Ecologist Kathryn Barry receives KNAW Early Career Award

Utrecht University researcher and plant ecologist Kathryn Barry has been granted the KNAW Early Career Award. With this award, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) acknowledges talented researchers at the start of their career, who are considered to be capable of developing innovative and original research ideas. Barry will receive the award during a festive ceremony on 14 February.

Ecological crises

Barry’s research focuses on the interaction between two big ecological crises, climate change and biodiversity loss. According to the ecologist, ecosystems with a higher diversity are better able to withstand stressful conditions caused by climate change.

Barry: "Ecosystems with more plant species produce more biomass and fix more carbon than ecosystems with just one or a few species. Restoring these biodiverse systems can help us to store more carbon in the future as the climate changes. At the same time, more diverse systems are more resilient to the stresses of a future climate that is expected to have more droughts and floods. Restoring these ecosystems can help us maintain functional systems in an increasingly stressful world."

Plant interactions

Barry specifically looks at how a diversity of belowground interactions between plants can help us to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Barry: "Plants interact with each other to partition resources and to make a better microclimate in the soil, making it easier for other plants to withstand stressful conditions, like drought or flooding. Plant roots also interact through the microbial community of the soil. All of these interactions can allow more diverse systems to function better than less diverse systems."

To gain more insight in these interactions, Barry combines fieldand greenhouse experiments with modeling studies. By increasing our understanding of processes and patterns in grassland and forest ecosystems, she wants to be better able to predict future scenarios.

Award

Now Barry is a recipient of the KNAW Early Career Award. Each year, this award is granted to young and talented researchers from the four different KNAW domains: humanities; behavioral, social and legal sciences; natural and technical sciences; and medical, medical biological and health sciences. Per domain, three winners are selected. Winners receive a specially designed art object and € 15.000, which may be used at their own discretion for the development of their scientific career.

Surprise

To Barry, the award came as a positive surprise. Barry: "Receiving this award reinforces how important it is to think about biodiversity and the pressures that ecosystems are facing from the bottom up." Besides that, the award is also important to Barry on a more personal level. Barry: "I have spent a lot of my career being anxious about my work and feeling like I was not good enough. I think it is important for young researchers like me to voice such anxieties and be open in science, so winning this award is a huge achievement for me."