The Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) bestowed its top annual research honor, the Nevada Regents’ Researcher Award, to UNLV School of Life Sciences professor Lawrence “Lars” Walker. The NSHE Board of Regents approved the award at its March 4 meeting.
The Nevada Regents’ Researcher Award is given to a faculty member who has made major advances in their field and has served the Nevada System of Higher Education at least 10 years. Recipients must be nominated for this honor, which carries a $5,000 stipend.
An acclaimed plant ecologist, Walker studies community assembly in succession, or how groups or communities of plants grow after a disturbance occurs and how they change during the decades and centuries following a disturbance. He has studied succession after disturbances from volcanoes, melting glaciers, landslides, floods, mining, and abandoned roads.
Walker also studies how to restore damaged ecosystems by manipulating responses to disturbances, and he compares ecosystem responses across disturbance types and a variety of countries and climates to find generalizable patterns. His research is vital to understanding how disrupted ecosystems respond and how those responses can be modified to benefit society’s interests in hazard management, clean water, soil conservation, and other advantages that intact ecosystems provide.
“Professor Walker has had an exemplary career here at UNLV as both a teacher and as a researcher,” said Tim Porter, dean of UNLV's College of Sciences. “His work in plant ecology and how plant life responds to extreme environmental events has become increasingly important as the world faces unprecedented biological challenges owing to both natural and man-made factors.”
Walker's work has earned approximately $17 million in funding from agencies including the U.S. National Science Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, academic institutions, private corporations, and the New Zealand government.
Walker's 133 peer-reviewed publications have been cited 11,000 times, making him one of the top three scholars at UNLV in citation strength. Walker has received other prestigious research awards as well, including the Barrick Scholar, Barrick Distinguished Scholar, and the College of Science’s Distinguished Researcher Award.
He is the second consecutive UNLV researcher to win the Nevada Regents’ Researcher Award. Engineering professor Kwang Kim won the award in 2015. Prior to Kim, the last researcher from UNLV to win the award was Life Sciences professor Warren Burggren in 1997.