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Marco and Louise Mitrani
Department of Desert Ecology (MDDE)

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Researchers in the Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology (MDDE) use deserts as model ecosystems for advancing ecological knowledge in general, and specifically to understand the ecological properties of deserts. The knowledge obtained in the course of this research is made available to the scientific community at large, to governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations. The MDDE research program provides knowledge that can be used for the conservation and prudent, sustainable development of desert regions. The studies carried out in the MDDE address the roles of environmental heterogeneity (physical and biological), disturbance (natural and anthropogenic), and biotic interactions (trophic and non-trophic) in determining biodiversity in water-limited ecosystems. These research projects also examine the roles of scale and mechanism in creating and maintaining patterns of diversity in different functional groups of plants and animals.

 

Much research emphasis is given to studies in applied ecology, including collaboration with other organizations concerned with landscape management for biodiversity conservation, wildlife protection, public health and the arrest of desertification. Research undertaken by MDDE investigators, their students and visiting colleagues during recent years, include ecophysiology, behavioural ecology and life histories, population ecology and genetics, community and landscape ecology and ecological and evolutionary parasitology. The MDDE facilities include animal care facilities, outdoor enclosures for mammals and areas for garden experiments in loess and sandy desert soils. There is access to research sites at different levels of annual rainfall, from Makhtesh Ramon in the south (60 mm annual precipitation) and Lehavim in the north (250 mm annual precipitation). Research sites include loessal plains, rocky watersheds, canyons, oases, and stabilized and semi-stabilized sand dunes.

Deserts, far from being desolate wastelands, support an amazing variety of plants and animals, whose physiologies, morphologies, and behaviors are adapted to harsh conditions.  Thus, deserts offer natural laboratories for studying natural selection in action.  Moreover, deserts offer simple, transparent systems for studying the consequences of these selected traits for individuals, populations, and communities.  Deserts often inspire new theories in ecology and provide the crucible in which we test them.