University of Gothenburg

Plant ecology, physiology & environmental science

In this research area, "PEPES" study how plants respond to climate change, pollution and land use and management from the gene to ecosystem scales and in climatic zones ranging from arctic, boreal to tropical. Our research also explores how responses of plants and algae affect the regulation of climate, production of food, timber and biofuel, biodiversity, and human exposure to pollen and pollutants. We have expertise in gene-modification, photosynthesis, manipulative field experiments, process-based modelling, and national pollen inventory.

Plant cell and molecular biology

Here we focus on fundamental aspects about growth, responses to environmental stress and climate change, and production of secondary metabolites. Topics being pursued include functional genomics of marine diatoms, regulatory mechanisms in plant and algal photosynthetic membranes, and mechanisms for acclimation to abiotic stress in crop plants.

Plant ecology and environmental science

We study how climate change, air pollution and human land use and management affect plants and terrestrial ecosystems ranging from the arctic tundra to boreal and tropical forests. We also explore the consequences of vegetation responses for the regulation of climate, biogeochemical cycles, and human exposure to pollen and air pollutants. 

In a world of rapid environmental change, we seek to address burning questions for which research is needed to understand future environmental risks and to design efficient mitigation strategies:

  • How does climate change and air pollution affect ecosystem processes such as biomass production, nutrient cycling and water economy? 
  • What are the climate feedbacks driven by land use and management?
  • How will global warming change the composition and diversity of arctic and alpine ecosystems? 
  • What will be the future of tropical montane forests in a warmer and drier climate? 
  • How does vegetation affect the urban environment including air pollution and local climate?
  • Will climate change alter exposure to allergenic pollen and interact with air pollutants to worsen human health problems? 

We conduct fieldwork in different parts of the world, including the Arctic tundra as well as ecosystems in the boreal, temperate and tropical biomes. Experimental approaches include controlled, ecologically realistic field experiments with manipulation of air pollution, carbon dioxide, temperature and nutrient supply. We also explore plant acclimation along natural environmental gradients. Furthermore, we use process-oriented models to assess and predict the long-term and large-scale consequences of anthropogenic impacts on terrestrial ecosystems. Last but not least, we do data synthesis and meta-analysis.

Researchers (PI:s)

Mats Andersson
Henrik Aronsson
Anne Bjorkman
Adrian Clarke
Åslög Dahl
Annemieke Gärdenäs
Håkan Pleijel
Cornelia Spetea Wiklund
Lasse Tarvainen
Johan Uddling
Göran Wallin

More projects

Ecological dynamics in the tundra

Tundra regions are experiencing some of the most rapid warming on the planet. We use a combination of long-term monitoring, observational, and experimental methods to understand the impact of this change for the composition, diversity, and functioning of tundra ecosystems. Ongoing projects include (1) understanding how temperature influences tundra plant communities across scales, from micro to macro; (2) quantifying warming-driven change in plant functional traits and experimentally assessing the consequences of these changes for ecosystem functions like litter decomposition; (3) predicting which species will respond positively or negatively (“winners and losers”) to climate change; (4) understanding non-climate limits to species range shifts across latitudinal and altitudinal gradients; and (5) assessing the impact of warming on tundra plant phenology, including consequences for carbon storage potential and plant-pollinator interactions.

More information about tundra ecology research can be found here

Support for these projects is provided by a VR Early Career Grant (2019 - 05264), a Wallenberg Academy Fellowship (2019), and the Carl Tryggers Stiftelse (2019).

Contact: Anne Bjorkman

Tundra regions are experiencing some of the most rapid warming on the planet., we use a combination of research methods to understand the impact of this change.
Photo: Anne Bjorkman

Aerobiology, pollen and fungal spores

In connection with the Pollen Laboratory, where airborne and allergenic pollen is monitored and forecasts directed to allergy sufferers and the allergy care are produced, we study the ecology of plants that produce the pollen in question. We focus on the effect of climate on phenology and reproductive effort, and also on meteorology, pollen release and transport. In cooperation with allergists, we are involved in studies of the impact of allergenic pollen on symptoms and life quality, and the additive effects of allergenic pollen and air pollution. Fungi and fungal spores as bioaerosols and as causes of health problems are also items for our attention.

Contact: Åslög Dahl

Agricultural ecology and ecosystem services

Semi-natural pastures in Sweden have almost vanished during last century and with them, many ecosystem services are diminished.  We investigate the possibilities to make small scale organic beef production economical viable by designing coherent grazing land of pastures and forests mosaics. Thereby, we focus on the interplay between organic beef production, wood production, biodiversity, climate regulation and economy. We conduct field studies at farms along a climatic gradient from South to North Sweden, use participatory methods, and national inventories. The project is in co-operation with Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and stakeholders such as Environmental Protection Agency, county boards and organic beef entrepreneurs.

Contact: Annemieke Gärdenäs

Domestic honey bees, as well as wild bees, have pollen from flowering plants as their only source of amino acids and lipids needed for brood production and winter survival. They carry out a substantial part of the ecosystem service pollination, contributing both to the production and quality of several crops and to the stability and diversity of ecosystems. However, changes in landscape structure and land-use, leading to destruction and fragmentation of habitats, had a negative impact on population sizes of wild bees; furthermore, the native honey-bee has to a large degree been replaced by non-native races in beekeeping. Analysis of the pollen that bee collect inform us about how they utilise available plants and about their mutual or competitive relationships. We use pollen analysis as to get more information on managed and wild bee density, and how wild and managed pollinators interact; we also compare the resilience capacity of the indigenous Nordic bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) with other races that are commonly used for honey production in Scandinavia. There is support for differential adaptation to local and regional climate and vegetation in the subspecies and races of the honey bee (Apis mellifera).

We do parallel studies at five different apiaries in Sweden and Norway to understand preferences of the native and imported races with regard to the local flora and to find out if there are differences in phenological traits. 

Project & Support:  Formas Organic Agriculture Programme 221-2014-217 (ends 2020)

Contact: Åslög Dahl

Highland Cattle in coherent grazing land of pastures and forests mosaics.
Photo: Urban Emanuelsson

Climate feedbacks by land use and management

Land use and management cause climate feedbacks by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reflection of solar radiation. Within this topic, we aim for scientific evidence for designing optimal land use and management to reduce negative climate feedbacks from terrestrial ecosystems. At high latitudes, such as in Northern Europe, Canada and Northern Russia, reflection of solar radiation due to vegetations albedo is a major climatic driver. We investigate the importance of vegetation structure in mosaic landscape for albedo (MERGE project).  In tropical ecosystems, storage of carbon is a major climatic driver. We investigate in Ethiopian highlands the impact of land use change on soil carbon storage (SEA project). 

Rewetting drained peatlands can reduce GHG-emissions. We will develop a guidebook presenting several rewetting alternatives and their respective expected GHG emissions/uptake (Formas project).  Researchers from Gothenburg, Stockholm and Lund Universities co-operate with landowners, public authorities, and NGO’s.

Project & Support:

  • MERGE - ModElling the Regional and Global Earth system
  • SEA (Swedish Energy Agency)

Formas project ‘A guide on how land-use management can convert high-emitting drained organic soils into areas with negative emissions’ (PI Åsa Kasimir).

Contact: Annemieke Gärdenäs

Modelling anthropogenic impacts on biogeochemical cycles in terrestrial ecosystems

Humans affect the environment in many ways simultaneously, such as climate change, elevated nitrogen (N) deposition, radioactive contamination, land use and management. We use process-oriented models to improve understanding of human impacts and calculate the combined and long-term effects on the biogeochemical cycles in terrestrial ecosystems. We (further) develop ecosystem models for specific research questions.  For example, are Swedish forest N or phosphorous (P) limited or both? To investigate this question, we recently included a full description of the P cycle in the CoupModel (P project). 

We also developed the Tracey model to describe the cycling of elements or radioactive isotopes that also matter in very low (tracer) concentrations (Tracey project). With this model, we can for example predict the risks of contamination of different plants parts, such as seeds and leaves, that are used in the food and fodder production.  We can also use it to calculate risks that the contamination is exported to the ground or stream water. The more recent modelling studies are carried out in co-operation with KTH and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).

Project & Support: 

  • Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co (SKB)
  • Swedish Radiation Safety Authority
  • Strong Research Environment IMPRESS (Formas 2011-1747).

Contact: Annemieke Gärdenäs

Soil ecology and environment 

There is a new combination of environmental change over Europe during the last decade - nitrogen (N) deposition declines whilst air temperature is increasing. Soil microbial are sensitive to these environmental factors; these factors affect the decomposers of soil organic matter and may therefore have implications for carbon storage in and N leaching from forest soils.

The field studies are carried out in long-term forest experimental sites along a climatic, nutrient gradient from central Sweden to Czech Republic, in co-operation with University of South Bohemia, Czech Republic, and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). The results of the field studies will be used to improve predictive power of soil organic matter models by explicitly describing soil microbial functioning and responses to a changing environment (IMPRESS). The Formas Strong Research Environment IMPRESS is the main funder of the Swedish participation. 

Project & Support: 

Strong Research Environment IMPRESS (Formas 2011-1747, Lindahl PI) 

Contact: Annemieke Gärdenäs