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Nature Conser vation Center for Sustainable Futures

winter 09

Climate Change


The Newsletter of the Initiative for Biodiversity Studies in Arid Regions

Biodiversity and climate change Several years ago, when my faculty colleagues and I founded Ibsar, we proceeded by addressing a basic yet complex question: how can we as people grow in number, expand our economies, and yet remain close to nature? In the professional jargon this is referred to as biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. Set as a global agenda by the UN more than 10 years ago, the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity seems clear and concise; yet in reality we remain the primary destroyers of all other species and their habitats, oblivious to the impact of their loss on our own existence. Every few years the whole world turns its attention (and its funding) to a new focus. We have seen the focus fall on biodiversity and women, protected areas, birds, marine life, non-wood forest products, indigenous knowledge, agro-forestry, herbal medicine, native landscaping, essential oils, medicinal and aromatic plants, biodiversity and livelihood, ecosystem health approach, biodiversity and youth. These days it is climate change. Climate change will only compound our destructive drive to fulfill our essential and unessential ‘needs’. As a university with regional status whose faculty has led a bottom up movement to establish and run an interdisciplinary center that focuses on nature conservation and its sustainable use, we are working hard to become, as an institution and not as individuals, a reference in the region. We may be approached with various questions and proposals for collaborative research and development activities, with inquiries such as: how will climate change affect biodiversity in the Arab region? We know part of the answer to this riddle: The predominance of species native to the Arab world will experience shifts in their distribution ranges: Terrestrial species native to the Arab World tolerate heat and drought; they will respond to global warming by either persisting in their current habitats or by shifting their distributions to relatively cooler or more humid areas at higher latitudes. For example, South Mediterranean species are predicted to gain a substantial amount of new habitats in cooler areas outside the Arab World. Unique species that are restricted in scope, and/or at the margin of their ecological tolerance, such as those that grow at high altitudes and near water bodies, will go extinct if those niches are not protected: Climate change will make it difficult for these unique species to persist as they will face competition from heat and/or aridity tolerant species that will expand to new suitable habitats. Climate change will modify communities: Species are expected to

respond individually to climate change, they will disperse, adapt or face extinction. As a result communities represented by species compositions will undergo major reorganization as new species combinations will occur and many present day associations will become increasingly decoupled. Dispersal habits will become a determining factor affecting species ability to respond to climate change: Species that currently have a broad distribution range will have high dispersal ability while those that exist in few sites will not; instead they will be more vulnerable to climate change driven disasters such as fires, droughts, and pest and disease outbreaks. Dispersal and migration will be significantly affected by anthropogenic land transformations and the potential spread of species and their ability to track climate change beyond the boundaries of protected areas as in the case of large mammals will be unlikely without human intervention. Changes in species distribution ranges in response to climate change will be highly dynamic sometimes sidestepping areas of protection: In situ conservation including national parks and bio-reserves, key conservation tools used to protect species and their habitats within the confines of fixed boundaries, will need to be re-evaluated. Protection of unique ecosystems and species at their ecological limits will require the establishment of protected areas of adequate span into substantial climatic (temperature/rainfall) gradients and to be linked by corridors of natural/semi-natural habitats. Every time a new issue arises it necessitates even more internal consolidation of our human and physical assets because the challenge for us at Ibsar is not only to build our respective careers but to see that a center of excellence at AUB will outlive us and will actually make a difference in the region by remaining inclusive, dynamic, and responsive to the needs of the society and nature. On the other hand we keep in mind that such complex problems require long term and sustained joint interdisciplinary and inter-institutional collaborative activities. Some of us will study how species will respond to climate change; others will tackle the issue of how we can ensure that there will be enough nature and organisms left by our societies to


Global Collaboration


actually ‘see’ how these will be affected by climate change!

Under the umbrella of Ibsar: a three-year academic research and rural development project in collaboration with AUB and University of Ottawa “Food and Health in Rural Lebanon: Options to improve dietary diversity, food security, livelihoods and ecosystem management” is the title of the research proposal submitted by the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the University of Ottawa and accepted for funding by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

View from a rural terrain in Lebanon

The interdisciplinary research project, which officially started March 25th 2009, is led by Dr. Malek Batal at the University of Ottawa and Dr. Salma Talhouk at AUB. The project relies on the expertise and skills of professors from various disciplines (ranging from biodiversity and resource management, ethnology, economy and landscape design to nutrition, human physiology, food science and food microbiology). Professors from the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences (FAFS) at AUB (Dr. S. Talhouk, Dr. J. Chaaban, Dr. O. Obeid, Dr. Z. Kassaify, Dr. A. Olabi, Dr. J. Makhzoumi) and the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa (Dr. M. Roubidoux, Dr. F. Haman) will collaborate together on this multidisciplinary project. With the goal of reducing vulnerability of poor rural communities to human health problems caused by ecosystem and global food market changes through promoting ecosystem approaches to human health, this project is divided into three distinct objectives, each of which is composed of different activities (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Research model based on Benefits, Viability and Risks of Rural



Ibsar collaborates and exchanges biodiversity expertise with Finland’s DDTC The ibsar-DDTC collaborative group led by Dr. Najat A. Saliba and Dr. Marwan ElSabban, both members of the executive committee in ibsar-AUB, and by Heikki Vuorela, Dean of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Helsinki (UHEL), identified an EU- FP7 call for Marine Biodiversity that falls under theme 2 Food, Agriculture and Fishers, and Biotechnology. Prior to finding and agreeing on this suitable research call, activities and workshops were undertaken by AUB-UHEL. These include exchanged visits between faculty members of UHEL delegates (Dr. Heikki Vuorela and Arto Urtti) and faculty members of ibsar- AUB (Dr. N. Saliba, Dr. R.Talhouk, Dr. M. El-Sabban and Dr. N. Darwiche). During these visits, the objectives and work packages of the joint proposal were identified. Further partnership from European and international collaborators was solicited. All together, the group members formed a consortium and drafted a proposal in line with the EU call. The first draft was discussed in a consortium meeting in Leuven, Belgium on November 26-27. The main objectives of this meeting were the ecology and chemotaxonomy of marine organisms, their current cultivations and sustainable collection methods and how to exploit the capacities of marine biotechnology for use in novel products or sources for industrial applications, such as bio-processing, biomass, bio-energy, pharmaceutical and aquaculture. 3

The final proposal, titled “Exploring Marine Resources for Bioactive Compounds: From Discovery to Sustainable Production and Industrial Applications�, MAREX was submitted on January 15, 2009. Table 1. Summary of activities and project outcomes of IBSAR-DDTC and the University of Helsinki collaboration University of Helsinki delegates visit AUB-UHEL in February 2007 to explore potential collaboration. AUB-UHEL delegates visit the University of Helsinki in September 2007 to establish a work plan for the collaboration phase. Exchanged Visits

University of Helsinki delegates visit AUB-UHEL in March 2008 to discuss the EU-FP7 call for a proposal under the Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Biotechnology program. AUB-UHEL delegates participate in an EU consortium coordinated by the University of Helsinki in November 2008 to discuss proposal objectives and work packages. Joint PhD biology student (Nahed El-Najjar) working between AUB and the University of Helsinki under the supervision of Drs. H. Mohtasseb and H. Vuerola PhD biology student (Akram Ghantous) working at AUB under the supervision of N. Darwiche. His work focuses on developing a deeper understanding of biological model interaction with bioactive molecules

Building Capacity

isolated from endemic Lebanese plants. One graduate student (Bouchra Ajib) and three undergraduate students (Antonios Wehbe, Gracia Al-Ayle, Ghinwa El-Tayyar) working on extraction, chemical identification and literature reviews of bioactive terrestrial and marine bioactive components. These Trainees have expressed high interests in visiting the University of Helsinki seeking exposure and expertise exchange. The University of Helsinki is interested in hosting additional AUB students based on high satisfaction from the first visiting student. AUB-UHEL research interests complement the research interests of scientists at the University of Helsinki. Hence, scientific collaboration


will continue between the two universities.

Progress and

AUB-UHEL is a major contributor to the EU-FP7 proposal that includes


almost 20 partners from all over the world. Deeper biological understanding of the mechanism of action of isolated molecules from the Lebanese terrestrial plants



Promotion of sustainable cultivation of plants that have shown biological activities in various biological systems

‘Seeds of Hope, Trees for Tomorrow’ special update:

Ibsar Power of Planting Initiative

Seeds of Hope Trees for Tomorrow

Ibsar’s ‘Seeds of Hope, Trees for Tomorrow’ launches its first planting season

Minyara planting volunteers, December 2008

Within the context of its ‘Seeds of Hope, Trees for Tomorrow’ initiative, Ibsar launched its first planting season in Autumn 2008. On November 19, the first truckload of native trees - grown from seeds planted in the winter of 2007-2008 - was hauled off to Moukhtara in the Chouf Mountains. That weekend, Ibsar staff and volunteers from Arab Re and CIFA met on a beautiful autumn day, to plant in the village of Bmouhreh, native trees in 4 different planting sites. The Chouf region received over 3,000 trees that were planted by a dozen municipalities. The planting season was on, and next on the agenda was Akkar, which received nearly 2,850 trees. Ibsar was assisted by CCECS, who have been essential in mobilizing AUB volunteers to participate in tree planting events. Volunteers helped plant trees in Kwashra, Halba, and Minyara in December. Mayfadoun planting

In the New Year, the trucks moved south

to Jezzine and Nabatiyeh, reaching villages along the border of Palestine (occupied territories). CCECS engaged volunteers in two other tree planting events held in Mayfadoun, where nearly 400 trees were planted in just one day, as well as along the hillsides in El Mansouri village just south of Sour. Though the volunteers helped with much-needed assistance in these outings, the majority of planting was done by the municipality with help from local community members. All in all, some 9,300 trees were planted in




Lebanon. For details, visit www.ibsar. ARBI SARKISSIAN

org – Power of Planting).

Minyara roadside tree

Trees awaiting planting


- Akkar



Ibsar’s new youth program Following the success of its first campaign, “Seeds of Hope, Trees for Tomorrow”, Ibsar launched its new youth program, ‘Biokids’, aimed at introducing biodiversity concepts in the simplest manner and encouraging local biodiversity conservation and sustainable utilization using all tools and approaches available to reach out to the new generation.

Ibsar engages children in the colors of biodiversity at “Science Days” Ibsar represented AUB’s scientific contribution to “Science Days” “Ayam Al Ouloum” an exhibition held from 9-11 October 2008 and hosted by Beirut Hippodrome. The exhibition was held in collaboration with the administration of the City of Genève, the embassy of Switzerland View from Ibsar’s “Celebrate Biodiversity”, its

in Beirut and the Municipality of

contribution to “Science Days”

Beirut, and under the Patronage of the Ministry of Education. This unique event aimed at stimulating visitors’ curiosity about scientific ideas, important scientific and technological accomplishments, and various everyday applications of science. In “Science Days”, and within the “Celebrate Biodiversity” concept, kids were given the freedom to express their artistic skills using all types of paint. This is in addition to experiencing a series of interactive educational games and short movies

View from Ibsar’s “Celebrate Biodiversity”, its contribution to

designed to entertain and educate.

“Science Days”

Ibsar’s contribution, through Biokids, undoubtedly stood out. One of the parents present said to me: “I’ve been dragged by my daughter all the way here. But I don’t regret it. I’ve never really liked science. But now I’m starting to change my mind. Science is fun! Both my daughter and I have learned a lot about biodiversity and had fun at the same time. I think that Ibsar was able to make a big difference in our way of understanding nature!” “As for me,” expressed Heba Samara, a volunteer on the Biokids team, “Well, I didn’t get to hear or know about biodiversity until I was in my junior year at AUB. But now, ask any kid who was in the IBSAR tent in Science Days, and I assure you that you’ll MAYA TERRO


be surprised – very surprised to hear what they have to say!”

Ibsar collaborates with Assabil Public Libraries and Slow Food Beirut to promote environmental awareness Within the context of its newly founded Biokids program,





awareness and a sense of eco-responsibility in children, Ibsar invited school children aged 9-13 to participate in fun educational activities in 12 different public libraries in Lebanon. In collaboration with Assabil network of public Participants in the Biokids event in local public libraries

libraries and Slow Food Beirut, a team of Ibsarites gathered school children from various local and public schools across all Lebanese regions to

participate in the events organized in their local village public libraries. After being introduced to the topic, the children watched a movie on the importance of traditional Lebanese breakfast and then gathered around a woman who prepared delicious ‘saj mankouche’ breakfasts for them. The children were then divided into 3 or 4 groups who rotated through the activities. They sat for a storytelling session in Arabic on the “Khattoub” who spoke in the name of trees. Each kid was then handed a native seed to plant in a pot and care for. The kids were taught the importance of native biodiversity while playing fun nature games and handled live native animals like the Lebanese partridge, frog, lizard, crab, and even the snake. The kids carried home with them crafts made of natural ingredients which they themselves prepared at the libraries with assistance from Ibsar volunteers. Before leaving, children painted and signed a banner, to remain a souvenir on the public library entrance. “On this day, our kids have learned about their natural environment as much as they would have learned in one year,” said the Jezzine public school

Grants & Awards


principal in an interview for Future TV program “Akhdar Azrak”.

Ibsar researchers are awarded the Arab Science and Technology Foundation Grant

Achillea falcate

The Ibsar project “Photoprotective and Chemopreventive Properties in the Skin of TExtracts from Indigenous Lebanese Plants” was among the winning proposals announced by the Sharjah-based Arab Science and Technology Foundation (ASTF), for the second funding cycle of 2008. Ibsar’s research involves collaborative work among Ibsar researchers including Dr. Nadine Darwiche as the principal investigator 7

Centaurea ainetensis

from the Biology Department and two co-investigators, Dr. Hala Mohtaseb from the Biology Department and Dr. Najat Saliba from the Chemistry Department. This project aims at identifying the anti-skin cancer properties of extracts from two Lebanese indigenous plants, Centaurea ainetensis and Achillea falcata, against ultraviolet radiation. This research could lead to their potential development into safe, effective, and inexpensive sunscreens affordable by the poor. The knowledge generated from this work has immediate health and social applications and will lead

Ibsar Publications


to the development of plant-related economic opportunities.

Ibsar celebrates rural recipes with a new cookbook The rapid westernization of the Lebanese diet is accompanied by a surge in chronic disease rates, which are alarmingly high both in Lebanon and the region. Yet the answer to this troubling problem is in our traditional food heritage and wisdom. It is this wisdom - built over generations - that Ibsar attempts to capture and disseminate through its new cookbook, The Healthy Kitchen: Recipes from Rural Lebanon. Front cover of Ibsar’s new cookbook

Our region is blessed with great biodiversity, and the population has access to many edible wild plants.

The harvesting and use of these wild plants is, however, on the decline due to eroding knowledge and environmental degradation. The Healthy Kitchen: Recipes from Rural Lebanon is one of the outcomes of the “Wild

Edible Plants: Promoting Dietary Diversity in Poor Communities of Lebanon” project sponsored by the International Development Research Center (IDRC) in Canada .The book’s main objective is to record and disseminate ancestral knowledge about the traditional food system with the hope of reversing the erosion of this important heritage. MONIKA FABIAN

The recipes were collected from different Lebanese communities. Send your news, articles, and editorial comments to Visit the IBSAR website at Edited by Hania Jurdak


Designed and produced by the Office of University Publications

AUB-NCC Newsletter Winter 2009, Issue No. 25