Alan Knapp, a professor in the Department of Biology at Colorado State University, was inducted as a 2017 fellow in the American Geophysical Union, a scientific organization dedicated to studying and communicating earth and space sciences. The designation recognizes Knapp’s lifelong work on grassland ecology and climate change, and was presented in December at the organization’s 2017 fall meeting in New Orleans.
Knapp called the recognition a great honor and plans to continue exploring the effects of climate change on these ecosystems. His lab’s current research focuses on how changing precipitation patterns affect the basic functions of grasslands, which can be found from Kansas to Kenya.
“My students and I do a lot of research to try to understand the future of these grasslands, which Colorado really depends on for grazing land, recreation and tourism,” he said.
Knapp previously worked as a professor at Kansas State University and came to CSU in 2004 to become a senior ecologist for the Graduate Degree Program in Ecology. In a career that has spanned more than 35 years, he has studied grasslands around the world, although he said his favorite is the tallgrass prairie in Kansas.
When he started out in the 1980s, his research focused on how fire interacts with grazing on grassland ecosystems. However, as the effects of climate change began to accelerate in the past 15 years, he transitioned to studying how shifts in precipitation patterns affect these landscapes.
“Trying to understand how those changes are likely to influence the functioning of these grasslands is challenging and a really important issue,” he said.
Knapp said that as an ecologist, he is neither a pessimist nor an optimist when it comes to the changing climate. Rather, he feels a sense of urgency to understand and address the effects of climate change while there’s still time.
“As scientists, one of our roles in society is to provide knowledge,” he said. “Knowledge gives you power to deal with the future.”
In addition to this most recent recognition, Knapp was named a CSU University Distinguished Professor in 2017 and a fellow in the Ecological Society of America in 2016. Over the course of his career, he has been a featured speaker in more than a dozen countries, received more than $20 million in research grants and has written more than 200 peer-reviewed papers.