Perceptions of nature and landscapes: Aesthetic enjoyment of landscapes are one of the preeminent benefits that humans receive from ecosystems. In this research program, we study how perceptions of landscapes are similar between individuals and groups, and how they diverge. We study whether human perceptions of landscapes can be predicted according to their predispositions towards nature and the environment, and how they are connected to cultural influences. This research is taking place in forested landscapes in Israel, as well as in Israel’s arid Negev highlands.

Socio-Ecology in theory and practice: Socio-ecology calls forth a new paradigm for applied research which includes multiple academic disciplines and the participation of multiple stakeholder groups. Socio-ecological research is dynamic, and as such is an ongoing (and hypothetically never-ending) process. In this research we ask how socio-ecological theory is applied in practice, and whether it has led to better policy, stronger public engagement, and environmental sustainability. We are exploring these questions in European Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research (LTSER) platforms, as well as in multiple venues throughout Israel, including the Negev Highlands, the southern Carmel region and within the viticulture industry.

Ecosystem service assessment: This research, conducted within the framework of the Israeli Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network, focuses on how humans perceive the ecosystem services they receive from their natural environment and changes in the provision of ecosystem services. We collect data via interviews and stakeholder surveys in various parts of Israel (the Southern Arava, the Dead Sea region and the Northern Negev) and elsewhere (northern Scotland – see our blog!) to assess what aspects of the natural environment are most important to people, and how their priorities compare with prioritization of ecosystem services arising from ecological and economic studies.

Population growth and environmental policy discourse: Population growth has been a prominent theme for Israeli policy makers throughout its history and even prior to the country’s establishment. Political and religious influences create a strong pro-natal paradigm in Israeli society that together help sustain a relatively high fertility rate despite a concurrently high level of economic well-being. Throughout Israel’s history, from the pre-state, early state and contemporary periods, policy makers and others continually strive to harmonize their scientific understanding of population-environment relationships with their ideology and political goals. At each stage of history, social context influences the research questions scholars ask, the way they interpret data, and the policy recommendations they make. Understanding the role of religion, culture and politics on population growth and environmental policy remains an intriguing and contentious research topic demanding further exploration.

Horizon 2020 Projects: The research group participates in two European Horizon 2020 projects (2016-2019).  The first, eLTER advances the European logonetwork of Long-Term Ecosystem Research sites and socio-ecological research platforms to provide highest quality services for multiple use of a distributed research infrastructure. Our group, including Dr. Orenstein and Ms. Jen Holzer (PhD candidate), will be involved in creating and applying a framework for assessing the efficacy of socio-ecological research within the network.  More information about the project can be found here. The second project, EcoPotential, will link remotely-sensed data to ecosystem assessment in research sites across Europe, including Israel’s Ramon Crater and environs. Within EcoPotential, Drs. Orenstein, Idan Porat and Miri Tsalyuk are surveying the public regarding their aesthetic preferences for Negev Highland landscapes.