Fieldwork night

PhD candidate Jan is currently representing the team in the high north. Tonight: spectacular yet lonely dinner-with-a-view in the waffle house on top of Låktatjåkko mountain, cosely tucked away from the windy 2°C that rules outside. The coronavirus has made him the only customer brave enough to face the top of the world tonight, but that doesn’t make the views any less breath-taking.

View from Låktatjåkko’s waffle house on an autumn evening. This cosy place at the end of a 800 meter climb is highly recommended for anyone visiting the Abisko area in northern Sweden.

The tough conditions outside are compensated by the good news from the plots: many germinated seeds in the experiments, and all in good condition, the occassional tree falling into the plot aside. Looking forward to the results coming in!

Microclimate logger braving the alpine tundra
Tough little seedling!
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The 3D lab waves goodbye to another master student, with Sam having defended his thesis last week.

Sam travelled to the northern Scandes to study the drivers of plant community composition, and brought home some fascinating findings: while plant species turnover is mostly driven by climate, community structure is largely determined by soil conditions, such as the pH. That means: same diversity, different species in plots with the same acidity at different elevations.

Moreover, he dug up some proof for the existance of microrefugia: cold microclimates at the lower limit of alpine species distributions, where they can survive in a warming climate.

With that, we again lost a team member, but gained more knowledge!

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The best moment of the season to visit Flanders’ heathlands

Finally got another field day again – they really are scarce and far between nowadays. But what a field day it was: heading back to Flanders’ most beautiful heathland to harvest our temperature loggers we have been hiding there for a year.


Minuscule logger, 1 cm in diameter, yet I found it back under the tree where I hid it over a year ago!

This little bit of fieldwork – not much more than criss-crossing through forests, heathlands and dunes on a search for tiewraps sticking out of the soil – provides invaluable data for three big projects we are working on.


Another logger dug up, right at the root where it was supposed to be

First of all, the plots are part of the global Dark Diversity Network, a network with a somber name, yet focussing on an important part of biodiversity: that what is NOT growing there. More here.


A lonely pine seedling on a sandy dune. What is not growing at a location can give us as much information on biodiversity as what is there.

Secondly, the soil temperature will obviously feed into our growing global microclimate database, providing another 20 droplets in a sea of over twelve thousand. More here!


Stormy skies with autumn setting in

Finally, the data will become part of our community science project ‘CurieuzeNeuzen’, that will ask people from across Flanders to install microclimate loggers in their gardens. With the data collected in this heathland – together with other forest, agricultural and meadow-sites, we will be able to model the microclimate in all Flanders’ habitat types with an unprecedented resolution. More here.


How does vegetation and human structure alter the microclimate? With our dense network of microclimate loggers across Flanders, we will be able to answer this question!


Fabulous colours in this swampy heathland

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Another exciting package in the mail this week, and it’s this precious little soil DNA kit:


The DNA kit next to our ‘garden mushroom’, measuring the microclimate

I am testing this kit for a new project we are working on, together with Fiels4Ever, an initiative looking at the health of agricultural soils across the globe.

Soil health is best expressed through the diversity of microscopic organisms living in them, as this diversity is crucial to get your ecosystems to function. Agricultural fields, and our gardens for that matter, often host a much deprived soil microbial community. We want to know how bad it is.


The tiny things creeping and crawling through this soil will play a huge role in defining how good next years’ harvest is going to be

Thanks to SoilTemp, we have a global network of soil microclimate loggers. This provides perfect opportunity to collect the necessary background data on local climate conditions that Fields4Ever needs to run their health checks.

So we’ll scoop up some soil, send it back to our partners, and get a full overview of all (bacteria and fungi, that is) what is living in it. Cool, right?

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Weed of the month: Sweetbriar Rose (Rosa rubiginosa)

The sweetbriar rose isn’t as sweet as its name suggests. In the Argentinean Andes, it creates impenetrable thickets of torns and branches, transforming the valleys into veritable shrubberies.

Guestpost by Ana Clara Mazzolari for


Sweetbriar rose, or rosa mosqueta in Spanish (Rosa rubiginosa) is an erect, scrambling, deciduous shrub of variable height (up to 3 m). The stems have numerous curved thorns and present small clusters of pink flowers. This species is native to Europe and Asia, and was introduced to Argentina at the beginning of the twentieth century. Nowadays, sweetbriar rose is invading several natural environments of Argentina.

This species was introduced intentionally, as it is valued by gardeners because of its ornamental properties and for its sweet, apple-like fragrance. In addition, rosehips and seeds are rich in vitamin C and their essential oils are used for cosmetic purposes. In some places of Argentina, for example in Patagonia, R. rubiginosa is already accepted as part of the local flora and its rosehips and seeds are harvested for private use or by small producers.

However, this species can be very problematic when it colonizes natural environments. In the central Andes of Argentina, in Mendoza province, R. rubiginosa occupies large areas, generating monospecific thickets that preclude recreational use, and limit the access to streams and other water courses. The invasion occurs along valleys, where soil moisture and nutrients are greater than at higher surrounding sites. The sites more vulnerable to the invasion are water courses, which represent environments of high conservation value in these semi-arid systems.

The high success of sweetbriar rose can be attributed to its great versatility in their reproductive system. This species is capable of producing fruits by pollination and apomixes, and is able to reproduce clonally via roots. Given this broad range of reproductive strategies to produce fruits and seeds, it is likely to colonize new areas through dispersal vectors, such as birds or large mammals. This is why its management requires, besides reducing the number of plants in the invaded area, an intensive monitoring to prevent new invasion foci.

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The Krkonoše Mountains


Montane road in the Krkonoše Mountains in the Czech Republic

Lush green fields, pine forests and flower-rich alpine grasslands: our belowground project will go to the Czech Republic!


The Krkonoše Mountains lie in the northern part of the Czech Republic, on the border with Poland

After sampling soils, roots, plants and microclimates in Argentina, Chile, Norway, Sweden and Tenerife, the Czech MIREN team will now also join in and execute our detailed sampling protocol along their mountain road in the Krkonoše Mountains.


Road verges in the alpine tundra

Another great regional dataset will thus soon be added to the list, to help us answer detailed questions on the effects of mountain roads on belowground conditions, and how that impacts the local vegetation.

Looking forward to see their data coming in!

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