Seminar at Ramat Hanadiv: Monitoring the Ecosystem

‘Biogeochemical Monitoring’ was the tongue-twisting subject of a one-day seminar held at Ramat Hanadiv last November to discuss the tools available for monitoring the state of the ecosystem and how it functions under changing climatic conditions and interventions. Around 50 Israeli experts and students attended, along with Prof. Terry Chapin, an internationally renowned ecologist at the University of Alaska and member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Past president of the Ecology Society of America. Prof. Chapin accumulated many years’ experience in managing long-term biogeochemical research (including studies in Mediterranean ecosystems, while he was on the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley).

The seminar was convened in order to examine and develop biogeochemical indicators and their usefulness in monitoring human-managed ecosystems undergoing global environmental changes, and to provide a brainstorming opportunity for Israeli professionals in the field.
Since 2003 Ramat Hanadiv has operated LTER, a programme for long-term monitoring and research, in an effort to examine the state of the local ecosystem in real time, as it is affected by environmental changes (climate, drought, fire) or active interventions such as grazing or clear-cutting.
Among other things, the LTER programme monitors vegetation cover and composition; the dynamics of the main animal populations;  the impact of grazing  and of management on the landscape, etc. As part of this effort, a series of functional-ecosystemic variables has been examined in the past few years (e.g., the accumulation and decomposition of plant litter, and its nutrient content) in order to study and understand the major processes that take place in the shrublands of Ramat Hanadiv, and the impact grazing has upon them.
At the seminar there was a presentation of the biogeochemical monitoring conducted since 2008 by Ramat Hanadiv’s researchers, Dr. Jose Gruenzweig and Dr. Yael Navon, with references to related field studies carried out in Israel. Afterwards, there was a discussion of the central question: In light of climate changes and human activities, what are the most appropriate and accurate measures for monitoring the condition of the ecosystem and its functioning in Israel’s terrestrial ecosystem?
Putting their heads together, participants tried to find indices that would be sensitive enough to changes that they could serve as appropriate indicators for the local system — control factors, central processes, the forces and mechanisms that drive it — and would facilitate predictions for the future. And all this, of course, would have to be within available budgetary and administrative frameworks. It was clear that it would not be possible to monitor everything.
A number of ideas were raised in the discussion, such as building a system for controlled experiments which would solve some of the questions we are trying to answer via monitoring; use of models and remote sensing; and concentrating on the importance of studying the carbon balance and the effects of various factors on the water balance in the system.  Other subjects that came up included the significance of the scale of change; the need to relate to extreme or extraordinary events; and the importance of finding ways to involve the community in monitoring.

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