Dr. Benjamin Babst, a forestry professor at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, has been awarded the 2019 Ouachita Society of American Forester’s award for forestry science research.

The award recognizes distinguished research in forestry and disciplines allied to forestry and forest resource management that has resulted in substantial advances in the knowledge and practice of forestry at any level.

Babst’ research focused on the biochemistry of forest ecosystems and how they will, or may respond to forest management practices. He began conducting research on trees 20 years ago, and has continued his research at UAM for the past five years.

Babst says trees face a constantly changing environment. The goal of his research is to understand how trees work, and what they do when environmental conditions change. For example, trees frequently encounter other organisms, like insects that cause damage, and abiotic or non-living conditions, like flooding, that can cause stress or damage.

Babst says he doesn’t do his research alone. “Many students have contributed to my research projects,” he said. Richard Sample, a recent M.S. graduate, helped pioneer Babst’s research about flood effects on trees and Jimmy Cook just completed another study showing how several important oak species respond to winter flooding that extends into spring.

“Locally, most trees are dormant, or inactive, during winter,” Babst said. “Some oak species appear to have some ability to tolerate flooding when they are dormant, but when trees begin to become active and grow in the spring, stresses like flooding can cause damage.

“Trees are very responsive to what is happening around them,” Babst said. “They change what they are doing in response to environmental cues. For example, when insects attack, trees can often sense the attack and produce biochemicals that are toxic or taste bad to protect themselves. When trees are flooded, the flooded parts have very little oxygen, and some species are badly damaged. Although we don’t know all of the details, other tree species can tolerate flooding by changing how they function, such as altering their metabolism. I am currently working on a study to help Arkansas Game FC find out when they can flood their man-made green tree reservoirs without harming the forests.”

Babst received the award on November 21 at the organization’s state meeting at Mt. Magazine in the Ouachita National Forest.

UAM Professor and Associate Dean of Academics, Robert Ficklin nominated Babst for the award. “The nature of this exciting work in tree ecophysiology is both basic and applied, and better informed forest management practices will be possible because of his efforts,” Ficklin said his letter nominating Babst for the award.