Creativity & Innovation

Distinguished Professor of Biology Kamaljit Bawa accepting the world’s first major international award for sustainability.

Kamaljit Bawa

  • Distinguished Professor of Biology

  • Faculty fellow, Center for Governance and Sustainability

Distinguished Professor of Biology Kamaljit Bawa has been at the forefront of groundbreaking biology and climate change research for five decades. The evolutionary ecologist and conservation biologist was among the first researchers to consider the role of sexual selection in the evolution of plant breeding systems and to use DNA sequences to study the genetic makeup of tropical forest trees.

Most recently, he has used his research on tropical forest trees to design strategies for a sustainable use of forest resources and conservation of large tropical landscapes.

And his work has not gone unnoticed. In April Bawa was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems in the science, social policy, and humanities fields, and he received the Royal Norwegian Society of Science and Letters’ first Gunnerus Sustainability Award, the world’s first major international award for work on sustainability, in the same week.

“One dreams of getting such a recognition, but really do not expect much in reality as there are a very large number of people out there doing extraordinary work,” Bawa says.

Bawa lists his initial studies on evolutionary ecology of tropical forest trees, first published in 1968, and the development of concepts and tools for sustainable use of tropical forest resources as career highlights. He is also proud of starting a new interdisciplinary international journal, Conservation and Society, and founding an interdisciplinary research think tank, the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) in India. Bawa donated his $190,000 in winnings from the Gunnerus Award to ATREE.

Bawa teaches undergraduate courses in evolutionary biology and graduate courses in conservation biology at UMass Boston. His students don’t have to wait long to apply what they are learning in the classroom. In May, PLoS One published a study coauthored by Bawa and UMass Boston graduate student Uttam Babu Shrestha that showed that the Himalayas, a mountain range immediately at the north of the Indian subcontinent, is warming more rapidly than the rest of the planet.

"Much of the recent discussion about climate change in the Himalayas has been dominated by the extent of glacial melting. However, changes in two most critical parameters of climate, temperature, and precipitation have not been yet fully analyzed. Our study fulfills a critical knowledge gap,” Bawa says.

Bawa isn’t surprised about the recent influx of international attention on UMass Boston projects.

“I think it is due to the importance the administration places on scholarship and of course the competence of the faculty. We have many bright people on the campus,” he says.

Bawa says he’ll continue to research the Himalayas; his book Himalayas: the Mountains of Life is scheduled to be published in early fall. A book focused on the reproductive biology of tropical forest trees is slated to be out in 2013.

“UMass Boston has been a home ever since I joined the university in 1974. I am deeply appreciative of the support I have received from my colleagues and the administration. I am proud that we have a world-class institution,” Bawa says.