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IALC Peace Fellowship Report Summer 1999

Jonathon Minor 
Undergraduate Student

South Dakota State University

Predicting Seed Bank Germination in Semiarid Rangelands 
Under Grazing Management

The International Arid Lands Consortium Peace Fellowship Program allowed me to travel half way around the world and to broaden my outlook on world agriculture, as well as my cultural background. I spent the month of June in Rehovot, Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Agriculture, working under the direction of Dr. Jaime Kigel on a project that focused on predicting seed bank germination in semiarid rangelands under grazing management. I was accompanied on my trip by Rachel Mehlhaf, another Peace Fellowship participant and student at South Dakota State University. She also studied under Dr. Kigel.

The purpose of Dr. Kigel's project is to improve the standards on which management of semiarid rangeland is based. Researching the relationship between the seed bank and the resulting annual vegetation affected by grazing and the seasonal and yearly variation in climatic conditions, and understanding the patterns of seed bank dormancy loss and germination in response to rainfall and temperature variation, will help to develop improvements for management practices. This project is scheduled over two years and should be completed in May of 2000.

The month of June is one of the warmest months in Israel, and we spent very little time in the field. Instead we worked in a brand new facility called the Phytotron, a state-of-the-art greenhouse in which many of the controlled experiments dealing with the seed bank germination project take place. Each room to the Phytotron can be completely controlled and manipulated to facilitate a given climatic condition. Dr. Kigel and a graduate student took samples of the upper soil level from different areas of the Negev Desert and placed them in the Phytotron to be studied. These studies were being conducted to determine the amount of germanitive and dormant seeds, as well as species diversity and biomass production.

Only spending one month at the Agricultural Faculty in Rehovot, I was merely able to wet my lips with the two-year project; however, I assisted in several different aspects of the research. Rachel and I spent a considerable amount of time in the Phytotron planting different species of seeds from all over the globe. We sowed the seeds into a plant medium and were responsible for caring for the germinating seeds during the duration of our stay. After germination hopefully takes place, Dr. Kigel will send the plants out to a research station where studies will be conducted on the plants' vigor in semiarid conditions. We did spend a small amount of time in the field helping collect seeds of a short, annual plant. The seeds were to be used for research on the dynamics of dominant annual species and temporal patterns of germination.

Spending time with Dr. Kigel proved to be informative than I had hoped. Aside from the work on the seed bank germination project, I was introduced to several of the research projects that the ever-so-busy Dr. Kigel was involved in. We took a couple of days to travel around to different research stations and view scientific research being conducted on everything from roses to tomatoes. A couple of the projects that really caught my eye involved concepts that I had never thought about before. One experiment, funded by a company that produces plastic, was using different types of plastic to enclose several greenhouses. Each plastic covering was produced to allow only a certain part of the light spectrum to pass through, and studies were being conducted to understand the effects of different types of light on plants ranging from flowers to bell peppers. The second project that I found interesting dealt with biological water purification for irrigation uses. Different species of plants were grown with the roots of the plants completely submerged in wastewater from kitchens or showers. Many of the plants thrived in the impure water, especially the banana trees. After three or four stages with different species of plants, the water was tested to understand how many of the impurities, such as nitrates, had been extracted. Understanding which species of plants help purify waste water the quickest would be valuable information in Israel, where water is a precious commodity.

During the weekends of my month-long excursion to Israel, Rachel and I traveled to different parts of the country to experience some of the many wonderful sights it offers. I felt this to be very important to receive a real understanding of the culture of Israel and its people. We traveled south to the Dead Sea at Ein Gedi, Masada, Jerusalem, Eilat, and the Sinai Peninsula on the Red Sea in Egypt. We also spent some time in Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean Sea, Haifa, Acre, and the Carmel Mountains National Park. These travels allowed me to observe and meet the people of Israel and to gaze at Israel's natural beauty. In meeting and conversing with different people I was able to finally understand the tension that lingers between Israel and the surrounding countries.

The experience I received through the International Arid Lands Consortium Peace Fellowship Program has given me a much deeper understanding of the people and culture of Israel. I have to admit that I had many stereotypical views of Israel before I left, but I am fairly sure every one of those views was changed tenfold. Israel is a beautiful country varying from rich vegetation in areas to barren desert to metropolitan Tel Aviv. The people of Israel are kind and hard working, innovative, always thinking on a global basis, and constantly producing new opportunities to expand their country.

Many people in our country have the same stereotypical views (war-stricken barren desert) that I had about Israel. My Peace Fellowship experience has maintained my interest in global agriculture and will enable me to aid in correcting the views of those people I will meet, both in my personal life and my career in international agriculture.

[edited for the Web by Elaine Cubbins]