Robert Björk

Senior Lecturer

Department of Earth
Visiting address
Carl Skottsbergs gata 22B
41319 Göteborg
Postal address
Box 460
40530 Göteborg

About Robert Björk

Research My research interests span from plant community dynamics to greenhouse gas fluxes, and particularly on the plant-soil(-snow) interactions and linkages in the rhizosphere between ecosystem structure (including plants, mycorrhizal fungi and soil microbes) and functioning. A main objective of my work is to increase our understanding of how terrestrial ecosystems (mostly tundra) will respond to, and affect, climate change.

I defended my PhD thesis ‘Snowbed Biocomplexity: a journey from community to landscape’ in May 2007. The thesis focussed on snowbed plant communities, a plant community which are particularly sensitive to Global Change and are likely to diminish in area and develop a more scattered distribution in the tundra landscape. The snowbed specialists will suffer from any lengthening of the growing season and increased airborne N deposition and this will inevitably have a substantial impact on the alpine landscape since snowbeds provide ecosystem services to the landscape by affecting biodiversity, higher trophic levels and the diversity of animal guilds. In the thesis I also highlighted the importance of links between soil biota and plant community structure in determining N turnover in tundra ecosystems, and the role of the dominant mycorrhizal associations in facilitating N capture, to plant community structure. My postdoctoral studies (2008–2009) were accomplished at Örebro Isotope Laboratory, Örebro University, with the research group for ecosystem ecology lead by Prof. Alf Ekblad. In Örebro, I started to study the production and turnover of fine roots and extrametrical mycorrhizal mycelia in forest soils and how it influenced the turnover of carbon, which today still is of interest to me.

Today I’m running several projects focusing on the Arctic ecosystems:

  • "The sensitivity of carbon in Arctic permafrost soils to climate change", financed by Formas (2012-2015). By using long-term soil incubation experiments of soils from the different soil layers from Zackenberg, Greenland, and the Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, we examine the temperature sensitivity of SOC that is likely to be released, as carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4), to the atmosphere. Furthermore, we investigate if physical protection or chemical recalcitrance of SOC could attenuate the temperature sensitivity of the decomposability of permafrost C pool.
  • "Disentangling the role of mycorrhiza for ecosystem processes" financed by the Swedish Research Council (2015-2018). By using a plant species removal experiment we study how plant diversity is controlling total soil microbial diversity as well as soil function diversity, and thereby detect key linkages across trophic levels, and also test how plant diversity, with consecutive changes in soil microbial community, is driving C and N dynamics.
  • "The thawing permafrost - impact of climate change over decades," Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions - Individual Fellowship (2016-2018), which includes post-doc Dr. Mats P. Björkman. Using a natural permafrost thaw gradient near Abisko we investigate the changes in the carbon and nitrogen dynamics during and after thawing.
  • "Impact of Climate Warming on Arctic Biodiversity," financed by Formas (2016-2018). This is a new ITEX synthesis where we utilizing the unique long-term circumpolar ITEX dataset and experimental set-up to investigate climate warming as a driver of community phylogeny across spatial and temporal scales. The project involves PhD student Ruud Scharn.

Past projects:

  • "The impact of grazing and climate change on ecosystems in the mountains," (Financed by Formas) where we used a reindeer exclusion experiment, established in 1995 on five areas along the Swedish mountains, from Fulufjället in the south (61 ° 30'N) to Tavvavuoma in the north (68 ° 30'N), to study recent vegetation changes to climate warming, influence of herbivores on plant community composition and diversity, and long-term carbon stocks. Furthermore, we investigated the influence of herbivores on soil microbial communities and processes, and resulting greenhouse gas exchange.

My research is also linked to the Swedish Strategic Research BECC (Biodiversity and ecosystem services in a changing climate), which is a collaboration between Lund University and the University of Gothenburg with a vision of creating a world-leading interdisciplinary research program on the relationships between climate, ecosystem services and biodiversity. I am also involved in several international networks such as the International Tundra experiment (ITEX), a global network that study climate impacts on tundra ecosystems.

Publications Full list of publications (external webpage)

Teaching I mainly teach in the courses "Field course in the subarctic – Physical Geography and Ecology" (NG0210), "Earth Sciences for Biologist" (GVR011), Earth System Science (GV0340), and "Methods and projects within environmental science" (ES1203).