Ronald P. Lynch Dean, Office of the Dean
Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Professor, Department of Global Development
Benjamin Z. Houlton is the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a Cornell University professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as well as Global Development. Houlton began his term on October 1, 2020, as the 12th Cornell CALS dean.
As a premier institution of scientific learning and discovery, Cornell CALS is a world leader in tackling the complex challenges of our time with a culture of interdisciplinary understanding and collaboration. It is home to Cornell University’s second largest total college population, with 3,760 undergraduate students, 1,080 affiliated graduate students, 360 faculty and 1,270 staff. The college offers 23 majors and more than 40 minors, managed by 16 departments and two schools. In fiscal year 2019, CALS led Cornell’s Ithaca campus with a total of $254 million in research expenditures.
Ben has published more than 130 works including peer-reviewed scientific articles, book chapters and published abstracts as tracked by Google Scholar. An accomplished international scientist, his research interests include global ecosystem processes, climate change solutions, and agricultural sustainability. Ben’s work has been published in leading scientific journals such as Nature, Science, Nature Climate Change, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and has been covered by news media including the New York Times, Scientific American, NPR, The Christian Science Monitor, Discovery News, MSNBC/Today and the BBC. As part of his mission to connect scientific discovery with the public, he is also a frequent guest on regional and national news programs.
As founding co-chair of the California Collaborative for Climate Change solutions, Ben works with researchers from key research institutions to accelerate the translation of research findings into practical climate solutions. He is a PI with the University of California Office of the President and an affiliate faculty member at their UC Davis campus. Ben is lead PI of the Working Lands Innovation Center, where he directs approximately 100 acres of farmland carbon sequestration projects to improve crop yields and create new financial markets for farmers and ranchers. He is also Editor of Global Biogeochemical Cycles published by the American Geophysical Union, the world's largest society promoting geophysical endeavors of Earth and space scientists. He served as a scientific advisor to a Rockefeller Foundation and World Wildlife Fund project on sustainable agriculture, human nutrition and climate solutions. As dean, he will also share responsibility for leadership of Cornell Cooperative Extension throughout New York state with the College of Human Ecology.
Prior to joining Cornell, Ben served on the UC Davis faculty since 2007, teaching global environmental studies with a co-appointment in the UC Agriculture Experiment Station. He also led their John Muir Institute of the Environment, bringing together more than 300 faculty affiliates, 350 postdoctoral researchers, staff and students from across the university with the goal of devising innovative solutions to the environmental sustainability challenges of the 21st century. As part of the institute, he led the new OneClimate “Big Idea,” an inter-disciplinary, team-based approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help people, ecosystems and agriculture adapt to an uncertain climate future. Ben served as faculty director of two diversity, equity and inclusion programs at UC Davis — EnvironMentors and SEEDS — and supported the launch of GOALS (Girls’ Outdoor Adventure in Leadership and Science) at the Muir Institute. He also works with California tribes to empower the application of indigenous knowledge in agricultural and environmental sustainability.
Ben received his B.S. from the University of Wisconsin — Stevens Point in Water Chemistry, an M.S. from Syracuse University in Environmental Engineering Science, and a Ph.D. from Princeton University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He spent two years working as a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford before joining the UC Davis. Ben is the recipient of the Gene E. Likens Award from the Ecological Society of America, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Young Investigator Award, and the NSF-CAREER award.
Ben grew up in Wisconsin and Minnesota, solidifying his dedication to the environment at a young age while camping with his family throughout the Midwest and spending time on his great aunt and uncle’s dairy farm. His family legacy in agriculture spans the dairy, poultry and grain commodities, and still includes one remaining family dairy farm in Kansas. He can often be found fly fishing, running, traveling internationally and coaching his kids’ soccer teams in his spare time.
- B.S., University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, College of Natural Resources (Water Chemistry, Chemistry Minor)
- M.S., Syracuse University (Environmental Engineering Science)
- Ph.D., Princeton University (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology)
Global ecosystem processes
Climate change solutions
Awards & Honors
- NSF-CAREER Award Recipient (2012 – 2017) “…the most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent teaching and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”
- Gene E. Likens Award (ESA) for the most outstanding paper published in the Biogeosciences (for Houlton et al., PNAS, 2006) (2007)
- Peng, J., Wang, Y. P., Houlton, B. Z., Dan, L., Pak, B., & Tang, X. Global carbon sequestration is highly sensitive to model-based formulations of nitrogen fixation. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 34(1), e2019GB006296 (2020).
- Khalsa, S. D. S., Smart, D. R., Muhammad, S., Armstrong, C. M., Sanden, B. L., Houlton, B. Z., & Brown, P. H. Intensive fertilizer use increases orchard N cycling and lowers net global warming potential. Science of The Total Environment, 137889 (2020).
- Xu, P., Chen, A., Houlton, B. Z., Zeng, Z., Wei, S., Zhao, C., et al. Spatial variation of reactive nitrogen emissions from China's croplands codetermined by regional urbanization and its feedback to global climate change. Geophysical Research Letters, 47, e2019GL086551 (2020).
- Houlton, B. Z., Almaraz, M., Aneja, V.,Austin, A. T., Bai, E., Cassman, K. G.et al. A world of cobenefits: Solving the global nitrogen challenge. Earth's Future,7, 865-872 (2019).
- Houlton, B. Z., Morford, S. L., Dahlgren, R. A., Convergent evidence for widespread rock nitrogen sources in Earth’s surface environment. Science (Research Article) Vol. 360, Issue 6384, 58-62 (2018).
- Lennon, E., Houlton B. Z., Coupled molecular and isotopic evidence for denitrifier controls over terrestrial nitrogen availability. Nature-ISMEJ (2017).
- Houlton, B. Z., Marklein A. R., and Bai E. Representation of nitrogen in climate change forecasts Nature Climate Change 5 (5): 398-401 (2015).
- Morford, S, Houlton, B. Z., and Dahlgren, R. A., Increased forest nitrogen and carbon storage from nitrogen-rich bedrock. Nature 477, 78-81 (2011).
- Houlton, B. Z., and Bai, E., Imprint of denitrifying bacteria on the global terrestrial biosphere. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) 106 (51): 21713 - 21716 (2009).
- Wang, Y. P., and Houlton, B. Z., Estimates of global nitrogen fixation: Implications for global climate change. Geophysical Research Letters 36: L24403 (2009).
- Houlton, B. Z., Wang, Y. P., Vitousek, P. M., and Field, C. B., A unifying framework for dinitrogen fixation in the terrestrial biosphere. Nature 454 (7202): 327-U34 (2008).
- Houlton, B. Z., Sigman, D. M., Schuur, E. A., and Hedin, L. O., A climate-driven switch in plant nitrogen acquisition within tropical forest communities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) 104 (21): 8902 - 8906 (2007).
- Houlton, B. Z., Sigman, D. M., and Hedin, L. O., Isotopic evidence for large gaseous nitrogen losses from tropical rainforests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) 103 (23): 8745-8750 (2006).
215 Garden Avenue
Roberts Hall Room 260
Ithaca, NY 14853
bzhoulton [at] cornell.edu
Benjamin in the news
- Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
- Global Development
- Department of Global Development
- Ecology and Evolutionary Biology