Distinguished Ichthyologist Peter Wainwright Receives Prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award

Peter Wainwright standing beside aquarium containing a lungfish
Peter Wainwright, a distinguished professor and chair in the Department of Evolution and Ecology, has received a lifetime achievement award in ichthyology from the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. Here, Wainwright is pictured in his lab with a South American lungfish (Lepidosiren paradoxa). (UC Davis)

Distinguished Ichthyologist Peter Wainwright Receives Prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award

Celebrating a legacy of research, education, and service in the study of fish biology

Peter Wainwright, a Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Evolution and Ecology, has been honored with the 2023 Joseph S. Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award in Ichthyology. Conferred by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH), the award recognizes exceptional contributions to the realm of fish biology and aquatic ecosystems.

Wainwright received the award in honor of a distinguished career marked by groundbreaking research, transformative education and dedicated service to his field.

A legacy of impact and excellence

Wainwright graduated from Duke University with a BSci in Zoology in 1980 and then pursued a Ph.D. in Anatomy from the University of Chicago, where he was mentored by George Lauder. Lauder, a previous recipient of the ASIH’s Nelson Award, noted the trajectory of Wainwright's career, emphasizing his pioneering research, as well as his teaching and mentorship. “Peter has mentored a tremendous number of amazing students,” said Lauder, “and his work on the morphological and functional diversification of teleost fishes has been groundbreaking.”

Wainwright's career has seen him develop novel methodologies, which he applied to diverse areas of ichthyology. His prolific publication record including over 220 articles – many featured in esteemed journals such as Science and Nature Communications – stand as testament to his exceptional body of research.

The breadth of Wainwright's selection of study species, ranging from deep-sea creatures to coral reef inhabitants, constitute another integral element of why his research has had the impact is has. His in-depth research expeditions have spanned numerous locales worldwide, including Panama, Tahiti, Hawaii, and the Great Barrier Reef.

Mentoring the next generation of leaders

Wainwright's dedication to education is evident in his mentorship of graduate and postdoctoral scholars, as well as numerous undergraduates. He has taught courses on physiological ecology, phylogenetics, comparative anatomy, macroevolution, and population biology, and his commitment to nurturing the next generation of scientists is evident in the accomplishments of his mentees. Wainwright has mentored 23 graduate students and 24 postdoctoral scholars to date, along with many undergraduate researchers. His students have gone on to positions at UCLA, Berkeley, Yale, Kansas, Clemson, and the National Museum of Natural History, among many others.

According to Prosanta Chakrabarty, a professor of ichthyology, evolution and systematics at Louisiana State University and current President of ASIH, Wainwright's humility and genuine interest in students epitomize his character. “Peter loves students,” said Chakrabarty. “He can talk about his many areas of expertise: morphology, geometric morphometrics, phylogenetics, suction feeding kinematics, diving with sharks, ecological divergence in sticklebacks, coral reef bleaching, scale-eating pupfish, adaptive evolutionary peaks, cichlid jaw muscles, and even photography. But he would rather ask the students questions about their work, and their interests and goals.”

Record of distinction

In addition to the ASIH’s Nelson Award, Wainwright has received numerous other awards for his research and publications, as well as awards from other societies. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the California Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. From the UC Davis Academic Senate, he received a 2017 Research Lecture Award, the highest honor given in recognition of significant contributions to the recipient's field of expertise and a distinguished record in research.

About the award

The Joseph S. Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award in Ichthyology, presented by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH), honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of fish biology. Recognizing a lifetime of dedication, this award celebrates significant research, leadership, and impact on the understanding of aquatic life and ecosystems.

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