Annika Dahlberg

Annika Dahlberg

Universitetslektor, docent

Visa sidan på svenska
Works at Department of Physical Geography
Telephone 08-674 78 50
Visiting address Svante Arrhenius väg 8
Room T 316
Postal address Inst för naturgeografi 106 91 Stockholm

About me


My research deals with the dynamics of landscapes, where social and ecological processes interact over space and time, and how they have shaped and continuously reshape the landscape and influence human land use. Two broad themes have become increasingly important in my research; the development and application of an interdisciplinary approach and the insights gained from applying a historical perspective on present-day landscape dynamics. In my research I often combine methods from different disciplines, e.g. by making use of aerial photograph interpretation, soil and vegetation mapping, historical documentation, interviews and oral history. I work within the field of environmental geography and much of my research deals with the perceptions and utilisation of landscapes and the natural resources within them. Over the last few years I have become increasingly interested in the issue of conservation and how this relates to other interests and demands on the environment, such as natural resource use by local communities. Most of my research has so far been conducted in Southern Africa, but I am now also involved in research in Sweden. Here I want to bring insights that I have gained in southern Africa in terms of methods used as well as about actual processes of interaction between society and the environment and apply this on Swedish conditions and situations. One aspect of this is to conduct comparative studies between different regions, such as South Africa and Sweden. I believe there is much to be gained by combining lessons learnt from different areas and regions – that often may share many more similarities than we at first suspect.


I am involved in a couple of research programmes in collaboration with researchers from other universities and disciplines. One deals with the social and ecological dynamics in the Mkuze wetlands, South Africa; and the other with landscape change and management in Sweden. Apart from these programmes, I am also involved in a study that aims to explore the practice of the right of public access to landscapes and resources. This study will apply a historical and comparative perspective to explore the present day importance of public access to long-term sustainable management of landscapes in a Swedish and Scottish context. Linked to this I am interested in the issue of conservation versus development and how this is played out in a Swedish context. To this end I have supervised a couple of Master studies that have investigated the purpose and role of some of the World Heritage Sites in Sweden.


Although my most of my time now is devoted to research, including supervision of students and PhD students, I also am involved to a limited extent with teaching. This includes lectures for a number of geography and human geography courses where my role usually is to make use of my research experiences and provide the students with examples from an African context and from an interdisciplinary perspective. For the last couple of years I have been heavily involved with the development of parts of a new MSc course, Natural Resource Management, Governance and Globalisation, at the Center for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research at Stockholm university.




A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • Simon L. A. Mwansasu, Lars-Ove Westerberg, Annika Dahlberg.

    Based on the Neo-Malthusian narrative, the Ujamaa villagization program that took place in Tanzania between 1967 and 1974 is alleged to have caused considerable degradation to the mangroves of the Rufiji Delta as people migrated to the Delta and cleared mangroves for rice cultivation. Using population data from the censuses of 1957 to 2012, we have examined the population trend in the Delta and its possible impact on the mangroves. The census period comprises the pre-Ujamaa and post-Ujamaa periods. Analysis of population trends in the South Delta reveals that the Ujamaa villagization program did not instigate migration to the South Delta and that population is decreasing rather than increasing. In the North Delta there was an increase in population possibly associated with the Ujamaa villagization program, but the population increase in neighboring, non-delta areas was considerably larger. The persistent neo-Malthusian narrative of population growth inevitably leading to mangrove degradation in the Rufiji Delta is thus refuted. Contrary to the assumed causes of environmental changes in the Delta, this study has shown that natural dynamics (changes in salinity, erosion and sedimentation) are responsible for the spatial/temporal changes that determines when and where rice is cultivated and when and where mangroves will thrive.

  • Simon L. A. Mwansasu, Lars-Ove Westerberg, Annika Dahlberg.

    To sustain and develop natural resource use, including local food provisioning, is often at odds with ambitions to conserve valuable ecosystems. In the state-owned Rufiji Delta Mangrove forest reserve, Tanzania, the presence of registered villages with land certificates is a source of friction between the government and the Delta communities. We have analysed the government’s conservation ambitions and the local land use situation from a land sparing–land sharing perspective. In addition, we have compared the context of the Rufiji Delta with other case studies where conservation with sustainable development has been tried, to analyse the potential for joint conservation efforts by the Delta communities and the government. Currently, the land use within and in the vicinity of the Rufiji mangroves, constitutes a non-formalised land sharing system. However, the government ambitions are to protect the entire mangrove ecosystem from human activities, i.e. a land sparing approach that cannot be effectuated without massive evictions. The government perceives local communities as intruders degrading the mangroves, while the local communities are highly suspicious of the government’s conservation intentions. A narrow ecosystem approachto conservation hinders understanding between the two stakeholders, and may prove to be inadequate to explain and allow for natural ecosystem dynamics. Current Tanzanian participatory approaches towards forest conservation cannot be implemented without being modified to accommodate the specific nature of the Rufiji Delta. Community Based Forest Management is practiced on village land and not applicable to state-owned forests. Joint Forest Management involves local communities in the management of a state forest but people reside outside the forest, which is contrary to the situation in the Rufiji Delta. A new participatory approach that removes land tenure uncertainty must be devised if conservation with sustainable development is to be achieved in the Rufiji Delta. Opportunities for successful conservation will increase by applying a wider landscape approach.

  • 2015. Annika Dahlberg. Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift 69 (4), 207-218

    In order to communicate and act in the world we divide it into categories, with boundaries that define belonging and exclusion. Categories take shape through processes influenced by, for example, history, discourses, ecologies, and power relations. Although we intellectually know that categories are social constructs we tend to treat them as if they have an intrinsic reality of their own when we describe and act in any given landscape. This understanding is explored within a political ecology framework through a case study of protected areas in relation to other land uses in Sweden. The study relies primarily on interviews with actors affected by conservation efforts, and highlights that categories are not neutral phenomenon, but have ecological, material and social effects in the landscape. It discusses how the simplification of a complex and dynamic whole into static categories can result in paradoxes with unexpected and sometimes negative effects on rural development and land care arrangements. The study advocates a more flexible understanding and handling of categories - and thus of landscapes - to enhance the potential for multiple landscape values to exist in overlapping, dynamic and paradoxical ways.

  • 2014. Jan Olof Helldin, Annika Dahlberg. Begagnade landskap – använt, vårdat och värderat, 27-40
  • 2014. Annika Dahlberg. Begagnade landskap – använt, vårdat och värderat, 41-63
  • 2012. Anders Wästfelt (et al.). Geoforum 43 (6), 1171-1181

    Contemporary European agriculture has a number of additional aims beside of food production, such as safeguarding environmental services and conservation values. Substantial efforts at official levels are aimed towards sustainable development but also towards maintaining values ofwhat may be termed vanishing landscapes. Selected areas and landscape features are set aside for protection or restoration. Individual efforts of this type have a long history in Sweden, and the issue has recently received increased attention, primarily due to more ambitious government goals concerning biodiversity conservation and Sweden’s ratification of the European Landscape Convention. This has resulted in an increased scientific and official interest in vanishing values in the rural landscape, where parts of Eastern Europe, such as the Maramures district in Romania, have been used as model examples of land use regimes which in the past was common in Sweden. In this context, the dilemma of romanticizing peasants’ use of land is highlighted and discussed more than has hitherto been done. This paper sheds light on some paradoxes inherent in official policies in relation to land use practices concerning the management of rural landscapes in Sweden, and relates the Swedish situation to a contrasting example of landscape practice in Romania. We discuss the concept of landscape care in relation to the construction and perception of landscape values and valuable landscapes through the lenses of rural realities and official policies. When Swedish authorities engage in the promotion of landscape care, they tend to work with slices of land, specific predefined values and individual farmers, and they often disregard the need to treat the landscape as a socio-ecological complex dynamic in space and time. We discuss how environmental policy generally could be improved through the adoption of a more inclusive and flexible approach towards aiding the different aims inherent in multifunctional rural landscapes.

  • 2012. W. N. Ellery (et al.). Geomorphology 141, 11-20

    This paper examines the geomorphological and sedimentological development of blocked-valley lakes in the Mkuze floodplain on the coastal plain of Maputaland, northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Blocked tributary valley lakes north of the floodplain become progressively shorter, broader, and less linear toward the eastern (downstream) end of the east-west oriented Mkuze floodplain. Clastic sediment forms surface sedimentary fill in tributary valleys in the west, while peat predominates tributary valley fill in the east. Two contrasting adjacent tributary valleys were examined, the more western Yengweni dominated by clastic sediment at the surface, and the more eastern Totweni with peat. The Mkuze floodplain is characterised by silt with a low organic content. Surface sediments fine downstream and with distance from the main channel. Tributary sediment south of the lakes (adjacent to the floodplain) contains little organic material at the surface, but increases with depth. North (upstream) of Yengweni lake, the tributary valley contains peat up to 1.5 m thick, with organic contents up to 30% (generally 10 to 20%). In contrast, north (upstream) of Mpanza lake, peat up to 7 m thick is extensive with high organic contents (typically >60% at the surface but decreasing with depth). The thickness and width of the peat deposits increase longitudinally from the head of the tributary valley toward Mpanza lake. The distribution of clastic and organic sediments illustrates that as aggradation of the Mkuze floodplain progresses, tributary valleys initially fill with sediment from the local tributary catchment, lakes form, there is a phase of peat formation and finally, peat is buried by sediment from the Mkuze floodplain. We hypothesise that peat formation in subtropical and tropical settings through these processes is likely to be an important long-term sink for carbon.

  • 2012. Marie Stenseke (et al.). Resilience and the cultural landscape, 80-94
  • 2010. Annika Dalberg, Rick Rohde, Klas Sandell. Conservation and Society 8 (3), 209-224

    National parks are often places where people have previously lived and worked—they have been formed by a combination of natural and human processes that embody an identifiable history of cultural and political values. Conservation of protected areas is primarily about how we perceive such landscapes, how we place differential values on different landscape components, and who gets to decide on these values. Thus, conservation has been and still is very much about issues of power and environmental justice. This paper analyses the social, political and nvironmental histories of three national park regimes (South Africa, Sweden and Scotland) through the lens of public access rights. We examine the evolving status of access rights—in a broad sense that includes access to land, resources and institutions of governance—as a critical indicator of the extent to which conservation policies and legislation realise the aims of environmental justice in practice. Our case studies illustrate how access rights are contingent on the historical settings and ideological contexts in which the institutions controlling national park management have evolved. Dominant cultural, political and scientific ideologies have given rise to historical precedents and institutional structures that affect the promotion of environmental justice in and around national parks today. In countries where national parks were initially created to preserve perceived ‘wilderness’, with decisions taken by powerful elites and central authorities, this historical legacy has prevented profound change in line with new policy directives. The comparative analysis of national park regimes, where historical trajectories both converge and diverge, was useful in improving our understanding of contemporary issues involving conservation, people and politics.

  • 2008. Annika Dahlberg, Wilhelm Östberg. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 73 (2), 272-274
  • 2006. Annika Dahlberg. Geografiska Notiser 64 (2), 105-118
  • 2005. Annika Dahlberg. Geografisk tidsskrift 105 (1), 43-55

    Competition over natural resources is a complex phenomenon. This is explored through a case study in the Mkuze Wetlands, South Africa, where fibrous plants are important to local women who produce craftwork for the growing tourist market. The tourist industry encourages this, but simultaneously promotes the wetlands as ‘a wilderness untouched by man’. Conservation authorities fear the harvesting of fibrous plants may degrade the wetlands but have to accommodate local as well as tourism interests. The study investigates this complex weave of dependence and conflict, and discusses how efforts at negotiation and co-operation may become more constructive. Present needs play an important role in shaping local conflicts, but so do different interpretations of reality, difficulties in evaluating sustainable use, and international markets and agendas further compound the situation. The results demonstrate the existence of multiple interpretations of the environment, and an unexpected high degree of variability in resource use. Studies aiming to provide a base for sound decisions on the management of resources must take this into account and apply an interdisciplinary approach that includes different theoretical frameworks and empirical data sets, and that acknowledges the value of knowledge systems represented outside academia.

  • 2003. William Ellery (et al.). Journal of Environmental Management 68 (1), 51-71

    Diversion of water has been ongoing in the Mkuze Wetland for several decades. Two canals form the focus of this study; the Mpempe–Demazane Canal and the Tshanetshe Canal. The former involved an ambitious excavation over a distance of 13.5 km in the lower part of the wetland, while the latter was a minor excavation over a distance of approximately 100 m in the upper part of the wetland. Although ambitious and costly, the Mpempe–Demazane Canal resulted in little downward or headward erosion, and there was minor diversion of flow. However, the minor excavation of the Tshanetshe Canal resulted in erosion downstream of the xcavation (the Tshanetshe Stream), downward and lateral erosion of the excavated section, and headward erosion that has propagated almost 4 km upstream along the Mkuze River. Most of the flow of the Mkuze River has been captured by the Tshanetshe Canal and Stream. The impact of canalisation on floodplain wetlands is thus more dependent on the location than the scale of activity. The avulsion of the Mkuze River into the Tshanetshe Canal and Stream is due to a large difference in elevation between the Mkuze River and floodplain into which it was diverted, and the fact that in this region the river typically has high discharges. This avulsion may have been inevitable as a result of natural processes of sedimentation. In contrast, the difference in elevation between the Mkuze River and the basin into which it was diverted via the Mpempe Canal was small as is discharge of the Mkuze River in this part of the wetland. Thus, the diversion was unsuccessful. The presence of hippos that create hydraulically efficient pathways that are oriented parallel to the regional hydraulic slope, may accelerate avulsion in large African wetlands. Overall, it is argued that the environmental consequences of excavation need to be viewed against the background that wetlands are dynamic features within the landscape.

  • 2000. Annika Dahlberg. Land Degradation and Development 11 (6), 549-562

    Studies of environmental change and degradation in semi!arid Africa often present contradictory results of the magnitude, severity, causes and effects of observed changes. Central questions are how findings may be generalized and extrapolated, how perceptions of the environment are recognized and analysed, and how value-judgement terms are defined and used. Emerging theories about dryland ecosystem dynamics, and ideas on interdisciplinary research, formed the background for a geographical study of the environmental history of an agropastoral communal area in North East District, Botswana. Here a comprehensive and discursive summary of the main conclusions of this study is presented. Using methods from the social and natural sciences, environmental outcomes were linked to different 'types' of change, such as effects of isolated events, of cyclic variation, and of trends. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the area has been described as severely degraded, but the present results contradict previous descriptions and instead describe a temporally fluctuating, and spatially heterogeneous, environment with few signs of deterioration. Many changes were caused by isolated physical and social events\ while others occurred in cycles[ The few long-term 'causative' trends identified showed only small environmental impact. Several variables used as degradation indicators were identified, but found to constitute natural phases in the interaction of biophysical and socio!economic processes. The local understanding of environmental change corresponds quite closely with recent scientific thinking, and this study definitely supports the need for reevaluations of past 'truths' about environmental change in semi-arid Africa.

Show all publications by Annika Dahlberg at Stockholm University

Last updated: May 31, 2018

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