2022 > 02

In 2018 researchers from Sweden and Germany used the SITES AquaNET mesocosm infrastructure to participate in a global mesocosm experiment on salinization led by scientists from the University of Toledo in the US and Queen's University in Canada. The overall aim of the project was to study how the increasing salt concentration in lakes observed in many parts of the world resulting from human activities (e.g. road deicing, mining, agriculture) and increasing droughts and water scarcity affect life in freshwater ecosystems. In the project, mesocosm experiments were implemented in 16 locations in North America and Europe, including 3 SITES AquaNet lakes (Erken, Feresjön, and Stortjärn) where a salinity gradient was manipulated and the effects on plankton communities studied.

Sampling was conducted in mesocosms set-ups in three lakes that are a part of the SITES research infrastructure Photo: Andreas Palmén.

This week results of the global experiment were published in PNAS showing that zooplankton communities are in many cases sensitive to salinity concentrations below the thresholds set by current water quality guidelines used in North America and the EU. These guidelines are meant to protect freshwater organisms, but the thresholds appear to be too high to keep all trophic levels safe from salinization. The loss of zooplankton triggered a cascading effect causing an increase in phytoplankton biomass at almost half of the study sites. Higher phytoplankton biomass has the potential to alter lake ecosystems services, namely providing high-quality drinking water, recreational opportunities, and productive fisheries. The experimental results demonstrate that new thresholds need to be considered at local and regional scales to protect freshwater organisms from the harmful impacts of salinization.

You can find the publication here: Current water quality guidelines across North America and Europe do not protect lakes from salinization

and a second paper from the Global Salt Initiative here: Lake salinization drives consistent losses of zooplankton abundance and diversity across coordinated mesocosm experiments

and the swedish press release here:
Salta eller inte salta mot halka - en fråga om miljöpåverkan

New organic experimental field

SITES Lönnstorp will start the process of converting 10 ha of farmland to an organic experimental field this year. SITES Lönnstorp will manage this field and we hope that it will be available for organic experiments as soon as next year. The field will be visible from the road leading to Campus Alnarp (see map below) and we think that the location close to campus will help to attract interesting experiments. We expect that this visible location will also help to promote the facilities and infrastructure to students, researchers, companies, and the wider public.   

The new organic experimental field is shown in red. Map: Lantmäteriet orthophoto 2020

New irrigation facilities
The Landscape Architecture, Horticulture and Crop Production Science (LTV) faculty, together with SITES Lönnstorp, will invest in two new irrigation facilities for agricultural and horticultural research. One of the irrigation facilities will be located at SITES Lönnstorp research station and the other one will be located near the new organic field described above. These irrigation facilities will enhance the conditions for conducting relevant and interesting sustainable agricultural research at SITES Lönnstorp. We hope that these facilities will be ready to use for the 2023 growing season.
New experimental infrastructure
The DiverIMPACTS project at SITES Lönnstorp will end this spring. Within this project, two organic crop rotations have been established. SITES Lönnstorp has decided to continue the crop rotations through 2022 and add them to the SITES infrastructure since their continuation will generate interesting and important agricultural data. The infrastructure will be open to anyone as long as SITES continues to finance it. We also plan to upload data from the infrastructure to the SITES data portal.

Are you interested in leading and further developing Sweden’s national infrastructure for ecosystem research?

The Swedish Infrastructure for Ecosystem Science (SITES) consists of nine research stations distributed across Sweden and is focused on promoting long-term field-based terrestrial and limnological ecosystem research. The infrastructure capabilities include access to field stations and local expertise for Swedish and international researchers and making data openly available. The director is the front figure of the infrastructure and will lead the development into the new funding phase from 2023 onwards, helping it to further develop and maintain its excellence. Candidates should have experience in ecosystem science and as a leader of large-scale collaborative projects, preferably involving field stations or other research infrastructures. In addition, the ability to use larger perspectives and to build connections within SITES and with outside collaborators is highly valued. The position can be combined well with your individual research pursuits. For more information about the infrastructure, you are welcome to visit the SITES website:

The application and a detailed description of the position and required qualifications are provided on SLU´s website and can be found under the following link: SITES director.

A birdseye view of the walkway over the lake-wetland transition area at Skogaryd Research Station.

Lifeplan is a global research effort aimed at mapping biodiversity around the planet in a systematic way. It will run for six years and involves more than 100 locations around the globe. Five different kinds of data are collected; soil, spores, insects, audio for bird and bat recognition, and camera images. Here at Asa Research Station we have had equipment up and running for nearly a year now and it is working well. The research area is a one-hectare square plot with natural vegetation (forest). Wildlife cameras and audio recorders are placed in each corner as well as in the middle of the plot, where a cyclone sampler for collecting spores and a malaise trap for collecting insects are also located. Sampling is done weekly and depending on the type of sample collected, continues throughout the year. Some of the samples will be analyzed using DNA-sequencing and Big Data analysis.

Red fox. Vulpes vulpes. (Photo by Erik Kristensen.)

The cameras are set to respond to passive infrared motion up to a distance of about 20 meters. We have collected quite a few images of animals so far. Mainly mammals but also a few birds. In some images, there are no visible animals, but these images will be analyzed using computerized recognition technology, hopefully revealing critters not detected by human eyes. Below are some examples of images we collected from last summer.

Fallow deer. Dama dama. (Photo by Erik Kristensen.)
Elk. Alces alces. (Photo by Erik Kristensen.)

Röbäcksdalen research station is a bit different from the other SITES stations. It is a managed ecosystem that produces biomass, which feeds the animals on the station’s farm. The farm has a crop rotation that is typical for northern Sweden, with leys of grass and clover, barley, pasture, and some additional pea/oat mixtures and fallow fields. The annual output from this ecosystem varies with many things including; winter survival of perennial crops, temperature and rainfall during the vegetation season, and much more.

The seasonal output from the fields in 2021 was reflective of a cold spring, a moderate summer, and a rainy fall. The cold spring should have resulted in a harvest of high-quality forage for the cows. The grass grows well at quite low temperatures, but will not mature until the temperature increases, hence a cool spring is preferable from a forage quality point of view. The result turned out to be quite moderate, though. At the end of May, the average temperature was below 10 °C. However, during the last week before harvest, the temperature increased significantly to an average of around 16 °C. Consequently, the quality of the grass decreased quite significantly in a very short time.

Grass harvest at Röbäcksdalen 2021. Photo by Reija Danielsson

Unlike other field stations that can only offer small-plot fields for studies, the size of the fields at Röbäcksdalen makes them suitable for satellite use. Everything done in the fields is documented and the plan is to publish all data, ranging from management activities to resulting forage quality in the SITES database. These activities are all a part of the station’s SMURF project which is an important tool for researchers working to develop management tools for the farming community. Growth models and remote sensing tools are considered the way forward in developing decision support tools for a sustainable farming community, but these studies need on-site information, like the data collected in SMURF, to be useful.

Barley harvest at Röbäcksdalen 2021. Photo by Reija Danielsson

Many of the research questions related to forage production are also relevant for grain production, and at Röbäcksdalen this research is focused on barley. Using annual crops in the crop rotation is important for decreasing the number of weeds in the system, and grain is also an important feed component for highly productive dairy cows. Collaboration with the local entrepreneurs offers interesting data collection from our fields. One example is how the harvester can measure grain production from the fields. This is an important tool to manage the fields and to detect issues e.g. with drainage. 

The grain harvester measures how the yield varies in the fields. Red is low, blue is high yield. The grain harvester measures how the yield varies in the fields. Red is low, blue is high yield.

The total amount of grass silage from the different harvests in 2021 was almost 2 400 tons of dry matter. In comparison, the 2020 harvest only resulted in 1 800 tons, since a lot of the leys were killed during winter that year. The barley harvest averaged 3 700 kg dry matter/hectare, yielding around 320 000 kg in total. In addition to the productivity of the fields, researchers at Röbäcksdalen are also measuring other ecosystem services provided by the farm. In summer 2021 staff at the station started measuring insects and spores in and around fields as part of the biodiversity project LifePlan. The farm is also part of a bird feeding initiative, where the aim is to establish special fields where cranes and other migrating birds can eat their fill without destroying the output of the farms. Stay tuned for more news about these initiatives in the future.

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