professor and Curator Emeritus, Department of Biological Sciences, and Heather Proctor, Curator, Freshwater Invertebrate Collection, and Associate Chair (Research), Department of Biological Sciences.