Our planet is facing an unprecedented crisis. The constant dwindling of open spaces, the destruction of habitats, and the unplanned exploitation of natural resources have all seriously impaired biodiversity.
Many species have disappeared – it is currently assumed that by the end of the century, half the species on the planet will become extinct. Genetic diversity is also falling as entire ecosystems change before our eyes.
The good news is that at this point it is still possible to influence this process! In this spirit, the United Nations has declared 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity. Ramat Hanadiv is participating in a global effort to raise awareness of this important subject. From May we will stage an exhibition on the subject of biodiversity.
What is biodiversity?
The term biodiversity refers to the variety of life on Earth, from the genetic level through to ecosystems. Biodiversity encompasses all living creatures on Earth and the variation among them, from microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses through to large animals and plants. Together these living beings create complex ecosystems on land, at sea, and in fresh water.
The term biodiversity attributes unique value to nature and emphasizes the services and benefits nature provides to humans and the surroundings in which they live. The very existence and wellbeing of humans depends on biodiversity.
Ecosystems provide “free of charge” services that are vital for human existence: oxygen for breathing, water purification, pollination of agricultural crops, prevention of soil erosion, and a vast array of food products and medicines.
Natural systems are also important in esthetic terms and are a source of inspiration reflected in art, religion, diverse traditions, and nature-based activities such as walking, picnics, mountaineering, fishing, and so forth.
Biodiversity includes several levels:
A. Genetic diversity
Humans differ from one another in terms of height, hair color, and eye color, to mention just three characteristics. Nevertheless, we all belong to the human race.
Genetic diversity is enormously important as a pool of qualities that provide resistance to diseases or environmental changes. The richer the genetic diversity of nature, the greater the chance of improving agricultural crops or finding new natural materials that can be used to produce medicines, food, or other items.
Ramat Hanadiv strives to protect genetic diversity in various groups:
As part of a plan to restore the traditional agricultural landscapes that once flourished in Ramat Hanadiv, we have restored ancient terraces and planted olive groves. Ten varieties of olives are now grown at Ramat Hanadiv, with the goal of establishing an ‘in site’ gene bank for olive trees. During the renovation process, we also discovered samples of the ‘Malisi’ variety, which has almost vanished from the Israeli landscape.
The herd of goats at Ramat Hanadiv conserves two breeds that are gradually disappearing from the Israeli countryside – the Damascus goat and the Mamber or “Baladi” goat. The unique identity of each breed is maintained by preventing cross-breeding between the two breeds.
In the heart of the Memorial Gardens, a new garden has been established housing different species of irises that are in danger of extinction, as well as the genetic diversity inherent in each species. For instance, the collection includes Iris bismarckiana brought from both the Nazareth hills and the slopes of Mt. Hermon.
B. Species diversity
To date some 1.7 million species of organisms have been described; however, it is estimated that the total number of species ranges between one to three hundred million!
How many species in existence today will still be with us at the end of the current millennium? By the end of this century, it has been estimated that approximately half the existing species on Earth will have become extinct!
The growth of human population, together with the destruction of natural habitats, the invasion of alien species, and the over-exploitation of natural resources are some of the main factors responsible for the loss of species at a rate that is 1000 times higher than the natural loss rate.
Ramat Hanadiv has high values of species diversity within all groups. By way of example it is home to 80 species of mushrooms (out of a total of 270 found in Israel); 47 species of butterflies (out of 141 in Israel); 37 species of birds (the total in Israel is 540); and over 620 plant species (out of a total of some 2,800).
C. Landscape diversity
Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park features a mosaic of different landscapes and habitats, some natural and others manmade. These landscapes and habitats support a high level of biodiversity and represent a range of benefits for humans. Planted groves provide shade for walkers and a habitat for thousands of cyclamens. Dense garrigue areas are a preferred environment for wild boars, porcupines, and roe deer. Open grassy patches are exploited by gazelles and partridges, while the sheer cliff face is home to rock hyrax.
Since no-one knows for sure just what combination of species, or what number of species, are required in order to maintain human life, the best policy is to err on the side of caution. If there is any concern that a particular action might be harmful, it is best avoided. With this in mind, we work to protect biodiversity at all levels and to maintain the highest species richness possible.
This goal may be achieved by applying various management actions in the area. For example, herds of cattle and goats have been introduced to graze in the Nature Park. This helps promote biodiversity by encouraging the creation of diverse landscape patches.
Every year the IUCN publishes the Red List of the most endangered species on Earth. According to the list, between 12 and 52 percent of the species in the groups that have been best investigated (such as amphibians, birds, and mammals) are in danger of extinction. The extinction of species not only reduces species diversity but also alters the composition of communities and ecosystems and, hence, causes changes in ecosystems function and nutrient cycles.
Several programs at Ramat Hanadiv are applied to re-stock, re-introduce to nature, or provide the most suitable management for the conservation of species facing extinction:
Re-stocking the population of Griffon vultures
In the 1950s, dozens of Griffon vultures soared through the sky above Mt. Carmel. Human activities have led to a reduction in the Griffon vulture population in Israel and not a single vulture remained in the Carmel area. Ramat Hanadiv is participating in an effort to restore the Griffon vulture population.
Re-introducing Roe deer to nature
The last Roe deer disappeared from Israel in 1912. Since the 1990s, some 15 deer have been re-introduced to nature and have made their home in Ramat Hanadiv. Some have even begun to reproduce.
Management for preserving rare plant species
Ramat Hanadiv plants list includes 42 rare plants (according to local criteria). Five of these are defined as rare according to the global criteria of the IUCN. The management conducted at Ramat Hanadiv to restore traditional agricultural landscapes, such as the preservation of landscape patches that functioned in the past as agricultural fields and the management of shallow plowed fields, also help preserve the rare plant species that are typical of these habitats.
The Ecological Footprint
The “ecological footprint” is a concept used to illustrate the impact humans leave on the planet. The areas we consume during the course of our lives for residential purposes and to grow our food; the factories that manufacture the objects we own; the waste we produce; and the greenhouse gases we emit – all these influence our ecological footprint.
Actions are being implemented at Ramat Hanadiv to reduce our ecological footprint. These include the purification of waste water; the use of felled vegetation to produce compost; and the planting of water-efficient plants.
The new Visitors Pavilion was constructed with attention to its ecological footprint; this is the first building in Israel that was granted the ‘Green building’ certification.
What can I do to help protect biodiversity?
Plant species of plants that attract butterflies
Build bird feeding stations
Buy less – recycle more
Tell my friends