Urban Ecology

Greening cities has been suggested as a ‘win-win’ solution that can help mitigating the social and ecological detrimental impacts of urbanization. However, greening can be achieved in different ways that may trade-off. We have shown that the way that the current socio-ecological research is framed hinders our ability to tackle one of the grandest challenges of humanity ahead, designing sustainable cities. The research in our lab has explored how biodiversity-friendly practices can enhance species diversity and ecosystem functions in cities (Shwartz et al. 2008; 2013; 2014), but also reveling that the relationship between biodiversity and wellbeing is more complex than commonly argued (Maya Tzunz). Because humans are the keystone species in cities, we argue that the way forward in designing sustainable cities is to place humans in center and study the components of nature that provide benefits to people. An ongoing ISF project is aiming to identify these components of nature and to quantify the dosage required to ensure the provision of benefits (Danielle Bashan). This will enable a more profound understanding of the synergies and trade-offs within/between those benefiting components of nature, other ecological indicators and socio-economic constraints (Agathe Colleony). Altogether, these studies can help tailor nature-based solutions for designing sustainable cities that jointly maximize social and ecological benefits.

Conservation psychology

Broad-based public support is needed to achieve biodiversity conservation goals. However, the very global processes that threaten biodiversity, such as urbanization, also separate people from the experience of nature, affecting the way people value and benefit from nature’s quality (Pett et al. 2016). This “extinction of experience” is a major concern, since interaction with nature plays an important role in people’s health and well-being, but also because this estrangement can undermine people’s emotions, attitudes and behavior toward nature, creating a vicious cycle that gradually intensifies the consequences of this phenomena. Several projects in our lab explore the network of relationships between the causes and consequences that drive this cycle of impoverishment of nature experience, aiming to identify the means to avert this process.

Using cutting edge technology (e.g. eye tracking, physiological sensors, 3D immerse theater) we conduct experiments to explore in the lab/field how different components of nature reduce stress and increase cognitive abilities (Danielle Bashan). We also conduct a large-scale survey to explore how the availability of green infrastructure impact experience of, emotional connection to, and willingness to protect nature (Danielle BashanAgathe Colleony, Ronit Cohen-Seffer). Finally, we currently explore the means to enhance meaningful interaction with nature in cities (e.g. citizen science, outreach activities; under review for Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment). A cross cultural study (under review for Biological Conservation) demonstrated that while walking dogs increase the time spent outside in green space, it did not influence ecological literacy and conservation attitude of dog-owners (Agathe Colleony).


Maintaining food supply at the least cost for conservation is one of the greatest challenges in conservation today. Two opposite strategies have been proposed to tackle this issue: land sharing, whereby all the land is farmed using wildlife friendly techniques, which may dent yield, and land sparing, whereby some land is farmed intensively to maximize yield, while other land is set aside for biodiversity protection. Our research explores the consequences of different planning and management scenarios (ranging between sparing and sharing alternatives) for both farmers and biodiversity conservation. We found that in Israel, farmers have positive attitudes towards the adoption of agro-ecological practices (sharing), yet they refrain from doing so due to lack of knowledge, lack of support (guidance and financial), concern about their income and lack of trust in the government (Hagit Zimroni). We used the sparing-sharing framework to explore how to plan an ecological corridor for multiple taxa in a long-time intensively cultivated agricultural area in the Harod valley, Jezreel valley, Israel. Preliminary results indicate that one size does not fit all and a combination of land sharing and sparing can help meet the needs of a wide variety of taxa, while also benefiting farmers. Land sharing practices should thus be carefully chosen and designed according to specific conservation goals and ecosystem services (Hila Segre). Finally, we recently started exploring the ecological and social/cultural consequences of the intensification of olives, one of the main and iconic crops in the Mediterranean basin (Raz Simon).

Conservation Planning

Protected areas (PAs) are vital for conserving biodiversity, but many PA networks consist of fragmented habitat patches that poorly represent species and ecosystems. Establishing large scale conservation areas (LSCAs) was suggested as potential solution to tackle those issues. Our research in England demonstrated that LSCA can substantially reduce representation biases, but their impact on conservation will depend on how they are funded, planned and managed. Currently most of the areas under LSCA are not managed for conservation (Shwartz et al. 2017).  We then used an agent-based modelling to investigate the biodiversity outcomes of two potential strategies for creating LSCAs “buying” the land vs. “renting”, i.e. paying landowners to manage their land appropriately through agri-environment schemes. The analysis indicates that buying land always led to better conservation outcomes and landowner willingness to sell or rent their land had a large impact on results (Smith et al. ECCB 2017).

In Israel, where the pressure on the environment for infrastructure and recreation is constantly growing, we recently started two studies both within and outside PAs. The first, seek to explore how to improve landscape connectivity between PAs to create functional ecological networks. Specifically, we study wildlife crossing for multiple species with the aim to understand which wildlife crossings should be used and where they should be placed in linear infrastructures, taking into account economic, engineering and ecological considerations (Dror Denneboom). The second explores the ecological impacts and social benefits of campsites within PAs, in the Negev desert. The aim of this project is to understand how and where campsite should be designed to balance between their ecological impacts and social benefits i.e. allowing for a meaningful experience of nature (Gal Geisler).

Invasion Biology

Invasive alien species (IAS) can cause significant damage to the economy, society and the environment. Our research focuses on promoting responsible and cost-effective policy to mitigate the impacts of IAS. We have explored the spread and impacts of IAS (e.g. Postigo et al. 2017; Orchan et al. 2013) and ongoing work is demonstrating the detrimental ecological impacts of common mynas on native bird communities in Israel (Agathe Colleony). We are also interested in how to characterize impacts and risks reliably. Indeed, effective policy and management responses to the multiple threats posed by IAS rely on the ability to assess their impacts before conclusive empirical evidence is available. Although a plethora of risk assessment protocols exists to determine which species are likely to have the strongest impacts, the current way of performing risk analysis has several shortcomings. In a set of studies, we have highlighted the limitations and sources of potential biases and suggested how to improve the current methodology to achieve a transparent and inclusive risk assessments (Turbe et al. 2017; Vanderhoeven et al. 2017). This work is important because listing and prioritizing species stands at the basis of legal instruments aiming to mitigate the impact of IAS, such as the European Union IAS Regulation 1143/2014 (Tollington et al. 2016).