Purdue Herbarium -- A Noah's Ark For Egyptian Plants

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- As Egyptians carve out more living space by irrigating the desert, Purdue University researchers are helping inventory and preserve plants that otherwise might be lost as the water flows in.

Almost 90 percent of Egypt's 62 million people live on just 4 percent of its territory, a narrow swath of land along the Nile River. Population density along the water's edge is 5,000 people per square mile. Beyond them lies desert.

By bringing water to the desert, the Egyptians hope to reclaim land in the "New Valley" for agriculture. By the year 2001, Egyptians will complete a 40-mile canal that pumps water from Lake Nasser in the south to more than 415,000 acres of desert in the central section of the country.

"There are two ways to look at it," says Anthony Swinehart, curator of the Purdue Department of Botany and Plant Pathology's Arthur and Kriebel Herbaria, which houses a cataloged collection of dried plants. "In Biblical times the area was vegetated, so you could look at it as taking back the desert and restoring it to its former glory." Swinehart and others, however, recognize that irrigation and agriculture could destroy some native plants and animals.

Swinehart is one of several Purdue researchers who will visit the New Valley in May to count and identify the desert plants before irrigation begins. The group is working with Sayed Khalifa, professor of plant taxonomy and flora at Ain Shams University in Abbaseyya, Egypt. Khalifa also serves as a consultant to the National Biodiversity Unit of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency.

This first phase of the project is funded by a Global Initiative Faculty Grant from Purdue.

"There never has been an inventory of that area that could give us a baseline when we try to judge the ecological impact of this project," says Bill Chaney, a physiological ecologist who heads the Purdue team. "And if you don't know what you started with, you won't know what you've

Contact: Rebecca Goetz
Purdue University

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