Johan Olofsson

Fingerprints of change: Abisko plants and phenology

Nuoja taken from the Abisko Scientific Research Station. Top: taken on 21 February 1925 by Carl G. Alm; Bottom: taken on 21 February 2017 by Oliver Wright

Nuoja taken from the Abisko Scientific Research Station. Top: taken on 21 February 1925 by Carl G. Alm; Bottom: taken on 21 February 2017 by Oliver Wright

Project Description

A major challenge for our time is to understand and predict effects of climate and environmental change on ecosystems and the services they provide to humanity. A larger and possibly more important challenge is to establish the significance of these processes to motivate citizens to change behaviours and to support policy and decision makers in developing adaptation, mitigation and management solutions. One recognized way to find solutions to this challenge is to engage the public directly in our science through ‘citizen science’.

Citizen science transcends regular communication initiatives. In citizen science, participants are actively engaged in the research process that the scientists communicate. This engagement by citizens in the scientific process leads to a deeper understanding of the causes and consequences of climate and environmental change beyond what they would gain via the typical diffusion of scientific knowledge. In this project, we collaborate with the naturum Abisko to engage citizens and visitors of the Swedish mountains to become ‘citizen scientists’.

Our citizen science project focuses on the much beloved signs of seasonal change – the emergence of leaves in the spring, start of flowering, when berries are ripe for picking, and autumn leaf colours. Researchers refer to these seasonal changes as plant phenology or the study of nature’s “calendar”. Thanks to the strong links between plants, weather and climate, phenology represents one of the most common biological indicators of climate change showing trends, with earlier spring flowering and longer growing season. These indicators allow researchers to analyse regional differences in the effects of climate change.

Pedicularis hirsuta

Pedicularis hirsuta

However, collecting phenology data on a sufficient geographic scale and over many years is a fundamental obstacle. Today, historical and volunteer data in the form of citizen science have become crucial sources for scientists in the 21st century, including plant phenology data. We have established such a citizen scientist opportunity for the thousands of annual visitors to the Abisko and the Sweidsh mountains.

The naturum Abisko provides a variety of visitor and education programs, including botanical tours. Here we collaborate with them to integrate phenology monitoring into their botanical tours using the citizen science app iNaturalist and Fjällkalendern. These efforts meets our two objectives, of actively engaging citizens to observe the indicators of climate and environmental change that they might otherwise fail to notice, while gathering phenology data for fundamental research.

Get engaged - Learn about plants in Abisko with our flowering lists.

2019 Plant Species Flowering Lists


Background

Our project is inspired by the works of a few key botanists who helped put Abisko on the map, Thore C. E. Fries, G. E. Du Rietz, and Gustav Sandberg. They were all botanists at the Abisko Scientific Research Station. Beginning in 1917 we have extensive records of both the distribution and phenology of the plants in this region from repeated surveys, inventories and research projects.

The research station was established in Abisko in 1913 and immediately began collecting a globally unique long-term weather (climate) series for the Arctic. In 1913 the mean annual temperature in Abisko was below 0 C, today it is above 0 C. This means that at the beginning of the temperature record Abisko had an "arctic" climate and today it has a "boreal" climate.

Thore C E Fries

Thore C E Fries

Temp anomaly Abisko.jpg

Further, global warming as largely impacted this region during the autumn, winter and spring. Today the growing season is about four weeks longer than when the temperature records began (1913).

Growing Season.jpg

Our project focuses on understanding how plants have responded to this century of change. We have excellent distribution and phenology data for almost 200 species of plants beginning in 1917.

So how do plants respond to a changing climate? We have four predictions:

  1. plants can change their distribution, typically by moving north or higher up in the mountains if it gets warmer and the reverse if it gets cooler.

  2. plants can change the timing or duration of their phenology, that is when leaves, flowers, fruit, seeds, or leaf colour change (autumn), occurs.

  3. they can do both.

  4. they can persist without successfully reproducing or competing with the eventual outcome of local extinction.


Methods

Our project relies on a citizen science app created for both Android and iOS smart phones called 'iNaturalist'. We have created a specific project where we have identified 40 species of plants that we expect most amateur botanists familiar with the flora of the Swedish mountains can identify. Further these 40 species are found quite broadly from the north to the south of the Swedish mountains.

For people who do not have the taxonomic skills to identify common plants, but can take pictures with their smart phone they can also participate. All observations must contain one or more photos that allow our network of plant experts accurately identify the species. In addition, project staff annotate the phenological state of each observation, typically leaf development, flowering, fruiting and senescence.

Target Species List

Achillea millefolium
Andromeda polifolia
Antennaria alpina
Arctous alpina
Avenella flexuosa
Bartsia alpina
Betula nana ssp. nana
Betula pubescens ssp. pubescens
Bistorta vivipara
Cassiope tetragona
Chamaenerion angustifolium
Dryas octopetala
Empetrum nigrum ssp. hermaphroditum
Geranium sylvaticum
Geum rivale
Gnaphalium norvegicum
Myosotis decumbens
Phyllodoce caerulea
Pinguicula alpina
Pinguicula vulgaris

Potentilla crantzii
Ranunculus nivalis
Rhododendron lapponicum
Rubus arcticus
Rubus chamaemorus
Salix herbacea
Salix reticulata
Saussurea alpina
Saxifraga oppositifolia
Silene acaulis
Silene dioica
Solidago virgaurea ssp. alpestris
Thalictrum alpinum
Tofieldia pusilla
Trientalis europaea
Trollius europaeus
Vaccinium myrtillus
Vaccinium uliginosum ssp. uliginosum
Vaccinium vitis-ideae
Viola biflora

Phyllodoce caerulea

Phyllodoce caerulea

We have created photographic guides to our 40 target species in English, Swedish, and German.


Learn more about our citizen science Project at

 

Project Partners

naturum Abisko
STF Abisko Mountain Station
Abisko Scientific Research Station
Naturens kalender (The Swedish National Phenology Network)

Funders

Formas
Gunnar and Ruth Björkman's fund for botanical research in Norrland

Effect of herbivory and climate on tundra vegetation

Copyright Laurenz Teuber 2011

Copyright Laurenz Teuber 2011

Effect of herbivory and climate on tundra vegetation

Project Summary

Mammalian herbivores like lemmings, voles and reindeer have strong direct and indirect effects on tundra vegetation via consuming plants and thus reducing plant biomass or via addition of urine and droppings and thus indirectly altering soil nutrient cycling. Recent findings reveal that the effects of herbivores on tundra ecosystems are so strong that they can be observed as changes in NDVI on satellite images and herbivores could thus influence plant production, carbon fluxes and albedo even at regional scales. However, the interactive effect of herbivores and climate change, and the mechanistic link between changes in plant community composition or plant traits and changes in NDVI and albedo is poorly known.

We will study the interactive effect of herbivores and climate on plant community composition and plant traits using two long term field experiments in the Fennoscandian tundra. We aim to improve the interpretation of the driving forces behind changes in NDVI observed in satellite images, and clarify the potential of herbivores to influence the climate via changes in the albedo of the tundra.

This project is part of the Nordic Centre of Excellence-Tundra, funded by the Top-level Research Initiative (TRI).

Collaborators

Te Beest Mariska, Umeå University

Effects of altered snow conditions on herbivory in an arctic ecosystem

Copyright Gesche Blume-Wherry 2012

Copyright Gesche Blume-Wherry 2012

Effects of altered snow conditions on herbivory in an arctic ecosystem

Project Summary

By the end of the century, an increase of global average temperatures with 1.4 - 5.8° is predicted as a result from increased greenhouse gas levels in the athmosphere. The climate scenarios for northern latitudes predict not only higher temperatures but also higher precipitation that may even create a greater and prolonged snow cover in some areas. The profound changes in temperature and snow conditions may change plant community composition and ecosystem functioning, and produce positive or negative feedbacks to climate via changes in the carbon cycle. Herbivory is a key process for the function of arctic ecosystems, as herbivores alter plant community composition, plant chemical composition, nutrient cycling, primary production and carbon storage.

The goal of this project is to study how altered snow conditions will affect plant-herbivore interactions in arctic ecosystems. We will thus study herbivory and plant chemical composition in a snow manipulation experiment along a natural gradient in snow cover. A combination of plant chemical analyses and ecological studies of herbivory in the field is essential in order to understand these complex interactions. We can, by running experiments along natural gradients, avoid many weaknesses commonly associated with both experiments and descriptive studies.

Effects of reindeer on plant and soil nutrient stoichiometry in Arctic tundra

Effects of reindeer on plant and soil nutrient stoichiometry in Arctic tundra

Project Summary

Herbivores directly and indirectly influence the structure and function of ecosystems throughout the world. Present conceptual models predict that herbivores have a positive effect on nutrient availability and primary productivity in nutrient rich environments and a negative one in nutrient poor environments. However, a recent meta-analysis did not support a positive relationship between plant nutrient availability and the effect of herbivores on nitrogen cycling in several grassland ecosystems. The reason for the shortcoming of present theories could be that they fail to incorporate the complex interactions regulating the release of nutrients from the soil organic matter by microbial decomposers.

In order to assess this shortcoming, a new stoichiometric explicit model of the nutrition of herbivores, plants and microbes was designed. In contrast to previous models, it includes delayed composition and stoichiometric constraints on decomposers similar to what we find in terrestrial ecosystems.

This project will focus on 1) testing predictions of the model in a reindeer-dominated tundra ecosystem and 2) further developing the model by adding key processes that operate in northern ecosystems (e.g. uptake of organic nutrients by plants, herbivore-mediated changes in plant community composition).

Funding Organizations

The Kempe Foundation

Collaborators

Johan Olofsson, Umeå University
Mehdi Cherif, Umeå University
 

What is a landscape characterized by grazing?

What is a landscape characterized by grazing?- and how is it preserved in a changing climate?

Project Summary

In the environmental quality objective A Magnificent Mountain Landscape, it is stated that the pristine character of the mountain environment must be largely preserved, in terms of biological diversity, recreational value and natural and cultural assets. The reindeer management regime plays a central role in fulfilling these objectives, since almost the entire Swedish mountain landscape is grazed by reindeer. A more general understanding of how the current vegetation is shaped by reindeer grazing, how vegetation change when reindeer is excluded, and how these changes interact with other herbivores and climatic conditions is essential for evaluating how different reindeer management regimes will obtain the specific goals within this objective. The overall aim of this project is thus to investigate how reindeer influence the mountain vegetation in order to determine features of a landscape characterized by grazing, and evaluate how different reindeer management regimes and climate will determine future vegetation patterns and biodiversity. To achieve this we will examine how effects of excluding reindeer on vegetation vary across gradients in reindeer densities and climatic conditions in the Scandinavian mountains, and assess the importance of these findings in relationship to the environmental quality objectives.

Funding Organizations

Naturvårdsverket

Collaborators

Johan Olofsson, Umeå University
Jon Moen, Umeå University
Robert Björk, Gothenberg University