IALC Peace Fellowship Report Summer 1999

Rachel Mehlhaf 
Undergraduate Student

South Dakota State University

Predicting Seed Bank Germination in Semiarid Rangelands Under Grazing

Through a Peace Fellowship Project sponsored by the International Arid Lands Consortium (IALC), I received the opportunity to participate in part of a two-year long experiment in the country of Israel. I along with Jon Minor, another student taking part in the same project, worked under the direction of Dr. Jaime Kigel during the month of June predicting seed bank germination in semiarid rangelands under grazing. I spent a total of twenty-eight days abroad. During this time I toured in three countries and spent 14 days working in my research area.

The research project I worked under is aimed at studying the relationships between the seed bank and the resultant annual vegetation. A variety of areas are taken into account when measuring the vegetation, such as the amount of grazing on the land and seasonal and interannual variation in climatic conditions. The research also includes the study of patterns in seed bank dormancy loss and germination in response to temperature and rainfall variation. The outcome of the research will provide suggestions for better management of the arid rangelands and help us better understand the changing global climate.

Jon and I were stationed in Rehovot at the Faculty of Agriculture, a branch of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I spent much of my researching time actually on the campus. The month of June is the warmest and driest month of the year in Israel; therefore, the studies out in the field were slowed due to unbearable heat and lack of rainfall. I did, however, experience the honor of working in a brand new facility called the Phytotron. The Phytotron is a multi-million dollar project built to aid in agricultural research and teaching on the college campus.

The building is split into separate compartments. There are four different rooms with glass walls to allow sunlight in. The temperature and humidity in each of the four chambers is regulated by a series of controls on a control panel found in yet another room. The room that holds the control panel also serves as a research work area with a study table, a counter top and sink, and cupboards for book storage. This area is one in which I spent many hours.

In order to introduce new plant species into the arid lands, research is first conducted to see what species will likely survive the arid conditions. The Phytotron serves this exact purpose. Jon and I spent time recording species data, and propagating seeds. We placed the seedlings in the room with a cool temperature and low humidity. The seedlings remain in this room until they germinate, upon which time they are moved into the next room having a higher temperature and humidity. As the plant continues to grow, it is eventually exposed to the room that contains climate conditions of the region in which the plant is expected to survive. Jon and I together planted over 100 different plant species in about 900 small pots.

Eventually the plants that survive the Phytotron are moved to greenhouses contained in a university research area located an hour south of Rehovot near the Gaza Strip. The results of our efforts are still being researched in the present time. The species that survive the experiment may consequently be implemented into experimentation in the field. Seeds that survive could consequently be used as vegetation for animals or used to preserve the arid soil.

Along with conducting research I also spent time with Dr. Kigel touring different facets of Israel's agricultural areas. Dr. Kigel guided Jon and I through numerous greenhouses where either experimentation is conducted or plants such as flowers, tomatoes, and peppers are grown for commercial sale. An outstanding percentage of Israel's fresh produce is grown in greenhouses where plants can be protected from the hot sun and irrigation can be regulated closely. As we drove throughout Israel I witnessed Bedouins herding camels and sheep, orchards of oranges and other fruits, and a manmade forest. This forest is between 15-20 years old, but appears to be only about three to five years old. The trees grow very slowly due to the lack of moisture and high temperatures. Dr. Kigel told me many of the trees would be lucky to survive the summer because 1999 had been the hottest and driest in over 30 years.

Overall, during my time spent working I gained a fond knowledge of not only my research project, but also agriculture in Israel as a whole. I now can compare what I do on our farm in South Dakota to how things are done in a foreign country. The knowledge I gained by partaking in my research project is only part of what I gained on my trip. As I shared in the beginning I spent 14 days of my 28-day trip working on my project. I spent the other 14 days traveling in Israel, Egypt, and France experiencing new cultures and touring the sights.

On our way to Israel, Jon and I had a three-day layover in Paris, France. This included my first taste of life in a foreign country overseas. As we toured places such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, and many more historical sights, I gained an appreciation for French history. Once Jon and I arrived in Israel, Dr. Kigel encouraged us to travel, experience the culture, and get to know the people of his country. We spent time touring the city of Jerusalem, the Dead Sea at Ein Gedi, Masada, the Negev Desert, and a Natural Reserve in the north part of Israel. We also spent a few days in the port cities of Tel Aviv, Akko, Haifa, and Eilat. During our touring we crossed the border into Egypt, the third country we visited, just south of Eilat at a place called Taba and caught a cab. The cabby drove us an hour south along the shoreline of the Red Sea to a town called Nuwieba where we relaxed and went snorkeling among some of the world's most beautiful coral reefs.

In conclusion, the experience I took part in during the month of June in 1999 is one that will never be forgotten. By being a participant in the Peace Fellowship Program through the International Arid Lands Consortium, I have gained an indepth understanding of agriculture in Israel, as well as an appreciation for the area both spiritually and culturally. Israel is a land where the people are as diverse as the landscape. At one point I stood in the middle of Tel-Aviv among bustling business people, and at another point I was in the middle of the desert where Bedouins roam the land, just as at one point I drove through a natural reserve filled with all kinds of vegetation and greens, and then on another day I found myself standing on top of the Masada without a fragment of vegetation in sight. The IALC has provided me with an experience that has not only impacted my life, but one that will be a valuable asset as I continue my college education and seek out a successful career.

I thank the IALC for making my experience possible by providing me with the scholarship that allowed me to participate in the Peace Fellowship Program. The program is one that should be taken advantage of by anyone who is interested in research, agriculture, and culture in a foreign land. I will treasure my Peace Fellowship trip for the rest of my life and share my experiences with anyone who is willing to listen.

[edited for the Web by Elaine Cubbins]