NEW YORK: Indian American researcher Kamal Bawa has been conferred the Gunnerus Sustainability Award – the world’s first major international award for work on sustainability – by the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters (DKNVS).
Professor Bawa is a professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Boston and faculty fellow at the Center for Governance and Sustainability, home of the Global Environmental Governance Project at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Prof. Bawa is known for his research on population biology in rainforest areas. His span of work includes biological discoveries made in Central America, the Western Ghats, and the Himalayas in India. He is also noted for founding, and serving as president, of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) in Bangalore. Until recently, he held the Ruffolo Giorgio Fellowship in Sustainability Science and Bullard Fellowship at Harvard University.
The Gunnerus award is the first major international prize for outstanding scientific work that promotes sustainable development globally, and will be awarded every two years. The award is named after DKNVS’ founder, Bishop Johan Ernst Gunnerus (1718-1773), and is the result of collaboration between DKNVS, Sparebank1, SMN, and the society Technoport. DKNVS has been responsible for the international launch, and the selection of the winner. The selection took place after a jury process in which five internationally prominent researchers had considered a number of international nominees from many countries.
Bawa will receive the Gunnerus Gold Medal and the award of 1 million Norwegian Kronor (about $190,000) at a ceremony in Trondheim, Norway.
Bawa’s early research on the population biology of tropical forest trees, done in Central America, revolutionized our thinking regarding the ecology and evolution of forest trees, and thereby directly enhanced our ability to conserve tropical forests. His discoveries of unusual breeding systems, novel pollination mechanisms, and a diverse array of flowering patterns in tropical forest trees changed the prevailing notions about the population biology, ecology, and evolution of these trees.
Bawa was among the first to consider the role of resource allocation and sexual selection in the evolution of plant breeding systems and he advanced new mechanisms for the evolution of almost every major type of breeding system in plants. His group was among the first to use Simple DNA Sequence Repeats to study gene flow in tropical trees, and this approach opened up the way to extensively examine population genetic structure of tropical forest trees.
This work showed that tropical forest trees are widely out-crossed with gene flow taking place over long distances. Of critical importance to biodiversity conservation, the work of Bawa and his students showed that genetic diversity of tropical trees can only be maintained by large populations spread over very large areas, and that fragmentation and habitat loss can therefore adversely affect genetic diversity and long-term viability of populations.
Later in his career, Bawa used insights gained from population biology of tropical forest trees to design strategies for sustainable use of forest resources as well as conservation of large tropical landscapes. He pioneered quantitative approaches to the examination of sustainable harvests of non-timber forests products, and combined approaches in natural and social sciences to show under which circumstances extraction of non-timber forest products could be made compatible with conservation and enhancement of rural incomes. His current work on climate change, biodiversity and people in the Himalayas has attracted considerable attention.
Bawa’s concern for global conservation issues led him to establish new institutions for conservation and sustainability science and new models for international cooperation in fostering sustainability. Among Bawa’s most significant achievements is the establishment of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) in Bangalore, India, in 1996. This innovative, knowledge-based conservation and research organization was designed to scale up models of and approaches to sustainability science.
Bawa’s deep commitment to raising awareness of conservation issues led him to write an award winning popular coffee table book, Sahyadris, India’s Western Ghats: A Vanishing Heritage. He expects to complete a second coffee table book on the Himalayas (Mountains of Life) this year.
Bawa has served as the Chair or a member of several international panels, as an organizer of numerous international symposia and conferences, and as a member of the governing councils of several professional organizations and foundations. While President of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, he guided development of a strategic plan for research priorities in tropical biology and conservation for the twenty-first century. More recently, as part of an international panel on agrobiodiversity, he co-authored a plan to identify priorities for research in agrobiodiversity; the panel is part of DIVERSITAS, the international program for the science of biodiversity. Currently he is the Chair of the International Union of Biological Sciences Program on the Human Dimensions of Biodiversity Change, and is developing a science plan for the program.
Many national and international bodies have recognized Bawa’s contributions. He had the Bullard Fellowship at the Harvard Forest (1972/73 & 2009/10); a Giorgio Ruffolo Scholar in Sustainability in the Sustainability Science Program at Harvard University’s Centre for International Development (2009/10); received a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in 1987; and in 2001 was one of ten recipients of the annual Pew Scholar Award in Conservation and the Environment.
Bawa has received the highest form of recognition from the two primary professional societies in his field. In 2001, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation elected him as President of the Association, and in 2004, it elected him Honorary Fellow of the year. The Society for Conservation Biology recognized his immense contributions to conservation biology by awarding him its Distinguished Service Award in 2009. He has been honored twice by his University in the form of Chancellor’s Award for distinction in Scholarship and later in Service.
India Post News Service