The uniqueness of the Institute of Evolution (IOE) in research and teaching stems from the following factors:
(i) Situated in a biogeographically diverse region amongst three continents, Europe, Asia, and Africa, makes Israel one of the world’s richest regions per unit area in biodiversity across the planet. This extremely rich biodiversity center is located in a small but physically and biotically very stressful area, geologically, edaphically, and climatically diverse, (a sharp border between Mediterranean and Desert regions, one of the world’s most drastic climatic borders), all augmenting biodiversity across life. Israel served as a major biodiversity laboratory for the research program of the IOE for many years.
(ii) Israel is located in a world center of domestication, the Near East Fertile Crescent, where wheat, barley, oats, lettuce, and many other crops, have been domesticated. Israel served as a major domestication center for the research program of the IOE.
(iii) Since the establishment of the IOE, its research programs have been based on biodiversity evolution under environmental stress (Nevo, 2001), studied locally and regionally. Among other model organisms, the progenitors of wheat, barley, oats, and lettuce were studied as the best genetic resources for crop improvement (Nevo et al., 2001) to alleviate hunger in a world undergoing a population explosion. Likewise, model organisms such as blind subterranean mole rats have been regionally interdisciplinarily studied as models of speciation and adaptation under environmental stress (Nevo et al., 2001). Generally, subterranean mammals have been studied multi- and interdisciplinarily on a large scale, as a 40 million year, natural global evolutionary experiment. Investigations were conducted on molecular and organismal regression, progression, and global convergence caused by their colonizing of the underground ecological zone, due to world savannization in Upper Eocene to Middle Oligocene times (Nevo, 1999). The discovery by the Institute of Evolution in collaboration with the Kholodny Institute of Botany of the Ukraine Academy of Sciences, of 58 species of filamentous fungi in the hypersaline Dead Sea opens new fields of research of fungi at the edge of life (Buchalo et al., 1998). A series of books have been initiated on the biodiversity of algae and fungi in Israel (Nevo and Wasser, 2000; Subramanyan and Wasser, 2001). Finally, the three “Evolution Canyon” systems (Nevo, 2001) represent microscale models of life’s evolution across phylogeny from cyanobacteria to mammals exploring sympatric speciation and adaptive radiation across life under a sharp interslope climatic contrast and stress across 200 meters!
The four “Evolution Canyons” studied in Israel: lower Nahal Oren (Mount Carmel)- EC I; Nahal Keziv (Galilee)- EC II; Nahal Shaharut (Negev desert)-EC III, and Nahal Mezar (Golan)-IV. Note that in ECs I, II, IV, the North Facing Slope (NFS), also dubbed the European slope (ES), is on the left hand-side, representing temperate, cool, humid, and forested biome. The opposite, abutting slope, on the right hand side, is tropical, hot, dry, and savannoid. By contrast, in Nahal Shaharut (south Negev desert)- EC III, the slope orientation in the picture is reversed: the SFS is on the left, covered by cyanobacteria, and the NFS is on the right, darker in color, covered by lichens, with angiosperm bushes only in the creek.