Jay Nelson


Jay Nelson

Contact Information

Smith Hall, Room No. 257


Ph.D., Zoology; minor Biochemistry. University of Wisconsin-Madison. 12/88.

M.S., Zoology. University of Wisconsin-Madison. 12/84.

B.S. with Distinction, Chemistry. University of Washington. 6/81.

B.A., Zoology. University of Washington. 6/81.

Areas of Expertise

Evolutionary physiology and physiological ecology of fishes


Broadly stated, my research interests are to understand how the environment controls life processes in fish and how fish can respond to environmental change, especially those enacted by human activities. Climate change and other anthropogenic factors are altering fish habitat across the globe. These include, but are not limited to, the warming of waters, ocean acidification, expansion of hypoxic and anoxic dead zones, changing freshwater hydrology and altered ocean currents. How fish respond physiologically and behaviorally to these changes will determine which fishes survive the opening of the newest geological age, the Anthropocene.  My work in this area started as an undergraduate at the University of Washington when I published my undergraduate research on the effects of acid rain on developing fish. My Ph. D. work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison focused on how fish from naturally acidic lakes thrived there; work still relevant today as concerns over global ocean acidification grow. My post-doctoral work in Germany and Canada concentrated on high carbon dioxide in the water and using fish exercise and metabolic performance as indicators of how well fish can potentially do in an environment (fitness parameters). My current research is following three separate paths to continue to understand how fish fare in altered environments. One direction looks at hypoxia tolerance in European sea bass and striped bass, whether ability to tolerate hypoxia is a fitness parameter and how it interfaces with other fitness parameters in current and future environments. I am also very interested in how future changes in flow and temperature brought about by climate change will influence fish populations. I am currently examining this by investigating how a small stream minnow in Maryland deals with progressive urbanization, but I will be starting research on Arctic charr in Iceland in the spring of 2017 addressing the same topic. I have an active research program that involves students and is international in both its scope and recognition. I have supervised over 50 undergraduate research students and 15 Master’s students and conducted research in 5 different countries and collaborated with scientists of 13 different nationalities.

Recent Publications

Nelson, J.A. & G. K. Lipkey* (2017). Hypoxia tolerance of juvenile striped bass Morone saxatilis: Repeatability and effects of social status. Submitted

Nelson, J.A. and Val, A. (2016). From the equator to the poles, a physiology section perspective on climate change. Fisheries, 41(7): 409-411.

Nelson, J.A. (2016). Oxygen Consumption Rate versus Rate of Energy Utilisation of Fishes: A comparison and brief history of the two measurements. J. of Fish Biol. 88:10–25. DOI: 10.1111/jfb.12824 (Link)

Nelson, J.A. & G. K. Lipkey* (2015). Hypoxia tolerance variance between swimming and resting striped bass Morone saxatilis. J. of Fish Biology, 87(2): 510-518. doi:10.1111/jfb.12735 (Link)

Nelson, J.A. (2015) Pickled fish anyone? The physiological ecology of fish from naturally acidic waters. Pp. 193-216. in: Extremophile Fishes - Ecology and Evolution of Teleosts in Extreme Environments. (R. Riesch, M. Tobler and M. Plath eds.) Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg. (Link)

Nelson, J.A. F. Atzori , K. R. Gastrich*. (2015). Repeatability and phenotypic plasticity of fish swimming performance across a gradient of urbanization. Environmental Biology of Fishes 98:1431-1447. (Link)

Nelson, J.A. 2013. Breaking wind to survive: Fish that breath air with their gastrointestinal tract. Journal of Fish Biology. 84: 554-576. (Link)

Vandamm, J.*, S. Marras*, G. Claireaux, C. A. Handelsman* & J. A. Nelson. 2012. Acceleration performance of individual European sea bass, Dicentrarchus labrax measured with a sprint performance chamber: comparison with high-speed cinematography and correlates with ecological performance. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 85: 704-717. (Link)

Williamson* Nicole E., Joseph J. Cech Jr. and Jay A. Nelson. 2012. Flow preferences of individual blacknose dace (Rhinichthys atratulus); Influence of swimming ability and environmental history. Environmental Biology of Fishes 95: 407-414. 

Nelson J.A. and Chabot D. (2011) General Energy Metabolism. In: Farrell A.P., (ed.), Encyclopedia of Fish Physiology: From Genome to Environment, volume 3, pp. 1566–1572. San Diego: Academic Press. (Link)

Nelson J.A. (2011) Energetics: An Introduction. In: Farrell A.P., (ed.), Encyclopedia of Fish Physiology: From Genome to Environment, volume 3, pp. 1563–1565. San Diego: Academic Press. (Link)

Nelson, J. A. AND A. M. Dehn*. (2011). The GI tract in air breathing. Pp. 395-433 In: Fish Physiology (v. 30): The Multifunctional Gut of Fish. (A. P. Farrell, C. J. Brauner, and M. Grossell eds.) Elsevier, London. (Link)

Handelsman*, C. A. ,  J. A. Nelson and G. Claireaux. 2010. Sprint capacity and ecological performance of cultured and wild European sea bass in coastal tidal ponds. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. 83(3): 435-445. (Link)

Marras*,S., G. Claireaux, D. J. McKenzie and J.A. Nelson. 2010. Individual variation and repeatability in aerobic and anaerobic swimming performance of European sea bass, Dicentrarchus labrax. Journal of Experimental Biology. 213:26-32. (Link)

Nelson , Jay A., Portia S. Gotwalt*, Christopher A. Simonetti* and Joel W. Snodgrass. 2008. Environmental correlates, plasticity and repeatability of differences in performance among blacknose dace (Rhinichthys atratulus) populations across a gradient of urbanization. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 81(1): 25-42.

Claireaux, G. C. Handelsman*, E. Standen* and J. A. Nelson.  2007. Thermal and temporal stability of swimming performances in the European sea bass. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. 80(2):186-196.

Nonogaki*, H.,  J.A Nelson. & W.P. Patterson 2007. Dietary histories of herbivorous loricariid catfishes: evidence from d13C values of otoliths. Environmental Biol. of Fishes. 78 (1): 13-21.

Nelson, J. A., F. S. A. Rios*, J. R. Sanches, M. N. Fernandes and F. T. Rantin, 2007. Environmental influences on the respiratory physiology and gut chemistry of a facultatively air-breathing, tropical herbivorous fish Hypostomus regani (Ihering, 1905). pp 191-218 in Fish Respiration and the Environment. Science Publisher Inc. Editors: M. N. Fernandes, F. T. Rantin, M. Glass & B.G. Kapoor: ISBN 978-1-57808-357-2; July 2007; c.386 pages.

Nelson, J.A. and G. Claireaux. 2005. Inter-individual variance of sprint swimming performance, swimming metabolism and endurance in a cohort of European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax). Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. 134:1274-1284.

Nelson, J.A.  P. S. Gotwalt* and J.W. Snodgrass. 2003. Current Velocity Structures Swimming Performance of  Blacknose Dace. Can. J. of Fish. Aquat. Sci. 60(3): 301-308

Nelson, J.A. 2002. Metabolism of three species of herbivorous Loricariid catfishes: influence of size and diet. J. of Fish Biology.61:1586-1599.

Nelson, J.A., P. S. Gotwalt*, D.W. Webber and S. Reidy*. 2002. Beyond Ucrit: Matching swimming performance tests to the physiological ecology of the animal, including a fish “drag strip". Comparative Biochemistry & Physiology. 133/2 pp 289-302. (Link)

Martinez*, M., Guderley, H., Nelson, J.A., Webber, D., Dutil, J.D., 2002. Once a fast cod, always a fast cod: maintenance of performance hierarchies despite changing food availability in cod (Gadus morhua) Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. 75 : 90-100.

Reidy*, S., S.R. Kerr and J. A. Nelson. 2000. Aerobic and anaerobic swimming performance of individual Atlantic cod. Journal of Experimental Biology. 203: 347-357. (Link)

CV (Link)

Courses Taught

  • Human Anatomy & Physiology I & II: Biol 221/222; anytime

  • Animal Physiology: BIOL 325; anytime

  • Humans Science & the Chesapeake Bay: Biol. 333; Fall semesters of even years

  • Fish Biology: Biol 455/555; Spring semesters of even years

  • Advanced Physiology: Biol 470/570; Fall semsters

  • Mechanisms of Animal Physiology: BIOL. 604; anytime

  • Graduate seminar: Biol. 797; anytime