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Representatives from SITES stations gathered in Abisko in April to learn, discuss and establish a work plan for data deliveries to SITES data portal.

Jonathan and Oleg working with SITES data portal, gave a demonstration of how to use the system is to be used from a station data administrator point of view. Special focus were also addressed regarding data deliveries from SITES Spectral and SITES AquaNet to SITES data portal. Several other data tools for collection, visualization and quality control of SITES data were also demonstrated.
The meeting also gave the opportunities for discussions and sharing of knowledge within SITES, and a nicer scenery than what Abisko offered is hard to imagine.
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Meet Associate Senior Lecturer in Cropping Systems, Linda-Maria Mårtensson. Her research focus on agriculture diversification and multi-functionality and sustainable management of soil ecosystem functions. Learn more about her research at SITES Lönnstorp below.

You are active a SITES Lönnstorp in your research, how?

I would say in three ways, I run a research project at the moment, I plan for new funding applications and I use the facility for teaching.

Currently, I am conducting research in the perennial crop production system in SITES Agroecological Field Experiment (SAFE). I am using the baseline measurements, such as yields and nutrient content of harvested fractions. Then I add soil sampling to identify soil microbial communities and compare with those in annual crops in the conventional and organic agroecosystems. I also investigate the impact of intercropping with legumes, to see if the N-budget is improved or not when crops that may contribute with biological nitrogen fixation is included in the field.

I am also writing applications for future research covering more parts of SAFE. Those applications focus on soil ecosystem services and dis-services provided by the different agroecosystems included in SAFE. A perfect scenario would be to investigate all four agroecosystems together with colleagues to bring together as much information, and thus understanding, of the agroecosystem functions.

In addition to my research, I often supervise students from different educational programs and from abroad, and they use Lönnstorp in one way or the other. Examples: baseline data from SAFE, data from other experiments, own data from SAFE or other experiments, as a theoretical model for a literature papers. We also use Lönnstorp in a statistic exercise in the Agroecology master programme.

Collage with various grasslands represented within the BIOINVENT project.
Collage with various grasslands represented within the BIOINVENT project.

Tell us more about your current research project at SITES Lönnstorp!

SAFE holds four agroecosystems replicated in four block (see below for hyperlink to more information about SAFE), which is a fantastic resource for research. The scale is rather large compared to other agricultural field experiments and make the model systems more realistic. I have conducted one project supported by the CRAFOORD FOUNDATION and I am conducting one right now supported by the BIODIVERSA CoFund through FORMAS. Both projects utilize the perennial agroecosystem, where Kernza (perennial wheat grass) is grown alone and as intercrop with Lucerne. The focus is as mentioned above.

In the BIODIVERSA funded project, I will sample Kernza experiments in the surroundings of Lyon, France. We were hoping for a facility corresponding to SAFE at SITES Röbäcksdalen, which would make out a perfect opportunity to study climate effects on several parameters within the agroecosystems, and how they develop over time.

Linda-Maria at a Kernza field. The Land Institute i Kansas US
Linda-Maria at a Kernza field. The Land Institute i Kansas US

Your department is located in Alnarp, very closely to SITES Lönnstorp, how does the availability of this type of research infrastructure effect your research project?

It is beneficial in many ways, it functions as a meeting place where research and practice can be discussed, it opens up for collaborations, it works as an arena for studying the same systems with different approaches, disciplines and aspects to contribute to a more holistic understanding and an improved possibility to suggest solutions for future crop production in a Scandinavian context. It is very inspiring.   

Do you benefit from any user support offered by the SITES Lönnstorp?

Yes, very much. The personnel is interested, engaged and competent. The personnel always contribute in the discussion on the experimental design, to optimise the alignment between requirements of the research project and the technical possibilities at the station, as well as contributing viewpoints based on their different background knowledge. The personnel always take good notice of additional events in the experimental plots. The services, such as management, sampling and sample preparation, are always done with high standard and data are always delivered with high quality. The personnel is also my everyday colleagues and they are very nice people.

How will your research and results influence agricultural cropping systems in the future?

As already mentioned, I hope that I and colleagues can find solutions for improved agriculture in the sense that agriculture should hold a higher level of sustainability than it does today. To study these topics it is very valuable to have access to a facility like SAFE.

Do you have any preliminary findings/results?

Yes… The perennial agroecosystem seem to have more mycorrhiza (symbiotic fungi) than the annual wheat in the conventional system, but we need to explore this in more detail to assess whether this leads to the improved delivery of ecosystem services, such as increased nutrient uptake and improved soil structure!

Kernza growing at SITES Lönnstorp
Kernza growing at SITES Lönnstorp

You also teach at several courses, how do you use SITES Lönnstorp in the education?

Yes, as I also mentioned above the station give the students hands on experience in both agricultural practices and technical equipment, and in research training. For students that are writing literature reviews, Lönnstorp can be used as a case or theoretical model of the topic presented (example is a bachelor thesis about agroforestry in Sweden where the alley cropping system in SAFE was used as a case).

Lönnstorp is part of the national infrastructure SITES. What development potential do you see for research infrastructures in your field of research in the future?

I think such gatherings facilitate the cooperation between different persons and disciplines. They can overarch the organizational boundaries, especially for junior or recent senior scientists, as well as for shy scientists (I add with a self-conscious smile)!

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Stefan Bertilsson, Professor of Limnology, works half-time since mid-January at SLU as SITES new Director. In the interview below, Stefan tells in more about his background and the new mission to drive SITES into the future.

What are your expectations for your assignment as SITES director?

I will do my very best to help build and develop a well functioning and widely used infrastructure for ecosystem-centric research. I will emphasize a high degree of collaboration between our stations but also promote outreach and strategic alliances with other national and international infrastructures. I personally find it rewarding to develop and implement strategies to create productive and lasting collaborations and synergies in both research and capacity building. I also look forward to gain further leadership experience and learn more about the challenges and questions that unites the different activities and capacities that we host within SITES.

SITES Director together with SITES chairman Barbara Ekbom. Photo by Ida Taberman
SITES Director together with SITES chairman Barbara Ekbom. Photo by Ida Taberman

Tell us about your background and when did you knew you wanted to become a researchers?

I grew up in the countryside on a farm overlooking scenic Lake Vättern. Already at young age I was fascinated by natural science in all of its flavors, but it was more of a coincidence that I ended up studying biology at University (I could as well have trained to be a physicist or a chemist). Perhaps it was my passion for water and the many delicious applications of biology that made the difference… Learning to understand and perhaps even master this subject was quite simply irresistible and the path to achieve this was science and research.

Which is your relation to terrestrial/limnic field based research?

As a Professor of Limnology, I obviously study freshwaters in all of its forms. This is not limited to lakes, but also includes aquifers (sometimes at depths of several hundred meters), rivers and wetlands. More specifically, I investigate microorganisms and the ecological and biogeochemical processes that they engage in. Freshwater are of course also interlinked with the surrounding terrestrial landscape and in recent years I have broadened my research scope to specifically address also these systems.

Why are research infrastructures of importance today?

The type of infrastructure provided by SITES enable researchers from different disciplines and organizations to collaborate and learn from one other, thereby facilitating research that is out of reach for the individual scientist. A well functioning infrastructure also means efficient use of limited resources and put the most recent technological advances to use for the good of science. 

What will be your strongest contribution to SITES?

Increased visibility and internationalization

Where is SITES in five years?

A coherent distributed infrastructure with an internationally prominent status and broad user base.

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Professor em Barbara Ekbom is SITES steering groups new chairman. In the interview below she tells about her background as a researcher and the new assignment.

As a new chairman in SITES steering group, what are your expectations for your assignment?

My expectations are that I will get to know those that run and work at the SITES field stations and together with the steering group we will all work towards raising SITES’s profile both internationally and nationally. Transparency in decision-making is important and I expect that the SITES steering group, the secretariat, station managers, and partners will have an open dialogue in order to maximize both the quality and quantity of the research performed at SITES field stations.

Barbara Ekbom, SITES chairman accompanied by Stefan Bertilsson, SITES Director. Photo by Ida Taberman
Barbara Ekbom, SITES chairman accompanied by Stefan Bertilsson, SITES Director. Photo by Ida Taberman

Tell us about your background

I have a Bachelor’s degree from the University of California. In order to make ends meet during my years at the university I had to find a job. I got lucky and found a position as Lab/field assistant in a research group that worked with biological control of insect pests in agriculture. During the growing season we had many field experiments to take care of and in the winter we went through the material we had collected and analyzed data. I worked with professors, technicians, and PhD students. I found that I was fascinated by asking questions and then designing experiments to get answers. And the answers always led to new questions and I knew I wanted to continue with biological research, mainly field based. I never looked back.

Which is your relation to terrestrial/limnological field based research?

During my time as a scientist I have worked with questions concerning insect pests and biological diversity in agricultural and forest systems. It is absolutely necessary to be in the field if one wants to understand the complex interactions found in biological systems.

Why are research infrastructures of importance today?

We would very much like to be able to predict the future. Ecologists have learned that long data series with observations/measurements from the same locality are extremely valuable when trying to understand biological processes. Many research projects are of a short duration and to counteract the negative aspects of this research infrastructure is important. A short project can be performed in a place that has a “history”. Today, it is also important for scientists to participate within research infrastructures because it is impossible for one scientist to master all the techniques in measurements and database usage necessary to address the complex research questions we much ask. Two phrases can describe the value of field infrastructure: long term information and access to expert competence.

In what way do you hope to contribute to SITES organization?

I have been involved in leadership aspects of many different kinds of organizations and have learned a lot. Clear and systematic leadership plus open communication lines are almost always important for a well-functioning group. It is also important that decisions are effected as soon as possible so that the members of the organization have confidence in the leadership. I believe that I will be able to use my experience from other organizations for the benefit of SITES.

Apart from Barbara the following members are part of SITES steering group until February 2021:
Anders Hedenström, Lunds universitet
Hanna Silvennoinen, Norsk institutt for bioökonomi
Johan Bergh, Linnéuniversitetet
Mari Källersjö, Göteborgs botaniska trädgård
Mikkel P. Tamstorf, Aarhus universitet
Sebastian Diehl, Umeå universitet

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On 17-18 April, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) workshop was held in collaboration between SITES and the Ljungberg Laboratory at SLU in Umeå. The workshop was open to anyone who was interested in drones but focused primarily on those who had already started using drones in their daily operations.

During Tuesday, nearly 25 people participated and there was a mix between researchers and technicians / station staff. Tuesday was aimed at theory and began with representatives from the Department of Forestry Resource Management presenting their projects where they used UAV. This was followed by a review of what to think about when collecting data with drones. The afternoon was mainly about reference data and calibration to increase the accuracy of data collection.

Wednesday was spent in the Ljungberg Laboratory where we did post processing exercises in the Agisoft Photoscan program.
Post processing of images taken with camera on drones in the Agisoft Photoscan program.
Post processing of images taken with camera on drones in the Agisoft Photoscan program.
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