Fewer butterflies, more invaders: Nature in retreat in Israel

Indian mynah bird in Hayarkon Park, Tel Aviv
Indian mynah bird in Hayarkon Park, Tel Aviv

The 2023 report on the state of nature in Israel makes grim reading.

The report on the state of nature in Israel for 2023, by the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, Israel National Center for Biodiversity Studies at Tel Aviv University, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Jewish National Fund, and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, was published yesterday, and it makes grim reading. A range of environmental stresses is reducing biodiversity and the number of individuals of endangered species, while numbers of invasive species are rising, such as those of the mynah bird, a species that many people love to hate, which have risen sevenfold in the past nine years.

"On the whole, the processes are not encouraging," says Tamar Dayan, chairperson of the Museum of Natural History. "Each endangered species is usually affected by several kinds of stress: transformation of natural habitats, cats, light, pollutants, agricultural insecticides, invasive species."

In Israel, the situation is particularly severe. "We are a country with a surge of construction, in which the standard of living is rising. We are a small country in the first place, so that the effects are greater than in other countries. Pollution levels, which are affected by population density, are crazy. The disappearance of natural areas is an everyday occurrence here, as is the disposal of refuse in areas that are supposed to remain in a natural state. The Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Nature and Parks Authority, and the Jewish National Fund make great efforts, and there are successes, but the task here is very hard," Dayan says.

The situation in Israel is worse than in Europe. For example, in the past nine years, the number of individuals of bird species that nest in Israel has fallen by 17%, a rate of decline four times higher than in Europe. A third (65) of the species of birds that nest in Israel are in danger of extinction. Even birds that we have learned to see as part of our environment, and are known as "human following birds", are in decline, among them the common titmouse, the blackbird, the warbler, the turtledove, and the wild pigeon.

In the past thirteen years, the profusion of individuals of butterfly species has fallen by 34%. The peak period of butterfly activity has become later by 30 days in the past 13 years, apparently as a result of climate change. This change challenges the butterflies, since they are not always in synchronization with the species of plants that they need for sustenance. More than a third of butterfly species (51 species) are in danger of extinction.


The good news is the rise in the numbers of species such as sea turtles, green sea turtles, field hares, and acacia gazelles. "This means that where a big effort is made to preserve species, it is certainly possible to succeed with them, but it does require a great deal of effort," Dayan says.

More than half the species of mammals are in danger of extinction. On the other hand, if you are tempted to rejoice in the rise in the quantity of golden jackals or of foxes, it turns out that their numbers have risen because of the availability of food from refuse and agriculture. This is not always good news, particularly in the case of the jackal, which is both a common animal - some would say too common - and also a predator, endangering other species.

Reptiles are also in danger, with a 58% decline in the profusion of individuals in the Western Negev sands and a 48% decline in the Loess Plains in the Northern Negev.

As far as vegetation is concerned, 61 invasive species have established themselves in Israel in the past few decades, and there are more with a high chance of becoming established. All the same, the general measure of the profusion of vegetation is on the rise.

What effect has the war had?

Dayan: "In the Tekuma area, thought was put into where to locate the parking areas and the tanks, mainly in agricultural zones, and that was significantly to the good. In the north, there are apparently major infrastructure changes, or so I hear. Things are being done that in a normal circumstances would never be considered. Now, the fire season has started, and I’m afraid to think about how it will end. I think that, unlike in the Covid pandemic period, the devastation is too great, such that nature will not gain from the fact that the residents have left the north."

Something optimistic to end on?

"The very fact that in-depth measurement is carried out is the start of rehabilitation, because as soon as we are able to know exactly what is happening, we can also deal with it."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 20, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

Indian mynah bird in Hayarkon Park, Tel Aviv
Indian mynah bird in Hayarkon Park, Tel Aviv
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