Ancient agricultural terrace walls control floods and regulate the distribution of Asphodelus ramosus geophytes in the Israeli arid Negev

Ilan Stavi, Shay Eldad, Chi Xu, Zhiwei Xu, Yulia Gusarov, Mordechai Haiman, Eli Argaman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ancient stone terrace walls aimed at harvesting water runoff and facilitating crop production are widespread across the drylands of the Middle East and beyond. In addition to retaining the scarce water resource, the terrace walls also conserve soil and thicken its profile along ephemeral stream channels (wadis) by decreasing fluvial connectivity and mitigating erosional processes. In this study, we created hydrological models for three wadis with ancient stone terrace walls in the arid northern Negev of Israel, where the predominant geophyte species is Asphodelus ramosus L. A two-dimensional (2D) rain-on-grid (RoG) approach with a resolution of 2 m was used to simulate the rain events with return periods of 10, 20, 50, and 99 % (10-y, 5-y, 2-y, and yearly, respectively) based on the Intensity-Duration-Frequency rain curves for the region. To evaluate the effect of stone terrace walls on fluvial hydrology and geomorphology, the ground level was artificially elevated by 20 cm at the wall locations in a digital terrain model (DTM), using the built-in HEC-RAS 2D terrain modification tool. Our results showed that the terraced wadis have a high capacity to mitigate runoff loss, but a lesser capacity to delay the peak flow. Yet, for all rainstorm return periods, peak flow mitigation was positively related to the number of terrace walls along the stream channel. Field surveys in two of the studied wadis demonstrated that the A. ramosus clones were found in proximity to the stone terrace walls, presumably due to the greater soil–water content there. The results thus suggest that the terrace walls provide improved habitat conditions for these geophytes, supporting their growth and regulating their distribution along the wadi beds.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107588
StatePublished - Jan 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier B.V.


  • Geo-archaeology
  • Hydrological connectivity
  • Hydrological modelling
  • Runoff harvesting
  • Soil and water conservation
  • Watershed management


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