Nicola Nelson

AProf Nicola Nelson profile picture

Deputy Head of School School of Biological Sciences


Teaching in 2020

Personal Bio

PhD + MConSc Victoria University of Wellington | BSc University of Canterbury

I completed a BSc at the University of Canterbury in 1989 in Plant and Microbial Sciences (biochemistry and genetics), then worked as a research technician for the DSIR in Nelson, before gaining a technician role at Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Biological Sciences. I completed a Master of Conservation Science in 1998, including research into conducting, monitoring and evaluating the success of a tuatara translocation, while working part time. I investigated fitness effects of temperature-dependent sex determination in tuatara, including field studies into nesting ecology and behaviour throughout my PhD and subsequent post-doctoral fellowship with the San Diego Zoo. I have held an academic position at Victoria University of Wellington since 2004, and am currently an Associate Professor in Conservation Biology. As part of my role, I supervise graduate students and teach at all levels of the university, particularly in first year animal biology, second year diversity of animals, third year population ecology, and a graduate field course on New Zealand conservation practice, and I manage the Master of Conservation Biology Programme. My administration, service and engagement contributions include many roles, from a ministerial appointment to the Harbour Islands Kaitiaki Board that governs the Wellington Harbour Islands, to elected academic representative for the Victoria University of Wellington Council Nominations Panel, and University appointed Guardian of ZEALANDIA. I have just relinquished my role as President of the Society for Research on Amphibians and Reptiles of New Zealand, and I am now leading the organisation of the Society for Conservation Biology – Oceania Section Conference in 2018 in Wellington and on the organising committee for the World Herpetology Congress in 2020, based in Dunedin.

Research interests

I am interested generally in the field of ecology and evolution, and I am specifically interested in effects of temperature on reptile ecology, population ecology and conservation. I am following the progress of tuatara translocations and investigating plasticity in nesting ecology of tuatara with respect to climate warming. I have supported students working on inbreeding and population dynamics of kiwi and burrowing seabirds. Currently, I am a project leader working nationally in a successfully funded four year Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) - Endeavour Fund research programme: People, Cities and Nature: Restoring indigenous nature in urban environments. This project will engage strongly with the NEXT Foundation Predator- Free project in Wellington, by providing biodiversity outcome results of predator control, social science around achieving successful community engagement, and specifically increasing knowledge on factors affecting lizards. My research programme involves extensive collaboration with external organisations, for example, Trusts, zoos, the Department of Conservation, and iwi, and all projects include applications of the findings to conservation, management and policy.

Visit the Reptile Conservation research group


Miller, K.A., Towns, D.R., Ritchie, P.A., Allendorf, F.W., and N.J. Nelson (2011) Genetic structure and individual performance following a recent founding event in a small lizard. Conservation Genetics 12(2): 461-473.

Moore, J.A., Grant, T., Brown, D., Keall, S.N., and N.J. Nelson (2010) Mark recapture accurately estimates census for tuatara, a burrowing reptile. Journal of Wildlife Management 74(4):897-901.

Grayson, K.L., Mitchell, N.J., Monks, J.M., Keall, S.N., Wilson, J., and N.J. Nelson (2014) Sex ratio bias and extinction risk in an isolated population of tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus). PLoS ONE 9(4): e94214.

Middleton, D.M.R.L., La Flamme, A.C., Gartrell, B.D., and N.J. Nelson (2014) Reptile reservoirs and seasonal variation in the environmental presence of Salmonella in an island ecosystem, Stephens Island, New Zealand. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 50(3):655-9.

Nelson, N.J., Hitchmough, R.A., and J. M. Monks (2015) New Zealand Reptiles and their Conservation. Pp 382-404. In: Stow, A., Holwell, G., and N. Maclean (eds.). Austral Ark: The State of Wildlife in Australia and New Zealand. Cambridge University Press.

View more publications at ResearchGate


Teaching in 2020