Skip to content

Bioindicators for Israel’s freshwaters: multiple demands and multiple stressors

April 7, 2014
Intensive irrigation  to grow wheat, vegetables and fruits in Israel - well-known products from the home supermarket. (Image: Christian Feld)

Intensive irrigation to grow wheat, vegetables and fruits in Israel – well-known products from the home supermarket. (Image: Christian Feld)

MARS partner Dr. Christian Feld and Dr. Armin Lorenz, both from University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) in Germany, recently visited Israel to discuss the development and establishment of a national bioindication system for the country’s freshwater ecosystems.

Bioindicators are species that can be used to monitor the health of an ecosystem. In freshwater ecology, insects such as caddis flies are often used as bioindicators to monitor the effect of stressors such as pollution on the wider environment.

Symposium to design a bioindication project for Israel

Collaboration at the symposium: Dr. Dana Milstein (Israel Nature and Park Authority), Alon Zask (Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection), Prof. Tamar Dayan, Dr. Yaron Hershkovitz, Prof. Avital Gasith (Tel Aviv University), Dr. Christian Feld (back) und Dr. Armin Lorenz (University of Duisburg-Essen) (from left to right). (Image: Christian Feld)

Collaboration at the symposium: Dr. Dana Milstein (Israel Nature and Park Authority), Alon Zask (Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection), Prof. Tamar Dayan, Dr. Yaron Hershkovitz, Prof. Avital Gasith (Tel Aviv University), Dr. Christian Feld (back) and Dr. Armin Lorenz (University of Duisburg-Essen) (from left to right). (Image: Christian Feld)

Invited by the Israeli Ministry of Environment Protection, Feld, Lorenz and Yaron Hershkovitz met with colleagues from Tel Aviv University, the Israeli Nature and Park Authority and the Israel Water Authority.

During a one-day symposium, the UDE scientists presented the steps towards the development of a national bioindication and biomonitoring system for rivers in Israel, and suggested ways to practically implement the project.

Feld and Lorenz’s expertise is based on more than a decade of research and practice on the European Water Framework Directive, one of the main specialisations of their department at UDE. Their visit aimed to help share insights and experiences from this work with Israeli colleagues as a means of helping strengthen freshwater conservation in Israel.

Water in Israel: multiple demands and multiple stressors

Yarkon River, Tel Aviv (Image: Wikipedia)

Yarkon River, Tel Aviv (Image: Wikipedia)

Israel’s waters—historically biologically rich and diverse—have undergone significant modification during the past decades, a process that is largely driven by the increasing use of land and water by humans. Typically, rain only falls in the winter months, and then largely in northern regions. As a result, demand for water for human use outstrips supply in Israel, and the country relies on engineering projects to divert and store freshwater, reclaim wastewater and desalinate seawater to ensure water availability.

Constantly growing industrial and municipal water demands – in particular intensive row-crop agriculture and recreational water uses – impose serious threats on Israel’s waters and their ecological integrity. Food production is inevitably linked to irrigation in many regions of the country. Consecutive dry winters in recent years and future climatic change are likely to amplify these water-related problems.

Israel’s freshwater biodiversity: a shortfall in ecological knowledge

The Far Eastern fire salamander (image: Wikipedia)

The Far Eastern fire salamander (image: Wikipedia)

At present, much of Israel’s freshwater diversity remains un-catalogued – a shortfall that is particularly acute amongst smaller organisms such as insects, crayfish, snails and worms. Without knowing exactly what biodiversity is present, it is impossible to know what is being lost.

Similarly, without a detailed knowledge of smaller species such as invertebrates, it will prove difficult (if not impossible) to develop a bioindication system to monitor the health of Israel’s freshwaters. One remarkable animal that depends on Israel’s freshwaters is the Near Eastern fire salamander – its black back flecked with bright yellow warning spots – which is known to be threatened across the country by habitat loss.

Building a bioindication system

Yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea) in the Snir River, Upper Galilee (Image: Wikipedia)

Yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea) in the Snir River, Upper Galilee (Image: Wikipedia)

The Israeli hosts presented an impressive overview of these issues during the initial one-day symposium. Together with the visiting German team, the Israeli scientists discussed options to detect and monitor the ecological effects of the intensive water uses in the country.

A first goal for the bioindication system will be to undertake a nation-wide inventory of Israel’s aquatic diversity, a research project closely linked to the establishment of the National Taxonomic Institute at the University of Tel Aviv. One of the Institute’s tasks will be to coordinate the sampling, identification and ecological cataloguing of the aquatic biodiversity, the foundations of the development of a bioindication system. It is planned that this project will be undertaken in coordination with the University of Duisburg-Essen.

Dr. Feld and Dr. Lorenz were invited to several field trips, which took the ecologists to the source of the upper Jordan River, and down the river to the Dead Sea oasis. Together with a final tour along the course of the Yarkon River – the ‘green lung’ of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area – the field trips helped the visiting scientists understand the numerous water uses and their implications for the aquatic environment and human welfare.

Christian Feld’s reflections on the trip

A restored section of the Upper Jordan River (Image: Christian Feld)

A restored section of the Upper Jordan River (Image: Christian Feld)

Dr. Feld summed up his reflections on the trip as:

MARS’ research focuses on multiple stressors and Israel is one of the regions on earth to demonstrate a multi-stressor environment: water abstraction; pollution with treated and untreated waste water; eutrophication through agriculture; climate change; recreational water uses (canoeing, rafting, water hiking); salinisaton … just to name a few! It is likely to be extremely difficult to derive the right measures when it comes to environmental restoration and stress mitigation. MARS could potentially provide a tremendous body of knowledge and tools to help Israeli water managers.

I think that Israel is on the right track towards developing a freshwater bioindication system as they have already started to acknowledge that ecology is an important part of their fresh waters. It’s more than the water. And the actual practitioners in the catchments already think ecologically. Our Israeli counterparts and our hosts expressed their interest in expanding the cooperation, for us at UDE to provide advice and to conduct training workshops. They also want to send students and strengthen the already existing cooperation between our University and the University of Tel Aviv.

The Israeli landscapes and environments are very interesting and diverse. We saw mountainous areas in Upper Galilee, close to the borders of Lebanon and Syria. We then moved along the Jordan River through hilly landscapes and wide agricultural plains, just to enter the semi-arid (almost desert like) region around the Dead Sea Oasis. The Dead Sea valley is part of the Rift Valley and lies -400 m a.s.l., which is incredible! Thus, we moved from temperate Mediterranean climate in the north to semi-arid climate in the south. And all within a couple of hours drive. This is a special environment!”

The Israel trip for the UDE scientists was funded by the European Commission, DG Enlargement, through the Technical Assistance Information Exchange Instrument (TAIEX, ETT55742).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: