IALC Peace Fellowship Report Summer 1998

Dawn Nagel 
Undergraduate Student

South Dakota State University

Effects of Habitat Fragmentation and Patch Alteration on Desert Lizards

The International Arid Lands Consortium sponsored Peace Fellowship enabled me to participate in a month-long experiment at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, Israel this past summer. I worked with Dror Hawlena, a student, under the direction of Dr. Amos Bouskila on a project studying the effects of habitat fragmentation and patch alteration on desert lizards.

Our project consisted of studying habitat alterations, specifically the effects of habitat fragmentation on animals in desert ecosystems. The goal was to study the influence of fragmentation and patch alteration on lizard communities within arid ecosystems. We observed community and individual lizard processes obtaining information on the effects of human management as a component of arid ecosystems. This information was gathered as a resource for maintaining sustainable management of arid lands.

The project had originally been established in conjunction with a project on "Savannization" used to help restore desert regions. The purpose of the Savannization project was to gain ecological understanding of desertification processes, as well as to restore these desertified areas. It was based on the assumption that biological production and diversity in desertified systems are low due to resource leakage before they are used by the biotic systems, therefore, decreasing the production and diversity of both plants and animals. However, based on long term research, the diversity is not limited by lack of resources, but by their availability to organisms in the system. The Jewish National Fund has planted various native trees in the Negev Desert in recent years to help re-establish plant and animal diversity. In this process they have used various man-made methods of slowing the runoff of water on hillsides and other areas of rapid run-off to increase the amount of moisture and nutrients the soil would be able to absorb. Through studying the two main types of different vegetative areas in the desert, macrophytic and microphytic, we hoped to gain understanding of the advantages or disadvantages that may occur due to the change in habitat from man-made alterations.

The tasks that I specifically helped with were fairly basic. Each morning we drove to the field, approximately a fifteen minute drive, where we checked six plots. Each plot consisted of two areas from which we trapped lizards. The traps were set up in a Y-formation, with a center drop bucket and six other evenly spaced drop buckets along the Y grid. Small netting, dug approximately two inches under the ground and standing about ten inches above the ground, was used to help guide lizards to the various drop buckets. By utilizing drop buckets we could prevent animals that were caught in our traps from becoming injured. Once lizards had been caught, we recorded their length and weight measurements, as well as noting any abnormalities it may have acquired. Finally, using a toe clipping system, we numbered each lizard. Next, we freed each lizard in the same location in which it had been caught to allow it back to its original habitat. If any other animals were caught, we freed them immediately.

Along with checking drop buckets, we also did direct observation, observing the foraging behavior, and recording interactions between various lizard species. This process was most efficient when two individuals were observing the same lizard. One person would watch the movement of the lizard, while the other individual would record the amount of time the lizard spent moving and searching for food verses the time spent in the lizard burrow.

Outside of the time spent working on the research project, I was able to tour throughout Israel. My host student and professor felt this was important in order to receive a real opportunity to experience the culture and get to know the people in Israel. Throughout this time, I toured to the Dead Sea at Ein Gedi, Masada, the Sea of Galilea around Tiberias, Capernaum, Tabgha, Jerusalem and Nazareth. I also went on a one-day organized tour through the Golan Heights area up to the Siberian border, Nimrod's Castle, and up to the Lebanon-Israel Goodfence border crossing at Metulla. I toured through areas in the Negev and Judean Deserts including various national reserves and park areas. My final travel experience took me to Eilat along the Red Sea and over to The Red Rock City of Petra in Jordan. Each place enabled me to meet many people from Israel of various cultural backgrounds. I gained a much clearer understanding of the goals and beliefs of each group of people, as well as learning the reasons behind the disputes that often occur in this area.

My experience received through the Peace Fellowship Program and International Arid Lands Consortium helped me develop a much deeper understanding of Israel both culturally and spiritually. Along with gaining understanding of the culture in Israel, I began to see the diversity of the landscape and resources available to the country. There were areas of lush vegetation as well as the desert regions that were being further developed. Due to exposure to numerous areas, I now have a much more thorough comprehension of the various cultures and the efforts the people of Israel make daily to create an environment in which they may effectively co-exist. The Israeli people take great pride in their accomplishments and the opportunities they offer. They are a friendly and open people looking for new opportunities to expand their country. The unique opportunities I received helped me extend my knowledge on international peace and agricultural issues.

Through future work experiences I hope to share with high school students and community members the importance of international agriculture and how it truly can directly affect our day to day life. My interest in global agriculture has been enhanced through my Peace Fellowship experience and I hope to incorporate information I gained in Israel to making a difference one student at a time.