Erik Sandblom


Department of Biological & Environmental
Visiting address
Medicinaregatan 7 B
41390 Göteborg
Room number
Postal address
Box 463
40530 Göteborg

About Erik Sandblom

Research interests Our lab has a broad-ranging interest in comparative physiology and animal ecophysiology, particularly as it relates to fish. Most of our current work revolves around questions related to cardiovascular and respiratory physiology, and we are particularly interested in the physiological responses and adjustments to environmental factors including temperature, oxygen availability and salinity. We also work within a more applied line of research, studying stress and welfare of farmed fish in aquaculture. Most of our work is performed at the level of the intact animal, often including advanced surgery and in vivo instrumentation, and in combination with various biochemical and pharmacological approaches. Our labs’ research currently follows three separate, yet related, pathways as outlined below.

Physiological plasticity and adaptation to chronic warming Climate change is predicted to continue with increasing average temperatures, as well as stronger and more frequent transient heat waves. This will have a profound impact on ectothermic animals such as fish where the body temperature and metabolism is directly determined by the ambient temperature. Current hypotheses suggest that limitations in cardiorespiratory oxygen transport may be a key limitation in ectothermic animals at elevated temperature, but current evidence is conflicting and knowledge about the capacity of the cardiorespiratory system to adjust to long-term warming via acclimation and genetic adaptation is still limited. In this project, we study thermal tolerance and cardiorespiratory function in wild Eurasian perch (Perca fluviatilis) that live and reproduce in the chronically heated ‘Biotest enclosure’ located in the Baltic Sea off the nuclear power plant in Forsmark in Sweden. Cooling water from the nearby nuclear reactors has been directed to the 90 hectare enclosure since 1980, keeping water temperatures 5-10°C above ambient for over 30 years, but at otherwise similar abiotic conditions as the surrounding archipelago. Thus, this experimental facility presents a unique model of future climate warming in aquatic ecosystems and provides great opportunities to study biological responses of fish to chronic warming. By comparing fish from the Biotest enclosure with a reference population from the nearby archipelago where the temperature is normal, we can address mechanisms of physiological thermal plasticity and genetic adaptation. The project is performed in collaboration with SLU, Institute of Coastal Research.

Stress physiology and welfare of fish in aquaculture Aquaculture is the fastest growing food-producing sector worldwide and has recently received increased priority in Sweden. However, an increased awareness has grown regarding the need to secure the welfare and health of farmed fish. For example, a major current challenge for the industry is to find ethically acceptable methods to handle, immobilize and kill large numbers of fish during slaughter and harvest, and the welfare implications of varius practices and methods routinely used are poorly understood. Moreover, a big challenge when studying fish in aquaculture is that fish do not always dispaly obvious external signals and behaviours when welfare is compromised under routine aquaculture conditions. Consequently, welfare recommendations are often based on subjective conclusions, rather than on reliable and quantifiable physiological markers of stress. In this project, which is a collaboration with SLU, we specifically focus on the two dominating aquaculture species in sweden; Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). To better assess the welfare of these animals in situations relevant to aquaculture, we utilize a suite of physiological indices such as cardiovascular and gastrointestinal variables, as well as blood samples for stress hormone and hematological analyses from live fish. We also use state-of-the-art blood flow telemetry systems and heart rate loggers to analyze physiological responses of free-swimming fish in aquaculture settings in collaboration with partners from the industry. This allows us to address the welfare implications of common rearing situations, and to identify and quantify stressful events in farming and slaughter situations that can be targeted to improve welfare. For more information, see the project web page.

Interacting environmental stressors and mechanisms of acclimation Climate change does not only involve chronic warming and an increased incidence of heat waves, but also expansion of hypoxic zones and altered salinity of aquatic ecosystems. While each of these stressors are challenging for fish, their negative effects may be counteracted by physiological plasticity (e.g., acclimation), which can provide resilience. However, as highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it is not known whether and how acclimation to one stressor alters the sensitivity and response to another. We have, therefore, now started the challenging task of analysing the complex interactions between multiple environmental stressors at different time scales.

Interested in joining our group? Prospective post-docs are highly encouraged to contact Erik so we can discuss available possibilities. There may be various opportunities to apply for national or EU post-doc funding to contribute to ongoing projects in the lab, or to develop your own project within the broad research themes of the lab.

Exam project students at all stages (BSc to MSc) are also welcome to contact me for further information on currently available student projects.

Current lab members

Erik Sandblom (Professor, PI)

Andreas Ekström (Post-doc)

Tristan McArley (Researcher/Post-doc)

Lucas Zena (Post-doc)

Daniel Morgenroth (PhD student)

Per Hjelmstedt (PhD student SLU, co-supervision)

Current main funding sources: The swedish Research Council; The Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS); MoRE2020, Region Västra Götaland.