University of Gothenburg

Around ten senior researchers work within the field of plant ecology, physiology & environmental science, divided between a couple of larger research groups.

The research covers a broad spectrum of questions, all related to plants, from what happens with the cell to environmental effects on population and ecosystem level.

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
Lasse Tarvainen
Johan Uddling
Göran Wallin
Cornelia Wiklund Spetea

More about our 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

Tropical montane forests in a changing climate

Tropical rainforests—adapted to a thermally stable climate—may be particularly vulnerable to climate change but this hypothesis remains poorly evaluated due to data scarcity. In a unique elevation gradient experiment, we examine the sensitivity of tropical trees to warming and reduced water supply. Large multi-species plantations have been established at sites with large variation in climate, with water manipulation treatments applied at each site. We also study above and below ground carbon stock and fluxes in early and late succession tropical montane forest stands in permanent monitoring plots within Nuyngwe national park Rwanda. 

The research is conducted in collaboration with researchers at the University of Rwanda and Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) and aims to explore: (1) Tree acclimation capacity to heat and drought; (2) Mechanisms and processes controlling responses of tree growth and survival; (3) Re- and afforestation potential using native species; (4) Carbon stocks and fluxes of tropical montane forests at different successional stages.  The project has strong connections with Rwandan stakeholders and policy makers. 

Watch this film about our research!

Projects and support:

  • Climate sensitivity and reforestation of tropical trees (VR Development Research grant 2018-04669)
  • Tropical montane forests in a warming world (VR Development Research grant 2015-03338)
  • Drought and heat as tropical tree killers (Formas project grant 2019-01470, call for research and development projects for early-career researchers)
  • Tropical tree mortality in a changing climate (EU H2020-MSCA-IF-2018, grant 844319)

Contact: Göran Wallin & Johan Uddling

Ground-level ozone and carbon dioxide – exposure and effects

Since several decades, we investigate effect of different gases on crops and forests, in particular elevated carbon dioxide concentrations and the regional air pollutant ground-level ozone. Earlier, much of the work was experimental, but now we focus on derivation of response functions and meta-analyses. Crop quality and chemical composition of plant tissue under elevated CO2 and ozone form important parts of our research. Another focus is the variation of air pollutants, in particular ozone, in time (influence by weather patterns such as heat waves) and space (small scale variation in relation to local climate and topography). Our research contributes to model development and risk assessment for ozone effects on vegetation, e.g. by contribution to the work of ICP Vegetation, an international programme investigating the impacts of air pollutants on crops and semi-natural vegetation associated with the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP).

Projects & support: 

  • Swedish EPA Research Programme SCAC (ends 2020)
  • Research under the expert group ICP Vegetation of the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, funded by the Swedish EPA
  • BioDiv-Support: Scenario-based decision support for policy planning and adaptation to future changes in biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • BECC Strategic Research Area

Contact: Håkan Pleijel

Urban vegetation and ecosystem services

Our research in this field aims to understand how vegetation influences the urban environment, e.g. by removing air pollutants, in particular polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and by influencing the local climate. Also, the accumulation potentially toxic metals in urban trees forms part of this topic. The choice of tree species in different setting and the consequences of the architecture of the urban landscape is highlighted in this research, which is interdisciplinary involving biologist, chemists, atmospheric scientist and experts in visualization of the urban environment.

This research topic has important collaboration with Gothenburg Botanical Garden, Lund University, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute and Chalmers University of Technology. It is of large importance for city planning to maximize benefits and minimize any problems from urban vegetation.

Projects & support: 

  • Clean the air with plants – can PAH exposure be reduced with urban vegetation? (Formas research project grant FR-2017/0009)
  • Visualising and modelling urban air quality - influence of vegetation, building morphology and traffic emissions (Formas project grant FR-2018/0006, call for research promoting Sustainable Societies)

Contact: Håkan Pleijel

Boreal and temperate forests - carbon fluxes and climate change acclimation

We have a long tradition in studying the responses of Norway spruce (Picea abies) and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) to changes in the environment. The most recent research is focused on acclimation of carbon fluxes of boreal and temperate conifer forest to changes in temperature, CO2 concentration, drought and nutrient availability. The research is conducted at various field sites: Flakaliden research area, Skogaryd research station, Rosinedal research site, and common gardens within a latitude gradient from mid Sweden to South-eastern France.  

In a new project we will combine knowledge gained from all of these sites with new measurements and modelling to quantify the impacts of genetic variation on the productivity of Norway spruce forests under rising temperatures and more severe droughts. Expected results include better understanding of the role of genetic heritage on climate change acclimation of trees, improved predictions of the future growth of Norway spruce in Finland and Sweden, and practically applicable information regarding the potential of provenance/genotype selection as a tool for maximizing the economic and environmental values of boreal forests.

We collaborate mainly with researchers from Swedish Agriculture University (SLU), University of Helsinki and the Forestry Research Institute of Sweden (Skogforsk).

Projects & support: 

  • Making the right choice – Impact of genetics on productivity of Norway spruce in a changing climate (Research program:  Tandem Forest Values, Formas 2019-02507)

Contact: Göran Wallin, Lasse Tarvainen & Johan Uddling

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