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Over the Past 1.5 Million Years, Human Hunting Preferences have Wiped Out Large Animals

Breakthrough study tracks development of early humans’ hunting habits.

A groundbreaking study by researchers from Tel Aviv University tracks the development of humans’ hunting practices over the last 1.5 million years – as reflected in the animals we’ve hunted and consumed. The researchers believe that at any given time early humans preferred to hunt the largest animals available in their surroundings, which provided the greatest quantities of food in return for their effort.

In this way, according to the researchers, early humans repeatedly overhunted large animals to extinction and then went on to the next in size – while improving their hunting technologies to meet the new challenge. The researchers also claim that about 10,000 years ago, when animals larger than deer became extinct, humans began to domesticate plants and animals to supply their needs, which might explain why the agricultural revolution began in the Levant at precisely that time.

The study was conducted by Prof. Ran Barkai and Dr. Miki Ben-Dor of The Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, Prof. Shai Meiri of the School of Zoology and The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, and Jacob Dembitzer, a research student of Prof. Barkai and Prof. Meiri, who led the project. The paper was published in the prestigious scientific journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

The study, unprecedented in both scope and timespan, presents a comprehensive analysis of data on animal bones discovered at dozens of prehistoric sites in and around Israel. Findings indicate a continual decline in the size of game hunted by humans as their main food source – from giant elephants 1-1.5 million years ago down to gazelles 10,000 years ago. According to the researchers, these findings paint an illuminating picture of the interaction between humans and the animals around them over the last 1.5 million years.

Overhunting or Climate Changes?

Prof. Barkai notes two major issues presently addressed by prehistorians worldwide: What caused the mass extinction of large animals over the past hundreds of thousands of years – overhunting by humans or perhaps recurring climate changes? And what were the driving forces behind great changes in humankind – both physical and cultural – throughout its evolution?

Prof. Barkai: “In light of previous studies, our team proposed an original hypothesis that links the two questions: We think that large animals went extinct due to overhunting by humans, and that the change in diet and the need to hunt progressively smaller animals may have propelled the changes in humankind. In this study we tested our hypotheses in light of data from excavations in the Southern Levant covering several human species over a period of 1.5 million years.”

Prof. Ran Barkai

Jacob Dembitzer adds: “We considered the Southern Levant (Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Southwest Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon) to be an ‘archaeological laboratory’ due to the density and continuity of prehistoric findings covering such a long period of time over a relatively small area – a unique database unavailable anywhere else in the world. Excavations, which began 150 years ago, have produced evidence for the presence of humans, beginning with Homo erectus who arrived 1.5 million years ago, through the Neanderthals who lived here from an unknown time until they disappeared about 45,000 years ago, to modern humans (namely, ourselves) who came from Africa in several waves, starting around 180,000 years ago.”

The researchers collected all data available in the literature on animal bones found at prehistoric sites in the Southern Levant, mostly in Israel. These excavations, conducted from 1932 until today, provide a unique sequence of findings from different types of humans over a period of 1.5 million years. With some sites comprising several stratigraphic layers, sometimes thousands of years apart, the study covered a total of 133 layers from 58 prehistoric sites, in which thousands of bones belonging to 83 animal species had been identified. Based on these remains, the researchers calculated the weighted mean size of the animals in each layer at every site.

Prof. Meiri: “Our study tracked changes at a much higher resolution over a considerably longer period of time compared to previous research. The results were illuminating: we found a continual, and very significant, decline in the size of animals hunted by humans over 1.5 million years. For example, a third of the bones left behind by Homo erectus at sites dated to about a million years ago, belonged to elephants that weighed up to 13 tons (more than twice the weight of the modern African elephant) and provided humans with 90% of their food. The mean weight of all animals hunted by humans at that time was 3 tons, and elephant bones were found at nearly all sites up to 500,000 years ago.”

“Starting about 400,000 years ago, the humans who lived in our region – early ancestors of the Neandertals and Homo sapiens, appear to have hunted mainly deer, along with some larger animals weighing almost a ton, such as wild cattle and horses. Finally, in sites inhabited by modern humans, from about 50,000 to 10,000 years ago, approximately 70% of the bones belong to gazelles – an animal that weighs no more than 20-30kg. Other remains found at these later sites came mostly from fallow deer (about 20%), as well as smaller animals such as hares and turtles.”

Climate Change had Minimal Impact

Jacob Dembitzer: “Our next question was: What caused the disappearance of the large animals? A widely accepted theory attributes the extinction of large species to climate changes through the ages. To test this, we collected climatic and environmental data for the entire period, covering more than a dozen cycles of glacial and interglacial periods. This data included temperatures based on levels of the oxygen 18 isotope, and rainfall and vegetation evidenced by values of carbon 13 from the local Soreq Cave. A range of statistical analyses correlating between animal size and climate, precipitation, and environment, revealed that climate, and climate change, had little, if any, impact on animal extinction.”

According to Dr. Ben-Dor: “Our findings enable us to propose a fascinating hypothesis on the development of humankind: Humans always preferred to hunt the largest animals available in their environment, until these became very rare or extinct, forcing the prehistoric hunters to seek the next in size. As a result, to obtain the same amount of food, every human species appearing in the Southern Levant was compelled to hunt smaller animals than its predecessor, and consequently had to develop more advanced and effective technologies. Thus, for example, while spears were sufficient for Homo erectus to kill elephants at close range, modern humans developed the bow and arrow to kill fast-running gazelles from a distance.”

Environmental Damage from the Dawn of Humanity

Prof. Barkai concludes: “We believe that our model is relevant to human cultures everywhere. Moreover, for the first time, we argue that the driving force behind the constant improvement in human technology is the continual decline in the size of game. Ultimately, it may well be that 10,000 years ago in the Southern Levant, animals became too small or too rare to provide humans with sufficient food, and this could be related to the advent of agriculture. In addition, we confirmed the hypothesis that the extinction of large animals was caused by humans – who time and time again destroyed their own livelihood through overhunting. We may therefore conclude that humans have always ravaged their environment but were usually clever enough to find solutions for the problems they had created – from the bow and arrow to the agricultural revolution. The environment, however, always paid a devastating price.”

Featured image: Prof. Shai Meiri of the School of Zoology and The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History

Rising Temperatures Fuel Increase in Violence: TAU Study

Findings demonstrate first direct link between climate change and criminal behavior.

Rising temperatures increase the likelihood of violent crimes, according to a new study led by Tel Aviv University‘s Dr. Ram Fishman of TAU’s Department of Public Policy, Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences

The novel findings indicate that for every 1-degree Celsius rise over the average daily temperature, the rate of violent crime spikes by one percent. The victims are generally ethnic and religious minorities, women, and political rivals.

The study is the first of its kind to link the day-to-day relationship between weather changes and criminal trends in the developing world.  

​“This is a glaring warning sign of the devastating and worrying consequences of the global climate crisis,” said Fishman, who conducted the study with partners from the UAE, India and the US. “These consequences are already here with us and are gnawing at the very foundations of social and human existence.” 

Dr. Ram Fishman (Photo: Noga Shahar)

In the context of the study, Fishman examined a representative state in India with a crime rate similar to the national average. Results from parallel studies in other countries yielded similar results according to Fishman, Head of the Sustainable Development Lab at TAU’s Boris Mints Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions to Global Challenges. He explained that the analysis performed in India can be tailored to other locations, where he expects similar results.   

The team gained unprecedented access to troves of crime records from 600 police stations in Karnataka, India. The “big data” sets included the exact date, location and type of crime reported over a six-year period. Using advanced statistical analysis methods, the researchers compared crime data to daily and seasonal weather conditions. In this way, they discovered the correlation between weather and crime at a level more accurate than previously possible. 

The researchers pointed to higher temperatures causing increased aggression as one likely factor driving this phenomenon. Further demonstrating the link between heat and higher day-to-day violent crime, the findings showed that non-violent property crimes were largely unaffected by daily weather. Fishman and team added that severe heat can cause lower agricultural yields, leading to higher unemployment rates and increased economic hardship. However, these economic motives were primarily associated with increased crime rates over time—not on a daily level. The study’s authors note that previous research in developing countries was limited. Population in these regions typically face relatively higher temperatures and are less able to shield themselves from these conditions. 

Their findings are in the December 2021 peer-reviewed issue of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization

TAU Students Racing Towards a Greener Campus

What innovative ideas did they come up with in the EcoTAU Hackathon?

As part of Tel Aviv University’s initiative to reduce its environmental footprint to help combat the global climate crisis, the Entrepreneurship Center rallied 73 students to the cause and held a hackathon aimed at generating innovative solutions for a greener and more sustainable campus. The event was organized in cooperation with Shlomo Meltzer Institute for Smart Transportation and TAU’s Student Union.

Students were challenged to come up with practical solutions to one out of two central issues for cutting down pollution and waste: reducing the daily car traffic to campus and encouraging the use of reusable dishware on campus.

Fifteen experts mentored the students throughout the competition, which also featured professional enrichment and industry insider lectures on how organizations are addressing environmental challenges today.

Vehicular Pollution Challenge Winners

First Place: TAUapt

The winning team worked under the assumption that most TAU students residing in Tel Aviv rely on public transportation and therefore, do not use a car. What could encourage more of this behavior?

By enabling more students to live in Tel Aviv, the number of vehicles commuting to campus could further decrease. The team conceptualized a house hunting app, similar in nature to the existing job hunting platform AllJobs – but for apartments – which sends its subscribers instant messages through WhatsApp about apartments that are vacating. Team members: Abedallah Barghouti and Ubaydah Wattad.    

 

The TAUapt Team receives the prize for winning the competition’s Vehicular Pollution Challenge

Second Place: BIVPIsrael

The team suggested that the main difficulty for drivers of electric bicycles and scooters is the need to carry around a helmet and battery throughout the day. The team proposed a solution for storage compartments in which both helmet and battery can be left, and the latter can be charged, using solar-generated electricity, while the vehicle remains locked nearby.

Third Place: The Hitchhikers

The team proposed a way to encourage carpooling to campus by offering benefits to students and faculty members. They decided to appeal to people’s pockets – not their ideology.

Reusable Dishware Challenge Winners

First Place: Tengo

To cut down waste from single-use plastics, the Tengo team proposed a collaborative circular model based on the use of reusable dishware marked with a barcode. The reusable dishware is returned to collection boxes after use, where the users are credited. The dishware then gets   transported, cleaned and distributed back to campus restaurants. Team members: Chen Agassi, Idan Stark, Roi Farjun and Tali Aknin.

The Tengo Team receives the prize for winning the competition’s Reusable Dishware Challenge

Second Place: Go Clean Go Green

The team proposed a platform to incentivize the use of reusable dishware by awarding store credits for popular retailers. Through barcode-scanning technology on reusable cups and more, one earns redeemable points with every swipe.  

Third Place: TAUBIS

A game app that ranks businesses according to their degree of eco-friendliness. Students enjoy services similar to food delivery platforms like UberEats, Wolt or 10bis, accumulation of financial and ecological points.

Yair Sakov, Head of TAU’s Entrepreneurship Center: “Sustainability and the circular economy are key issues promoted by the Entrepreneurship Center; there is no field more important than this to initiate and flood innovation.”

The Competition’s Judges

The judges in the competition included Knesset Member Prof. Alon Tal, former Head of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Public Policy; Miki Haimovich, Chairperson of the Heschel Center for Sustainability; Asi Schmelzer, Chairman of the Shlomo Group; Yuval Shani, VP of Technology and Innovation at Shlomo Group; Lior Hazan, Chairperson of TAU’s Student Union; Prof. Colin Price, Head of TAU’s Department of Environmental Studies; Prof. Hadas Maman, Head of the Environmental Engineering Program at TAU’s Faculty of Engineering; Dr. Ilit Oppenheim, Director at Shlomo Schmelzer Institute for Smart Transportation; Orlie Gruper, General Partner in Mobilitech Capital; Shani Raved, Global Operations Strategy Lead and Product Manager at Lime.  

Ancient Climate Crisis Transformed Us from Nomadic Hunters to Settled Farmers

Researchers used plant remains to reconstruct the climate in the Southern Levant at the end of the last ice age.

What made the residents in the Southern Levant, tens of thousands of years ago, put down their walking sticks and hunting gear and instead become settled farmers? Apparently, it was the result of a climate crisis that took place at the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.

A new record of significant climate changes in the region, based on the identification of ancient plant remains, sheds light on the dramatic transition. Against the background of the Glasgow Climate Change Summit, the researchers believe that understanding the response of the region’s flora to the dramatic past climate changes can help in preserving the regional variety of plant species and in planning for current and future climate challenges.

The Crisis that Marched Humanity Forward

The research was conducted by Dr. Dafna Langgut of the Department of Archaeology and The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University; Prof. Gonen Sharon, Head of the MA Program in Galilee Studies at Tel-Hai College, and Dr. Rachid Cheddadi, expert in evolution and palaeoecology of University of Montpellier, Institute of Evolutionary Sciences (ISEM) Montpellier, France. The groundbreaking study was recently published in the leading scientific journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

The study was conducted at the prehistoric archaeological site Jordan River Dureijat (“Jordan River Stairs”) on the shores of the ancient Lake Hula. The site is unique for its exceptional preservation conditions yielding finds that enabled discovery of the primary activity of its early local residents – fishing. Preserved botanic remains also enabled researchers to identify the plants that grew 10,000 – 20,000 years ago in the Hula Valley and its surroundings. 

 

The prehistoric archaeological site Jordan River Dureijat (“Jordan River Stairs”) on the shores of the Paleo Lake Hula

Two major processes in world history took place during this period, the first of which was the transition from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle that occurs during a period of dramatic climate change. Prof. Sharon, supervisor of the Madregot Hayarden (“Jordan Stairs”) excavation, explains: “In the study of prehistory, this period is called the Epipalaeolithic period. At its outset, people were organized in small groups of hunter-gatherers who roamed the area. Then, about 15,000 years ago, we are witness to a significant change in lifestyle: the appearance of settled life in villages, and additional dramatic processes that reach their apex during the Neolithic period that followed. This is the time when the most dramatic change of human history occurred – the transition to the agricultural way of life that shaped the world as we know it today.”

Dr. Langgut, an archaeobotanist specializing in identification of plant remains, elaborates on the second dramatic process of this period, namely the climatic changes that occurred in the region. “Although at the peak of the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago, the Mediterranean Levant was not covered with an ice sheet as in other parts of the world, the climatic conditions that existed nevertheless differed from those of today. Their exact characteristics were unclear until this study. The climatic model that we built is based on reconstruction of the fluctuation of the spread of plant species indicating that the main climatic change in our area is expressed by a drop in temperature (up to five degrees Celsius less than today), whereas the precipitation amounts (rain, snow, sleet, or hail) were close to those of today (only about 50 mm less than today’s annual average).

 

Dr. Dafna Langgut

Temperature Fluctuations

However, Dr. Langgut explains that about 5,000 years later, in the Epipalaeolithic period (about 15,000 years ago) a significant improvement in climate conditions can be seen in the model. An increased prevalence of heat-tolerant tree species, such as olive, common oak, and Pistacia, indicate an increase in temperature and precipitation.

During this period, the first sites of the Natufian culture appear in our region. It could very well be that the temperate climate assisted in the development and flourishing of this culture, in which permanent settlement, stone structures, food storage facilities, and more first appear on the global stage.  

The next stage of the study deals with the end of the Epipalaeolithic period, about 11,000-12,000 years ago, known globally as the Younger Dryas period. This period is characterized by a return to a cold, dry climate like that of the ice age, causing somewhat of a climate crisis around the world. The researchers claim that until this study, it was unclear whether and to what extent there was any expression of this period in the Levantine region.

Little Rain, but Throughout the Year

According to the researchers: “The findings that arise from the climate model presented in the article show that the period was characterized by climatic instability, intense fluctuations, and a considerable drop in temperatures. Nevertheless, while reconstructing the precipitation, a surprising phenomenon was discovered: the average quantities of rainfall reconstructed were only slightly less than those of today; however, the precipitation was distributed over the entire year, including summer rains.”

The researchers claim that such distribution assisted in the expansion and thriving of annual and leafy plant species. The gatherers who lived in this period now had a wide, readily available variety of gatherable plants throughout the entire year. This variety enabled their familiarity just before domestication. The researchers are of the opinion that these findings contribute to a new understanding of the environmental changes that took place on the eve of the transition to agriculture and domestication of animals.

Summary

Why did humans settle down and start farming the land? While this study doesn’t fully answer this questions, it does reconstruct the climate in what is today Israel from 20,000 to 10,000 years ago, revealing the dramatic environmental and climatic changes that uniquely combined with social and technological innovations 12,000 years ago and formed the background for the development of acriculture in the Levant. 

The warmer, more humid climate between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago coincided with the Natufian culture, and may have supported their practice of living in one place for a long time, thanks to increased gathering and storage opportunities. Around 13,000 years ago, temperatures sunk a bit and rains would fall throughout the year, favoring open-field vegetation and plants. 12,000 years ago, the Holocene (the current geological era) began, which in the Near East meant long hot and dry summers necessitating gathering and storing food during winter and spring. The new environmental conditions pushed people to make greater efforts to domesticate, farm and store their crops – setting the stage for the Neolithic revolution. 

Dr. Langgut concludes: “This study contributes not only to understanding the environmental background for momentous processes in human history such as the first permanent settlement and the transition to agriculture, but also provides information on the history of the region’s flora and its response to past climatic changes. There is no doubt that this knowledge can assist in preserving species variety and in meeting current and future climate challenges.”

 

Dr. Dafna Langgut collects sediment samples for pollen investigation.

Featured image: An Israeli farmer in his vineyard 

Climate Action: From Campus to Glasgow

TAU researchers report on global summit.

As more than 130 heads of state and thousands of delegates converged in Glasgow for the two week-long United Nations global climate summit known as COP26 and Tel Aviv University researchers were there as well, taking part in the international conversation.

This year’s summit aimed to set new targets for cutting emissions from burning coal, oil and gas that are heating our planet, as scientists urge nations to make an immediate switch away from fossil fuels to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. TAU has placed climate change research and action among its top priorities and has launched the Center for Climate Change Action to drive innovative solutions to the climate crisis.

Inside the Climate Summit

TAU researchers attended the summit, exchanging knowledge and gathering observations to apply on campus and throughout Israel. They shared with us their perspectives on what comes next to ensure a cleaner, healthier and safer world for the future:

Prof. Colin Price, Head of the Center for Climate Change Action and the Department of Environmental Studies at TAU, attended COP26 as a member of Israel’s 120-person delegation. “Academia has a role in advising the government and addressing uncertainty,” said Price, who debriefed Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on local and global climate matters in the weeks preceding COP26. “It is the role of scholars to provide neutral views based on science that policy-makers can use to swiftly guide decisions. Otherwise, they could be misinformed by people with less expertise.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the plenary at COP26. (Photo: Colin Price)

 

Price added that the national security risks posed by climate change, as discussed at COP26, are an imminent concern for Israel and that academia can help address this challenge by providing objective data and analysis. “Climate-spurred humanitarian issues in neighboring countries are perhaps one of the biggest external threats to Israel,” he stressed. He mentioned droughts in Syria that led to mass migration, civil unrest and resource drainage during the country’s ongoing civil war, noting similar cases could cause further instability in the Middle East. For example, rising sea levels could expel millions along Egypt’s Nile River, leading to an overwhelming refugee crisis at Israel’s door.

He said the topics of discussion covered at COP26 were in line with the Center for Climate Change Action’s four main foci this year: regional cooperation on finding solutions, the financial sector’s role in addressing climate change, public behaviors that influence our environment, and the public health risks of the growing crisis. Price pointed toward a reported UAE-backed deal between Israel and Jordan for a solar energy and water exchange as a current example of how these forces are taking shape on the ground.

“COP26 was the beginning of the hard work ahead of us all,” he concluded.

Prof. Colin Price (right) and PhD student Tsur Mishal at the climate conference in Glasgow.  

 

Meital Peleg Mizrachi, a PhD student at TAU’s Department of Public Policy and social entrepreneur turned government advisor, attended COP26 on behalf of Israeli grassroots climate organizations “Change Direction” and “Life and Environment.” Locally recognized as a promising young leader in the field, her activism and research focus on sustainable fashion and environmental justice. She aims to raise awareness of the environmental and social ramifications of the fashion industry—the second-most polluting industry on the planet after oil—and to drive policies for greater ecological integrity in textile production and consumption.

“The unique encounter at COP26 of politicians, environmental activists, green entrepreneurs, researchers and so many different parties involved in global climate efforts allowed for new connections that otherwise would not have happened,” she reflected after the summit. “For the first time, I met with other sustainable fashion researchers from around the world. This was particularly beneficial as the field is rarely studied in Israel, and it is difficult to develop a professional network without such opportunities.”

TAU PhD student Metial Peleg Mizrahi at the climate conference. (Photo: Courtesy)

 

Tsur Mishal, a PhD candidate at the Department of Environmental Studies, was also at the convening in Glasgow. As part of a team from TAU’s Sagol Center for Neuroscience and the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Mishal’s research contributes to virtual reality (VR) technology for climate change awareness.

“Meeting with climate media experts and leading scientists at the conference, I was happy to see interest in our VR model, which simulates the future climate in Tel Aviv,” he mused. “VR experiences can bring us closer to the lives of the people affected by the climate crisis today to create solidarity and empathy.” He explained that the technology further aims to bridge the psychological gaps people face in understanding the gap between the climate scenario today and its implications on the future, before it’s too late to reverse damages.

 

TAU PhD candidate Tsur Mishal tests virtual reality technology at COP26

 

During a special live broadcast on COP26 hosted from campus, Dr. Ram Fishman, a leading researcher on sustainable development in the Department of Public Policy underlined that, “Israeli climate innovation is key to these climate efforts, many of which are borne from ideas stemming from academia.” 

Featured image: AU PhD students Tsur Mishal (4th from right) and Meital Peleg Mizrachi (3rd from left) among Israeli delegation members at COP26

Hitting Rock Bottom?

First meta-analysis of its kind shows warming of Mediterranean Sea causes marine species to migrate.

As has been heavily discussed at the recent the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, our entire planet has been warming in recent decades. This process has been particularly marked in the Mediterranean Sea, where the average water temperature rises by one degree every thirty years, and the rate is only accelerating. One of the urgent questions that must be asked is how, if at all, the various species living in the Mediterranean will adapt to this sudden warming.

In recent years, evidence has accumulated that some species have deepened their habitats in order to adapt to global warming, while other studies have found that species are limited in their ability to deepen into cooler water. A new TAU study shows that there are species of marine animals such as fish, crustaceans and mollusks (for example squid) that change their habitats and deepen an average of 55 meters across the climatic gradient of the Mediterranean (spanning a range of 60 C) to live in cooler waters.

The Mediterranean – An Ideal Test Case

“It should be remembered that the Mediterranean was hot in the first place, and now we are reaching the limit of many species’ capacity,” explains Prof. Jonathan Belmaker from the School of Zoology in The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences. “Moreover, the temperature range in the Mediterranean is extreme – cold in the northwest and very hot in the southeast. Both of these factors make the Mediterranean an ideal test case for species’ adaptation to global warming.”

The groundbreaking study was led by PhD student Shahar Chaikin under the supervision of Prof. Jonathan Belmaker, and along with researchers Shahar Dubiner, all from the School of Zoology in The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University. The results of the study were published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, and have far-reaching implications for both fishing and future marine nature reserves.

Life at the Bottom

Cause for Preparation

The results of the study have many implications for the future, in the Mediterranean and in general, given that the response of each species to rising temperatures can be predicted according to its traits, such as temperature preference. This, for the first time, offers researchers the opportunity to forecast changes in the composition of the marine community, as well as for the public the opportunity to prepare for these changes accordingly.

“Our research clearly shows that species do respond to climate change by changing their depth distribution,” Chaikin concludes, “and when we think about the future, decision-makers will have to prepare in advance for the deepening of species. For example, future marine nature reserves will need to be defined so that they can also provide shelter to species that have migrated to greater depths. And on the other hand, fishing in the future will involve fishing the same fish at greater depths, which means sailing further into the sea and burning more fuel.”

So, How Deep is Our Love?

In the framework of the study, the Tel Aviv University researchers conducted a meta-analysis of data on the depth distribution of 236 marine species collected in previous bottom-trawl surveys. The data collected revealed for the first time that species deepen their minimum depth limits in parallel with warming seawater temperatures, from the west to the east Mediterranean, and on average deepen 55 meters across the Mediterranean (a range of 60 C).

However, the pattern of deepening is not uniform between species: cold-water species were found to deepen significantly more than warm-water species, species that live along a narrow depth range deepen less than species that live along a wide depth gradient, and species that can function within in a wider temperature range deepen more than those who can function only within a narrow temperature range.

“Various studies collect fishing data from trawling – that is, a boat that drags a net along the seabed and collects various species – and these studies often also measure the depth at which the species were caught in the net,” says Shahar Chaikin. “We cross-referenced these data with water temperature data, and by analyzing 236 different species we came to a broad and compelling conclusion: there has been a deepening of the depth limits of species’ habitats. The minimum depths for species in the Mediterranean are getting deeper, while the maximum depths remain stable. The deepening effect was found to be more significant among cold-water species. In contrast, there are species that function within a narrow temperature range and at a certain depth that deepen much less, probably because they cannot survive in deeper water.”

 

“Even if species deepen to escape the warm waters and this rapid adaptation helps them, there is still a limit – and that limit is the seabed,” adds Prof. Belmaker. “We are already seeing deep-sea fish like cod whose numbers are declining, probably because they had nowhere deeper to go.”

Revisiting the Tel Aviv Zoo

Two TAU students developed an app that recreates the mythological zoo in the heart of the city.

For many years, there was a zoo right in the center of Tel Aviv. Residents of nearby streets used to wake up to roars of tigers and monkeys’ chatter. In 1980, the zoo and its residents were relocated to a large complex in neighboring Ramat Gan, but seasoned Tel Avivians still think of it fondly. Maya Shekel and Yuval Kela, two talented students in the digital media track at The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television, wanted to see it with their own eyes, and developed the TAZOO app that enables this.

Throughout the four years of their studies, they designed and created the unique widget, based on stories and memories of the local community. The animals were created by help of augmented reality technology, and in order to experience the project in full, all you need to do is to download the app on your phone, make your way to Tel Aviv’s City Garden and look for the orange signs that are scattered in the garden.

This new attraction, which will soon be launched in a festive ceremony, has already warmed the hearts of several Tel Aviv residents who inspired the creation of the project and the stories, as well as Tel Aviv Mayor, Mr. Ron Huldai, who still recalls the exact wording on the garden signs.

The Next-door Neighbor

What brings two students, both born long after the zoo was closed, to recreate Tel Aviv’s animalistic past? “I’ve been living on Tel Aviv’s Hadassah Street all my life, right opposite where the zoo used to be,” says Maya Shekel. “Whenever people hear where I live, they ask me, ‘Did you know that there used to be a zoo there?’,” Therefore, after hearing the recurring questions for years, she decided to investigate the subject further together with Yuval Kela, who is also her life partner.

“After some online research, we discovered amazing photos of elephants and lions in the middle of Tel Aviv. We realized that the place used to be a cultural center for the residents of the city. We decided to start a Facebook group which we called ‘Tel Aviv Zoo Community’. Gradually, people would join the group and share photos, memories and stories about the zoo. This way, we got confirmation that there was a nostalgic need to revive the lost zoo, and to share its story with those who visit the place today, unaware of its history.”

 

“An elephant is about to join us,” Maya Shekel demonstrates to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai how the TAZOO app works

Reviving Animals in Augmented Reality

Unlike many apps that allow you to sit in your living room and feel like you’re somewhere else, Maya and Yuval chose to encourage their users to venture to the real site where the zoo was once located. “It was important for us to create an experience where people actually had to physically experience the sights and the feelings, while reviving the lost place,” explains Yuval.

Their main challenge was to adapt the app for two different target audiences: the older residents, who wish to reminisce, and to the younger target audience (such as the elderly residents’ children and grandchildren). “We overcame this hurdle by adding layers to the app, like short films about the zoo staff and additional information where you can choose to delve deeper and read more about each station. We also added some games that are more suitable for children,” he adds.  

For big and for small. The virtual zoo in the Hadassah Garden

Storytelling and Technology

During their studies, Maya and Yuval learned the importance of storytelling on platforms of this type. They made sure to study the technology thoroughly to get a good grasp of both its advantages and limitations.

Throughout their work on the app, more and more ideas for future projects were born. “We’re constantly thinking of how we can take the idea and expand on it to include more destinations in the city, in Israel and in the world. There’s no shortage on ‘lost’ places that have left memories and history that can be revived by help of technology, allowing for people to experience and learn about them,” says Maya.

“The technology is constantly evolving. We hope to continue to create significant impact by combining storytelling and innovative technology. Our dream is to constantly create mainly projects that are accessible to the general public,” she concludes. On the question of which animal she would not want us to miss on the TAZOO app, she says “We would not want you to miss out on our hippos, Paula and Jacob! They jump into the water and really blend in with the physical space.”

 

Paula and Jacob with friends

The project was supported by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, which cooperated and placed the signs throughout the park, as well as The New Fund for Cinema and TV, which supported and assisted with funding.

Download the app on iOS- https://apps.apple.com/ch/app/tazoo/id1548925102

Download the app on Android- https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tazoo.tazoo

*Maya and Yuval hope to create an English version of the app in the very near future, as part of the existing one.

TAU Initiates Model for Carbon Neutrality

Climate change efforts among University’s top priorities.

Against the backdrop of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, and following a comprehensive series of tests, TAU prepares to formulate a strategic plan for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions generated by its activities and promoting more efficient use of resources and renewable energy. The university places great importance on reducing its environmental footprint by using sustainable energy, recycling water and materials, reducing use of paper, introducing green purchasing procedures and other activities designed to reduce the campus’ carbon footprint, and eventually attain carbon neutrality.

Inspecting Footprints

To this end, a team of academic and administrative experts appointed by TAU’s Green Campus Committee headed by TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat, launched a comprehensive inspection to assess the overall carbon footprint (in terms of CO2 equivalent) and water footprint of all TAU activities both on and off campus. The analysis, which began approximately a year ago, included assessment of the following:

  • energy consumption from various sources on campus
  • water consumption
  • transportation to and on campus
  • construction inputs
  • pruning and gardening
  • waste production and food consumption
  • serving utensils and packaging at cafes and kiosks on campus, and more

The team will soon complete their mission and submit their findings to the Green Campus Committee and TAU’s senior management. Based on their report, TAU will formulate a strategic plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions on campus and reaching carbon neutrality.

“It Can Be Done, And We Will Do It”

TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat: “As a leading academic research and teaching institution in the fields of ecology and environmental science, committed to addressing the climate crisis, TAU established an ‘initiative for carbon neutrality’ about a year ago – the first of its kind at an Israeli university. Currently we are completing the initial inspection, and its findings will serve as a foundation for a strategic plan that will significantly reduce the campus’ carbon footprint, and eventually bring us as close as possible to carbon neutrality. As a leading public university, it is our duty to lead the efforts for addressing the climate crisis on and beyond our campus. We hope that other institutions will join us. Time is running out and we must act immediately.”

“It is our duty to lead the efforts for addressing the climate crisis on and beyond our campus,” says TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat.

Prof. Marcelo Sternberg of the School of Plant Sciences and Food Security at The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, co-leader of TAU’s carbon neutrality initiative, added: “I am proud to be part of the team leading an historical move toward reducing TAU’s carbon footprint and turning it into a sustainable institution. The current climate crisis leaves no room for inaction. As a teaching and research institution, we can show the government and society the way to reducing the environmental footprint and ensuring a better world for future generations. It can be done, and we will do it.

Lior Hazan, Chair of TAU’s Student Union, added: “The climate crisis is spreading and intensifying, causing great concern. It is no longer something occurring far away, it is happening right here and now. We, the young people, have the power to change and work for a better future, in face of the gravest crisis of the 21st century, and academia is an excellent place to begin. Students must become leading ambassadors of this cause, since they are the future of society, industry, and leadership, and to this end, we must change and introduce change for the benefit of our planet. The Student Union takes an active part in TAU’s plan to attain carbon neutrality and continues to work for the rapid reduction of environmental damage.”

Ofer Lugassi, Vice President for Construction & Maintenance at TAU emphasized that the mapping of the university’s carbon and water footprints was carried out by a specialized external company, which made a great effort to include all activities on campus. 

Featured image: Students enjoying a moment on the increasingly greener TAU campus (Photo: Rafael Ben-Menashe)

Like Teenagers on Vacation

Light pollution can impair crickets’ reproductive process and threaten their survival.

A joint study conducted by researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Open University of Israel revealed that exposing male crickets to artificial light at night (ALAN) can impair their activity cycles. According to the researchers, nocturnal chirping is the male’s way of calling females to come and mate with him, and its disruption can interfere with reproduction processes and even endanger the entire species. Previous studies worldwide have shown that light pollution is harmful to many species of animals and plants. The researchers call for reducing ALAN as much as possible to enable coexistence in the night environment.

Humans are Driving Away the Darkness

Keren Levy of the School of Zoology and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University explains: “The distinction between day and night, light and darkness, is a major foundation of life on earth. But humans, as creatures of the day who fear the dark, disrupt this natural order: they produce artificial light that drives away the darkness and allows them to continue their activities at night.”

Levy explains that today, more than 80% of the world population live under light pollution, and the overall extent of artificial light at night rises by 5% every year. This negatively impacts the environment and affects natural behaviors that have developed over millions of years of evolution. The artificial light at night affects the length and quality of sleep of many animals, leads to high mortality, and changes the activity cycles of many creatures. For example, dung beetles, that navigate using the Milky Way, lose their way when light pollution increases; sea turtles hatchlings seek the brightest surface in sight – supposedly the sea, and reach the nearby promenade instead; to mention just two of many examples.

Off-Tune Crickets

In the current study the researchers examined the impact of light pollution on the field cricket, a nocturnal insect whose chirping can be heard during the nights of late summer – when males call for females to mate with them.

Prof. Amir Ayali, also from TAU’s School of Zoology and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, explains, “In nature, crickets exhibit a very regular cycle of activity. Chirping behavior, calling for females, occurs at sunset and during the night, ending in the morning. We exposed field crickets to different levels of lifelong ALAN and observed its impact on two fundamental behaviors: chirping and locomotion.”

The researchers monitored dozens of crickets that were exposed throughout their lives (from egg to adult stage) to four types of light conditions. They found that crickets whose light-dark cycle is disrupted behave like teenagers on vacation: active or asleep according to their own inner clock or lacking any rhythm whatsoever.

“In fact,” adds Keren Levy, “light pollution induced by humankind impacts the field cricket and evokes loss of synchronization within the individual, on the population level, and between the population and the environment. Our findings on ALAN-induced changes in calling song patterns may possibly impair female attraction and reproduction in this species. Our results are in accord with many other studies demonstrating the severe impacts of low levels of ALAN on nature.”

Levy urges us all to help protect our environment and surroundings by turning off the lights in our backyards, on the terrace, in parking lots, and wherever possible: “Help us bring the night and the milky way back into our lives and enable nightly coexistence with the creatures around us.”

The study was led by Prof. Amir Ayali and Keren Levy of the School of Zoology and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University and Prof. Anat Barnea of the Department of Natural and Life Sciences at the Open University. Yoav Wegrzyn from Prof. Ayali’s laboratory and Ronny Efronny also took part in the study. The paper was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and also mentioned in Nature.

Featured image: Prof. Amir Ayali and a small friend (Photo: Jonathan Blum)

TAU Launches Cutting-Edge Center for Innovation Labs

Center to cooperate with industry veterans to develop innovative solutions to real-world issues.

Tel Aviv University is launching the Center for Innovation Laboratories. The center will join forces with industry along the goal of advancing groundbreaking research with potential applicability within a period of 3-7 years from the moment the research begins. At this stage, the center comprises six laboratories, with additional laboratories under construction. The goal of the labs is to adapt research to the needs of society, industry and public institutions.

Research in Consultation with Industry Experts

For the first time in Israeli academia, the choice of research topics will be made in consultation with industry and public bodies (e.g. hospitals) that will present the needs on the ground to the heads of the laboratories, who will try to provide a comprehensive scientific and innovative solution within a few years’ time. For example, if the industry describes a demand for the development of unique photographic technology for medical diagnosis purposes, or a need to monitor offensive content in information transmitted online, the researchers will try to provide an appropriate solution based on unique artificial intelligence methods.

The model of this applied research is different from traditional basic research, which focuses on the interests of the researcher, without necessarily thinking about immediate needs. At the same time, however, while the center will focus on the applicable aspect of the research, this will not detract from the outstanding basic research that is taking place at the university. This fundamental research has been and will remain the bulk of the university’s scientific research. Furthermore, faculty members at the new center will continue to be an integral part of their “mother” faculties.

A Multidisciplinary Endeavor

In its multi-year vision, Tel Aviv University has defined three main elements: strengthening its international component, encouraging multidisciplinarity, and bolstering its relationships with knowledge-intensive industry and society. In this context, the new center will promote the university’s vision and act as a channel through which these three tracks will flow.

Unlike basic research, which traditionally focuses on one discipline, research at the new center will bring together experts from a wide range of disciplines. The Automated Justice Laboratory, for instance, will deal with areas in which the market and academia rarely engage, such as systems for improving democracy – handling fake news and the relationship between the government and the citizens. This lab will house people from various disciplines, including legal scholars, psychologists, software engineers, media specialists, political scientists, smart cities researchers and designers. A multidisciplinary approach is required and the research will have potential applicability within a period of 3-7 years.

Unconventional Approach to IP Rights

The center’s financial approach is based on the industry taking on a significant part of the funding of the research, in a format that involves “club membership” that confers product development rights.

The center also applies unconventional thinking when it comes to property rights. According to the new model, all players, including the university, the researchers, and industry partners, will receive the rights to use the research products. These rights will be under a non-exclusive and non-transferable license. This unique model will accelerate the application of academic innovation to the sphere of action and will overcome one of the most significant obstacles in commercialization of worth academic innovations.

These six labs will be kicking off this exciting journey:

  • Genetic Reproduction: Biology, Medicine, Engineering (Prof. Noam Shomron)
  • The Human Robot: Animal, Man, Machine (Dr. Goren Gordon)
  • Urban Science: Sustainability, Environment, Food (Prof. Tali Hatuka)
  • Computational Economics: Information, Intelligence and Economics (Prof. Michal Feldman)
  • Mechanized Justice: Law, Information, Intelligence (Prof. Omri Yadlin)
  • Act-Play-Game (Dr. Sharon Aronson-Lehavi)

 “This unique center redefines the interface between academia and industry,” says Director of the Center, Prof. David Mendlovic of the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering

“The academic freedom to create and innovate on the one hand, and the desire for research that has practical applicability on the other, has led to a center that brings together innovation labs dealing with a variety of topics and actors such as industry, hospitals and government agencies. Our unique commercial and funding model and our selection of unconventional innovation labs is leading to the close engagement of the center’s partners that will relay the academic innovation to those who will implement it. I am proud to be part of a university that is responsible for such an initiative.” 

Featured image: Dr. Goren Gordon (right) with a student in the Human Robot: Animal, Man, Machine Lab.