What is hiding in mountain roadsides?

5 years later, we are getting ready for a re-survey of our longterm observational plots along the roads in the Norwegian mountains. The perfect moment to summarize for a second what we learned from our first trip.

View on the valley of the Abiskojokka
Autumn in the Arctic mountains, the setting for our research. All pictures from the previous campaign in 2012.

Mountains are increasingly important islands of pristine nature in our rapidly changing world. They contain some of the most diverse biodiversity hotspots in the world, have a high aesthetic value and their conservation is important even from an economic viewpoint.


For now, alpine ecosystems are among the least disturbed ecosystems in the world. However, climate change and increasing levels of human influence are rapidly changing the face of our mountain nature. A clear example of this human influence is given by the building of roads in mountains, which does not only physically disturb the alpine vegetation, yet also initiates an avalanche of consecutive effects on the mountain ecosystem.

View on Abisko village

With our long-term observational project, we study the reaction of the alpine vegetation to such mountain roads. One lonely road to the top often marks the beginning of an intensive process of disturbance, as it creates access for both tourists and industry. It is well known that roadsides change the ecosystem in all its facets and that they cut the core of undisturbed vegetation in smaller, devaluated pieces.


Perhaps surprisingly, roadsides in the subarctic mountain system host a HIGHER plant diversity, as can be seen on the following graph. A counter-intuitive result, at first sight, as you might not have expected any positive effect of such a radical disturbance on nature.

 Graph native richness

However, before we all start celebrating this positive outcome, we should have a closer look at the processes that explain this higher species richness. I already highlighted the completely different growing conditions in roadsides. Apparently, these conditions are ideal for a lot of species that normally do not get a chance in the natural system.

In our system, this sudden opportunity for so many species results from the clear negative effect of the roads on the most important plant species in the Scandinavian mountains: mosses and crowberries. Together with a few other berry species, they create an  uninterrupted, dense understory. This dense mattress effectively blocks all germination chances for virtually all other species. The crowberries use an even more vicious trick: they produce chemical compounds that actively limit germination chances of their competitors for space. Consequently, the normal, undisturbed ‘climax’ vegetation in the subarctic mountains often hosts only a meager ten species, the others are all efficiently outcompeted.

Crowberry - Empetrum nigrum


When humans start building roads in these systems, the dense cover of mosses and berries is destroyed. The natural vegetation disappears and the remaining bare soil creates magnificent opportunities for new seedlings of so many species that would otherwise stand no chance at all.

Road in the autumn

So, the loss of the insuperable bully leaves the playground free for all other plants to flourish. This gives a higher diversity, although the resulting vegetation is completely different from the one occurring naturally in the mountains.

But there will be more. It is not only the basic species richness that changes in the roadsides, but the disturbance causes a whole sequence of other effects. More about those in a next post.

More? Visit my website at lembrechtsjonas.wordpress.com.

5 years later

Summer 2012. I was a young masters student, spending my first month of many above the polar circle. I joined a global consortium called MIREN, the Mountain Invasion Research Network, that surveyed plant invasions along roads in mountain regions scattered across the globe.

Eriophorum vaginatum – pictures from our 2012 campaign

With 3 roads in the north of Norway, close to Narvik, we added the northernmost sample sites to this expanding network. With its short summers, freezing winters, yet surprisingly versatile plant species, the Northern Scandes promised to be very interesting.

One of our Norwegian roads in early summer

The unfortunately cold Nordic summer of 2012 was spent surveying these roads, monitoring all plant species that grew in the roadside or the adjacent natural vegetation, with the aim to initiate a long-term monitoring project of the movement of the plant species.

The study area in northern Norway

We are now in the year 2017, five years after this memorable first survey. Time to bring a new team together, with one ambitious goal: return to exactly the same plots that were first surveyed in the summer of 2012, and investigate in detail what happens to the species on the move. A challenge made possible thanks to the INTERACT Transnational Access program.

Midnight sun above lake Torneträsk, Sweden

In a series of posts, we will first cover what came out of the first survey, followed by the fieldwork adventures we encounter on our new mission. Stay tuned, because this will be our most exciting summer of the century (or, well, at least the last 5 years of it…).


More on this and many other topics covered in my PhD on my personal website.


Yet another work trip took place last week, when I represented INTERACT at the EGU2017 meeting in Vienna. The meeting was by far the biggest science event I’ve ever been to, below you can find some impressive statistics about the event, obtained from the congress webpages:

The meeting had 14 496 attendants from 107 countries with 4849 oral and 11 312 poster and 1238 PICO presentations. The programme of the week consisted from 649 scientific sessions, 88 short courses and 322 side events. No wonder a person like me from a small northern community was feeling a bit overwhelmed at times from the sheer magnitude of the event.

Once I got over my astonishment on the first day of the event, I greatly enjoyed working at the ENVRI+ booth, where INTERACT was represented as one of the infrastructures, and meeting hundreds and hundreds of people to whom tell about our project and the possibilities related to Transnational Access.


In addition, we had our very first face-to-face TA User Community meeting as a side event of the congress. We did not perhaps have the biggest amount of people attending the meeting, but however had a great atmosphere at the meeting, sharing information on each other’s work and developing new ideas and collaborations. Also, many of our TA Users came to say hello to me at the booth -it was absolutely fantastic to finally meet the people with whom I’ve been exchanging numerous e-mails and but never met in real life!

The place of our next TA User Community meeting is yet to be decided. As I feel that our Community members should have a say in which event it would be best to meet, there’s likely going to be a poll arranged to vote for the most popular option. Stay tuned and join our INTERACT TA Users FB group that will be launched next week to cast your vote!

Until the next time,


Start of the TA User Community

Today afternoon and next week will see the birth of a brand new activity in INTERACT, the Transnational Access User Community. The idea is to bring together our old, new and potential TA Users to facilitate collaboration and exchange of information and knowledge. So far, we have already had more than 500 scientists visiting the INTERACT stations with the support from Transnational Access, and there will be more than 100 scientists only this summer. This means that the new community is not a small one, and it will have a lot of potential for networking and sharing ideas among the scientists. The community can also serve as a forum for knowledge exchange across scientific domains and disciplines and between the stations and scientists interested in conducting research at them.


The planned activities include several TA Community meetings -both face-to-face and on-line- workshops and webinars, a Facebook group for TA Users and stations, and continuation of the Arctic Research Blogs. Other activities can of course be included -ideas and feedback are warmly welcome from the TA Users!

The launch of the TA User Community takes place today, when we hold our very first webinar to the scientists who will have support from Transnational Access during the next summer and winter field seasons. Actually the webinar has been so popular, that we had to divide it into two parts not to exceed the capacity of our on-line meeting system –it’s fantastic to have such interest from our TA Users for these gatherings, and hopefully they prove to be very useful ones!

Next week, the TA User Community events continue at one of the major science conferences, EGU2017, that takes place in Vienna on 23-28 April. INTERACT will attend the congress with two activities: a stand jointly with ENVRI+ project for the whole week (places 2&3 of the exhibition area), and a TA User Community meeting on 25th April at 10:30-12:00 in room 0.16.

The TA User Community meeting on the 25th April will provide information on INTERACT and Transnational Access in general, present selected stations available for TA, and highlight some of our previous and new TA User Projects.

If you are attending EGU2017, come and meet us by the booth or at the TA User Community meeting. Looking forward to meeting many of you in Vienna!


The Arctic goes central Europe

In this case it went to Prague in Czech Republic for the Arctic Science Summit Week 2017. The whole week was devoted to meetings of different arctic-focused science organizations and initiatives, followed by a four-day scientific congress.

INTERACT was represented by several people at different occasions during the week. Our Coordinator Margareta Johansson gave an excellent presentation about INTERACT at the EU-PolarNet General Assembly that gathered together a full room of people interested in arctic research and projects. My to-do-list during the week included a presentation about Transnational Access at the APECS young scientists’ workshop, and presentations about SAON Committee on Observations and Networks (SAON CON) and GEO Cold Regions Initiative (GEOCRI) -in which I represent INTERACT- at various meetings. I also attended the meeting of the European Polar Board (EPB) as the alternate representative of my home university, University of Oulu.

The highlight of the week took place on the first day of the scientific program, when the Science Coordinator of INTERACT, prof. Terry Callaghan, received the IASC Medal for his outstanding contribution to arctic science and collaboration. The award statement described: “Many scientists realize the value of networking, but it takes a fiery spirit like Prof. Callaghan’s to make it happen”.  I could not agree more with this statement, as I have huge respect to Terry’s scientific career extending over 50 years, and to his fantastic achievements and leadership in arctic research.

  Another highlight for us northerners was the central European weather. When we arrived to Prague it was well above +20 degrees Celcius, the grass was green and leaves were bursting out on the trees. For us it felt like summer! We of course love our arctic environment and climate, but leaving home from temperatures of -14 degrees and snow piles everywhere, it was a pleasant surprise to get a kick-start to summer!

Now I am already back at my office at Oulu, feeling still a bit exhausted after the intensive week in Prague. New travels and INTERACT events are waiting just around the corner during the last week of April, when I’ll attend the EGU2017 in Vienna! More about that next time!


Beginning of a new era

The second phase of INTERACT started in Iceland with our kick-off meeting in the end of January. The participants were plenty and it was wonderful to greet many of the old INTERACT friends and to welcome many new ones, now that the size of the consortium has doubled in comparison to our previous funding period.    wp_20170125_003

Iceland was an ideal place for the meeting due to its location half-way between North-America and Eurasia. Despite the long days at the meeting, we also got to see a bit of this magnificent island during a half-day excursion around the Reykjanes peninsula. We also got a change to learn more about our host institution, the Sudurnes Science and Learning Centre that offers excellent facilities for research in ornithology and marine biology.

wp_20170126_004Another activity that has started with the new funding period is of course transnational access. Our TA call that was open at the end of last year attracted a record number of applications that are now being evaluated by the TA Selection Board. The access decisions are out by the first week of March, and after that we are ready to kick-off the field season of 2017 –hopefully also with many new arctic research blogs.

We also have some brand new activities starting up in March and in April… more about those in the next blog posting!

Until the next time,


The second phase of INTERACT


It has been ages since I wrote here last time, but now I am glad to say that we are back: the second phase of INTERACT received funding from EU H2020 and we are back at many levels and with several different activities. More about those later on.

In this post, I wanted to highlight that we have now again opened for the super-popular Transnational Access call. The call is open until 18th December, and it is for projects taking place between March 2017 and April 2018, so it includes both summer season and the winter season after that. This time, 43 terrestrial research stations located in the arctic, northern alpine and forest areas in Europe, Russia and North-America offer Transnational Access. The sites represent a variety of glacier, mountain, tundra, boreal forest, peatland and freshwater ecosystems, providing opportunities for researchers from natural sciences to human dimension.

The access available to the stations in the call includes two modalities -physical access and remote access.The traditional physical Transnational Access means, that the scientists can go and conduct their study at the station free of charge, including the use of station facilities, and travel and logistic costs related to the study. What a fantastic opportunity! The Remote Access means that the researcher does not visit the station by himself, but instead the station staff helps in conducting the study according to the research plan. In the current call, it’s possible to apply both physical and remote access, and some stations offer both.

We hope for many good and scientifically high-quality applications for access from scientists around the world. To find out more about the call visit the TA Call webpages, learn more about the station facilities and register to the on-line application system.

Seize the opportunity and apply for INTERACT Transnational Access to conduct studies at the coolest places on the Earth!

More next time,



Positive progress

Despite of the dark and gloomy weather here at Oulu (as always this time of the year), the past weeks have been very positive with several nice occasions.

Firstly, in mid-October we travelled to the Arctic Circle assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland. There, our joint effort of the past year-and-a-half, a highly illustrated popular science book INTERACT Stories of Arctic Science, was published and 300 copies of the book were distributed to the participants of the assembly. What a great event, and I am so happy and proud of the book which illustrates the fantastic work conducted by the scientists with support from INTERACT Transnational Access during the past years!

Secondly, last week we went to Poland to attend the Annual Consortium Meeting. The event was held at the most beautiful place at Jablonna Palace, a carefully renovated building from the 18th century, which nowadays serves as a congress centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The surrounding park was just as astonishing as the palace itself, with big majestic trees in variety of autumn colors. It was the most inspiring place to have a meeting, and we left invigorated and eager to continue working for the future of INTERACT.

WP_20151103_007WP_20151103_022 WP_20151103_018
The rest of the year looks rather busy. We’ll start preparing a new application to Horizon2020, and in addition continue collaboration in organizing some major science events that will take place next year –the first one will be the Fulbright Arctic Symposium on February 11th 2016 here at Oulu. But more about those later on!

Until the next time!

Endless (summer) rain

This summer it has not felt bad to sit in the office behind the computer and work. More so, I have felt sympathy towards the people who are supposed to enjoy their summer holidays because that has been really difficult this “summer”. First of all, because it has been so cold. Secondly, because it has been so rainy that it makes being outdoors if not impossible, at least very unpleasant. And did I mention miserable already?

To fully understand this desperation, one must know something about the relationship between the Finnish people and summer. We endure the long, dark, cold winter by anticipating the summer. Short but light and (supposedly) warm summer. The summer for Finnish people is usually packed with high expectations and dreams of outdoor barbecues, swimming in the lake after sauna, enjoying the midnight sun, going to concerts and all kind of peculiar *summer events that only exist in Finland. And then strikes the reality… +10 degrees, pouring rain, cold wind…finding your vision about the perfect summer holiday completely shattered. Cannot get much more depressing than that.

Except this summer I decided to change my attitude. I ditched the dreaming of the endless summer early on, and instead chose a different thought pattern. Not worrying about the sun burns, getting new summer clothes, or using notable amounts of money to entrance fees to concerts and outdoor summer events. Instead, I’ve invested in a new umbrella and enjoyed quiet walks under it (hardly anyone else is outside this weather), visiting the library and reading books evening after evening, establishing an at-home yoga studio and making plans to visit museums and galleries. This shift of attitude has worked quite well until now but let’s see what happens when my summer holiday starts next week and my new strategy is put into real test.

View from my office window in summer 2012. Looks exactly the same now -if not rainier!
Luckily, a work trip to Italy provided a possibility to enjoy some summer weather conditions.
Luckily, a work trip to Italy provided a possibility to enjoy some summer weather conditions.

In the work front, the past months have been much sunnier than the weather here. Work trips to meetings and conferences have taken me to Japan (sunny), Italy (very sunny) and Denmark (not so sunny). While at the office, much of my time has been devoted on editing of a popular science book highlighting the research conducted with support from INTERACT Transnational Access. It’s all very exciting and I cannot wait the book launch later this year. But more about that and the end result of my anti-sun/pro-rain campaign next time!


*Some examples of these special summer events include Wife Carrying World Championships, Swamp Soccer World Championships, Air Guitar World Championships, and the Evening of Pessimism.

The Anti-Arctic

When the arctic is covered in snow, we turn our scientific interests to the other side of the world: the (sub)antarctic. Our goal is to see if the patterns in the vegetation we observe at one part of the globe – the subarctic world of Lapland – hold true at the completely opposite side as well.

Local Nothofagus forest in the snow
Subantarctic Nothofagus forest in the snow

With this idea in mind, we go to the city of Punta Arenas, on the absolute southernmost point of the American continent. There we study the possibilities of exotic plant invasion in extreme environments. With these trips to the south we hope to come up with a comparison of the limits for common Western European weeds on this far away location with what we know and learn in Northern Scandinavia.

Flowers of invading red clover in South America
Flowers of invading red clover in South America

Our last field trip has been in April, when summer on the southern hemisphere disappeared and made way for snowy autumn storms. This intermediate season presented us with true roller-coaster weather, with freezing lows and icy storms right before the clearest blue skies.

Our high elevation plots covered in unexpected early autumn snow
Our high elevation plots covered in unexpected early autumn snow

The results of this last trip to the south look very promising at first sight. The climatic gradient in the mountains around the city of Punta Arenas turns out to be a pretty drastic one. In the city itself, the ocean buffers temperatures and weather is cold but mild, in fact more a borderline temperate climate than a true subantarctic one.

Huge invasive red clover after harvest
Huge invasive red clover after harvest

The nonnative European species, like the well-known dandelion and white and red clover, profit from these mild circumstances and flourish sometimes even more than in their native range!

Large clover leave
Large clover leave

Several hundred meters above the city, however, you arrive in a different place. The howling winds that already torture the city of Punta Arenas all year round, can blow even more freely up here, and temperatures drop to zero almost every night during the whole summer season. This environment feels much more like Antarctica, the icy continent that is so close-by.

Antarctic feel on top of the mountain
Antarctic feel on top of the mountain

Plants see their growing season reduced to less than half of the months they have at sea level. The negative effects on plant performance are inevitable. Where the nonnative species seemed to be unimpressed by the climate within the safe boundaries of the city, their survival and growth is reduced to virtually zero on the highest elevations.

A little mouse that did not seem to mind the extreme circumstances
A little mouse that does not seem to mind the extreme climatic circumstances on top of the mountains

Interestingly, the interactions of our invaders with the established vegetation seem to change as fast as the weather. However, we have to dig in the data first to get those patterns clear. Hopefully soon more news about that!


And afterwards, it is back to the Arctic, where summer is finally on its way again!

Click here for more information about my research on top of the world.