Pilgrim’s Progress: Sampling Diatoms in the Holy Land

In November 2016, my brother Russell and I had an excellent two-week journey to the Holy Land, visiting Israel, Palestine and Egypt. It was also an opportunity to sample Middle East (ME) freshwater diatoms for the Canadian Museum of Nature’s collection.

Diatoms are microscopic, one-celled algae with a silica shell. Found in sediments, they produce energy and oxygen for organisms in the food web. Scientists use them to study climate change and water quality. For sampling in Israel, I had a sediment-collection permit for various Nature Reserves.

Collage

Israel:
• Top left: Old City of Jerusalem
• Top right: Jesus’ birthplace in the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
• Bottom left: The author on Mount Carmel, Haifa
• Bottom right: Fortress of Masada.
Images: Joe Holmes © Canadian Museum of Nature

Trip Summary
Our tour saw Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Qumran, Masada, the Dead Sea, and Tiberias on Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Then we saw the Jordan River, Haifa, Tel Dan, Nazareth, Caesarea, Tel Aviv, the Negev and Eilat.

In Egypt, we proceeded to Mount Sinai, Sharm El-Sheikh, and flew to Cairo for the pyramids, Sphinx and Egyptian Museum. A great trip overall.

Collage

Egypt:
• Top left: Red Sea beach, Sharm El-Sheikh
• Top right: The author with the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Giza
• Bottom left: Burial jars in Egyptian Museum
• Bottom right: Nile cruise.
Images: Joe Holmes © Canadian Museum of Nature

Israeli Sample Locations
Note:

  • Representative diatoms may be in multiple locations.
  • Nahal means “stream” in Hebrew
  • Size scale: 1 µm = 1 micron = 1 millionth of a metre.
Collage

Nahal David, Ein Gedi Nature Reserve near the Dead Sea.
• First: Navicula radiosa (73 µm × 10 µm)
• Top: Cymatopleura elliptica (80 µm × 45 µm)
• Bottom: Biddulphia sp. (70 µm × 56 µm).
Images: Joe Holmes © Canadian Museum of Nature

Collage

Lake Kinneret south shore with Golan Heights.
• Top: Anomoeoneis sphaerophora (47 µm × 15 µm)
• Second: Navicula crytocephala (20 µm × 5 µm)
• Third: Nitzschia obtusa (57 µm × 4 µm)
• Bottom: Mastogloia smithii (30 µm × 10 µm).
Images: Joe Holmes © Canadian Museum of Nature

Collage

Jordan River, southwest of Lake Kinneret.
• Top: Placoneis clementis (17 µm × 7 µm)
• Middle: Staurosirella pinnata (10 µm × 5 µm)
• Bottom: Aulacoseira granulata (25 µm × 12 µm).
Images: Joe Holmes © Canadian Museum of Nature

Collage

Jordan River Yardenit Baptismal Site. Step drainage ditch diatoms.
• First: Navicula capitatoradiata (31 µm × 7 µm)
• Second: Pinnularia kneuckeri (23 µm × 4 µm)
• Third: Amphora coffeaeformis (27 µm × 4 µm).
Images: Joe Holmes © Canadian Museum of Nature

Collage

The author sampling Mezuda Pool North, Ein Afek Nature Reserve near Acre.
• First: Nitzschia acicularis (80 µm × 7 µm)
• Top: Nitzschia compressa (21 µm × 11 µm)
• Middle: Rhoicosphenia curvata (22 µm × 7 µm)
• Bottom: Cocconeis placentula (50 µm × 30 µm).
Images: Joe Holmes © Canadian Museum of Nature

Collage

Banias Nahal Hermon Nature Reserve, Golan.
• First: Navicula tripunctata (45 µm × 8 µm)
• Top: Achnanthes lanceolata (11 µm × 5 µm)
• Bottom: Amphora pediculus (9 µm × 6 µm).
Images: Joe Holmes © Canadian Museum of Nature

Collage

The author beside a fountain on Mount of the Beatitudes, Galilee. Drainage-trough diatoms.
• First: Navicula recens (25 µm × 6 µm)
• Second: Nitzschia amphibia (27 µm × 4 µm)
• Third: Cymbella silesiaca (32 µm × 9 µm).
Images: Joe Holmes © Canadian Museum of Nature

Egyptian Sample Location
I collected some non-sediment “slime” from the Cairo Egyptian Museum pond that yielded a few diatoms.

Collage

Pond and Egyptian Museum diatoms.
• First: Encyonopsis subminuta (14 µm × 4 µm)
• Second: Achnanthidium minutissimum (15 µm × 4 µm)
• Top: Fragilaria construens (5 µm × 3 µm)
• Bottom: Cyclotella kuetzingiana (11 µm × 11 µm).
Images: Joe Holmes © Canadian Museum of Nature

Conclusion
In recent Canadian samples from Ottawa, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia, I saw diatom species that are similar to many above.

Some that I have not seen include

  • Achnanthidium minutissimum
  • Amphora coffeaeformis
  • Cyclotella kuetzingiana
  • Mastogloia smithii
  • Nitzschia acicularis
  • Nitzschia compressa
  • Pinnularia kneucker
  • Biddulphia sp.

It would be worthwhile and interesting to revisit these Middle East countries for more diatom sampling and analysis.

Other articles from Joe Holmes on diatom fieldwork:
“Royal Canadian” Diatoms from the Rideau Hall Pond in Ottawa
Hunting the Urban Diatom in Vancouver, B.C.: Part 1
Hunting the Urban Diatom in Vancouver, B.C.: Part 2
My Irish Diatom Adventure: Part 1
My Irish Diatom Adventure: Part 2

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