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Animal Carcasses In Israel May Reveal Climate Change Clues


Scientists want to know how animals are adapting to climate change. In Israel, researchers are collecting carcasses to study how species change over time. NPR's Daniel Estrin joined an expedition.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

AMOS BELMAKER: Wow. That's a rare bird.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: That's Amos Belmaker, a bird researcher of Tel Aviv University, picking out some carcasses from a freezer at a nature preserve and loading them into a truck. The animals are in plastic bags, frozen hard as rocks.

A. BELMAKER: That's a pelican. That's a young jackal.

ESTRIN: So what is this animal here with the tail?


ESTRIN: Belmaker and his colleague are hopping between nature preserves in northern Israel to collect the carcasses that park rangers have discovered and frozen. Many of the animals died from unfortunate encounters with cars and power lines.

A. BELMAKER: When we drive around the country picking up all this roadkill, we're building the framework on which, you know, other researchers can come and study and ask interesting questions.

ESTRIN: They take a few dozen carcasses back to the university taxidermist to preserve for the university's collection of some 5.5 million specimens. The collection stretches back to the 1930s, and it'll be part of a natural history museum the university is opening soon - the first of its kind in the Middle East, says museum chair Tamar Dayan. As you might expect, the Israeli museum building is designed to resemble Noah's Ark, with a long wooden facade.

TAMAR DAYAN: Earth is becoming much less hospitable for most species. We are reducing proper habitats. We are over-exploiting species. And in addition, we are now doing this huge, large-scale shift in the climate?

ESTRIN: Researchers in Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and Germany work together to try to predict how animals will adapt to climate change. They believe mammals in the region will migrate toward the coast, which is already packed with people and buildings, threatening some species' survival.


ESTRIN: Behind the creaky door of this university laboratory, researchers track changes happening among fish in the Mediterranean Sea. Researcher Hezi Buba is cutting open an invasive predatory fish that's moved into the sea's warming waters.

HEZI BUBA: Opening its belly, and as we can see, it actually has several fish in it.

ESTRIN: Yoni Belmaker heads the fish lab. He says native fish of the Mediterranean are shrinking because of the higher temperature, and foreign invasive species now dominate. It makes it harder for fishermen to find something good to catch.

YONI BELMAKER: We have Mediterranean diet. We have our cultural heritage of the local fish, which we know we've been living with for thousands of years in this area and it's changed dramatically. We're losing some of our uniqueness, right? The fish we know here are gone and we have other species we don't even know. We're losing some of our Mediterranean-ness (ph).

ESTRIN: So you lose a part of yourself, right?

Y. BELMAKER: Definitely, yeah.

ESTRIN: He says the warming Mediterranean is an example of what's going to happen to seas around the world. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "RECEIVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.