The national program for terrestrial biodiversity monitoring
The term “Biodiversity” refers to all life forms existing on planet Earth. The existence of all living creatures, including mankind, depends on the proper and sustainable functioning of the natural environment and of the ecosystem in which they live. Many processes, and first and foremost the degradation and loss of habitats for development, as well as the intrusion of invasive species, climate change, pollution (whether chemical, light, or noise) and more, cause a decline in the distribution and presence of many species. In Israel, one of the densest countries, globally, accelerated development leads to a reduction in open spaces and deterioration in the quality of open natural lands, thus causing both direct and indirect damage to local biodiversity. Continuous monitoring and documentation of the ecological changes occurring over time is required to preserve and manage functioning natural systems. This is ecological monitoring – long-term monitoring of the state of the ecosystems and the species that comprise them, using indicators to help identify changes efficiently.
Hamaarag leads the national biodiversity monitoring program to identify significant changes in Israel’s biodiversity – thus understanding the state of the various ecosystems in Israel, and the human impact on them. Since 2012 research teams have taken part in the program, and monitored the diversity of plants and animals in different ecological units in Israel. Using the data collected, Hamaarag examines the influence of different processes and threats on the biodiversity and functioning of the local ecosystems.
How is the monitoring carried out?
The monitoring program covers nine different ecological units in Israel: Mediterranean maquis, shrubland and grassland, coastal plain sands, the Mediterranean-desert transition zone, the Negev mount, the arid south, planted coniferous forests, the loess plains in the north of the Negev Desert, and the sands of the Western Negev. For each of these units, a team of experts has defined the most crucial processes and threats. These processes are monitored by tracking a group of biological indicators, the main ones being plants, mammals, birds, arthropods and reptiles. Plants are monitored by well-skilled botanists, drones and satellites. Arthropods, reptiles and birds are monitored in field surveys by experts, and mammals are monitored by motion cameras located in selected areas. Most monitoring plots are located at different distances from human settlements and agricultural lands, allowing for a long-term survey of the impact of human disturbances on different ecological indicators, compared to remote control-group plots.
The findings of the monitoring program are published annually in an in-depth report on the state of nature in Israel, so as to provide decision-makers dealing with the country’s open spaces with a reliable, up-to-date, picture regarding the state of nature in Israel. In each report, certain aspects are discussed comprehensively and in-depth.
Dr. Ron Chen, Hamaarag’s quantitative ecologist, explained the importance of monitoring the vegetation: “the monitoring of woody vegetation is crucial, since its character dictates the composition of the biodiversity of both animals and herbaceous plants in the habitat”.
The findings of the monitoring program indicate the various influences of human settlement and agricultural lands on the biodiversity of mammals and birds. Ron expanded: “we used trail-cameras to monitor mammals both in proximity to settlements and further from them, and saw that different species show different activity patterns. Some species prefer proximity to humans, and it seems that human activity significantly contributes to the spread and establishment of Mediterranean species in the desert (such as the golden jackal and the common fox). In contrast, other species (such as the Israeli deer and the striped hyena) are mainly observed further away from human settlements. The continuing trend of reducing natural open areas far from human settlements reduces the area preferred by such species.”
The effect of human settlement was found also when monitoring birds: “In the desert, we observed a significant difference between sites close to human settlements and those further away. In proximity to humans, we found human-accompanying species, while in more remote sites we observed other species that prefer a desert environment devoid of human influence. In contrast, in the Mediterranean region, the differences between sites closer to and further away from human settlements were found to be less significant.”
In conclusion, Ron added: “Human activities affect changes in vegetation and biodiversity. The continuation of the monitoring program in the years to come will allow us to deepen and expand our understanding of the processes undergone by ecosystems in Israel, and will serve as a significant tool to help tackle future challenges in the conservation of biodiversity in Israel”. The findings of the monitoring program are also presented in Hamaarag’s State of Nature reports.