Mats Björk

Mats Björk


Visa sidan på svenska
Works at Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences
Telephone 08-16 38 46
Visiting address Svante Arrhenius väg 20 A
Room N 232
Postal address Institutionen för ekologi miljö och botanik 106 91 Stockholm

About me

As Professor of Marine Plant Physiology here at DEEP, I and Prof Martin Gullström, lead the Seagrass Ecology & Physiology Research Group. The group´s main research focus is on the function of marine plant communities in tropical and temperate regions, with an international group of PhD students. I also coordinate a capacity building programme, the bilateral "Marine Science Programme" between Tanzania and Sweden.



Our research group cover a range of topics from marine landscape ecology to marine plant physiology. My personal research interests are mainly focused on marine photosynthesis, primary productivity, respiration and carbon sequestration, mostly in eastern Africa but also in temperate environments, and how they are affected by environmental change such as pollution and ocean acidification.



A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2020. Olivia J. Kalokora (et al.). PLoS ONE 15 (4)

    Marine vegetated ecosystems such as seagrass meadows are increasingly acknowledged as important carbon sinks based on their ability to capture and store atmospheric carbon dioxide, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation. Most studies on carbon storage in marine ecosystems have focused on organic carbon, leaving inorganic carbon processes such as calcification unaccounted for, despite of their critical role in the global carbon budget. This is probably because of uncertainties regarding the role of calcification in marine carbon budgets as either atmospheric CO2 source or sink. Here, we conducted a laboratory experiment to investigate the influence of a calcifying alga (Corallina officinalis L.) on seawater carbon content, using a non-calcifying alga (Ulva lactuca L.) as a control. In a first part, algae were incubated separately while measuring changes in seawater pH, total alkalinity (TA) and total dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC). The amount of carbon used in photosynthetic uptake and production of CaCO3 was then calculated. In a second, directly following, part the algae were removed and DIC levels were allowed to equilibrate with air until the pH stabilized and the loss of CO2 to air was calculated as the difference in total DIC from the start of part one, to the end of the second part. The results showed that C. officinalis caused a significant and persistent reduction in total dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), TA and seawater pH, while no such permanent changes were caused by U. lactuca. These findings indicate that calcification can release a significant amount of CO2 to the atmosphere and thereby possibly counteract the carbon sequestration in marine vegetated ecosystems if this CO2 is not re-fixed in the system. Our research emphasises the importance of considering algal calcification in future assessments on carbon storage in coastal areas.

  • 2017. Martin Gullström (et al.). Ecosystems (New York. Print)

    Globally, seagrass ecosystems are considered major blue carbon sinks and thus indirect contributors to climate change mitigation. Quantitative estimates and multi-scale appraisals of sources that underlie long-term storage of sedimentary carbon are vital for understanding coastal carbon dynamics. Across a tropical–subtropical coastal continuum in the Western Indian Ocean, we estimated organic (Corg) and inorganic (Ccarb) carbon stocks in seagrass sediment. Quantified levels and variability of the two carbon stocks were evaluated with regard to the relative importance of environmental attributes in terms of plant–sediment properties and landscape configuration. The explored seagrass habitats encompassed low to moderate levels of sedimentary Corg (ranging from 0.20 to 1.44% on average depending on species- and site-specific variability) but higher than unvegetated areas (ranging from 0.09 to 0.33% depending on site-specific variability), suggesting that some of the seagrass areas (at tropical Zanzibar in particular) are potentially important as carbon sinks. The amount of sedimentary inorganic carbon as carbonate (Ccarb) clearly corresponded to Corg levels, and as carbonates may represent a carbon source, this could diminish the strength of seagrass sediments as carbon sinks in the region. Partial least squares modelling indicated that variations in sedimentary Corg and Ccarb stocks in seagrass habitats were primarily predicted by sediment density (indicating a negative relationship with the content of carbon stocks) and landscape configuration (indicating a positive effect of seagrass meadow area, relative to the area of other major coastal habitats, on carbon stocks), while seagrass structural complexity also contributed, though to a lesser extent, to model performance. The findings suggest that accurate carbon sink assessments require an understanding of plant–sediment processes as well as better knowledge of how sedimentary carbon dynamics are driven by cross-habitat links and sink–source relationships in a scale-dependent landscape context, which should be a priority for carbon sink conservation.

  • 2017. Gabriele Procaccini (et al.). Scientific Reports 7

    Here we present the results of a multiple organizational level analysis conceived to identify acclimative/adaptive strategies exhibited by the seagrass Posidonia oceanica to the daily fluctuations in the light environment, at contrasting depths. We assessed changes in photophysiological parameters, leaf respiration, pigments, and protein and mRNA expression levels. The results show that the diel oscillations of P. oceanica photophysiological and respiratory responses were related to transcripts and proteins expression of the genes involved in those processes and that there was a response asynchrony between shallow and deep plants probably caused by the strong differences in the light environment. The photochemical pathway of energy use was more effective in shallow plants due to higher light availability, but these plants needed more investment in photoprotection and photorepair, requiring higher translation and protein synthesis than deep plants. The genetic differentiation between deep and shallow stands suggests the existence of locally adapted genotypes to contrasting light environments. The depth-specific diel rhythms of photosynthetic and respiratory processes, from molecular to physiological levels, must be considered in the management and conservation of these key coastal ecosystems.

  • 2017. Diana Deyanova (et al.). PLoS ONE 12 (7)

    Coastal vegetative habitats are known to be highly productive environments with a high ability to capture and store carbon. During disturbance this important function could be compromised as plant photosynthetic capacity, biomass, and/or growth are reduced. To evaluate effects of disturbance on CO2 capture in plants we performed a five-month manipulative experiment in a tropical seagrass (Thalassia hemprichii) meadow exposed to two intensity levels of shading and simulated grazing. We assessed CO2 capture potential (as net CO2 fixation) using areal productivity calculated from continuous measurements of diel photosynthetic rates, and estimates of plant morphology, biomass and productivity/respiration (P/R) ratios (from the literature). To better understand the plant capacity to coping with level of disturbance we also measured plant growth and resource allocation. We observed substantial reductions in seagrass areal productivity, biomass, and leaf area that together resulted in a negative daily carbon balance in the two shading treatments as well as in the high-intensity simulated grazing treatment. Additionally, based on the concentrations of soluble carbohydrates and starch in the rhizomes, we found that the main reserve sources for plant growth were reduced in all treatments except for the low-intensity simulated grazing treatment. If permanent, these combined adverse effects will reduce the plants' resilience and capacity to recover after disturbance. This might in turn have long-lasting and devastating effects on important ecosystem functions, including the carbon sequestration capacity of the seagrass system.

  • 2017. Lina M. Rasmusson (et al.). Marine Biology 164 (6)

    The seagrass Zostera marina is an important marine ecosystem engineer, greatly influencing oxygen and carbon fluctuations in temperate coastal areas. Although photosynthetically driven gas fluxes are well studied, the impact of the plant's mitochondrial respiration on overall -CO2 and -O-2 fluxes in marine vegetated areas is not yet understood. Likewise, the gene expression in relation to the respiratory pathway has not been well analyzed in seagrasses. This study uses a combined approach, studying respiratory oxygen consumption rates in darkness simultaneously with changes in gene expression, with the aim of examining how respiratory oxygen consumption fluctuates on a diel basis. Measurements were first made in a field study where samples were taken directly from the ocean to the laboratory for estimations of respiratory rates. This was followed by a laboratory study where measurements of respiration and expression of genes known to be involved in mitochondrial respiration were conducted for 5 days under light conditions mimicking natural summer light (i.e.,15 h of light and 9 h of darkness), followed by 3 days of constant darkness to detect the presence of a potential circadian clock. In the field study, there was a clear diel variation in respiratory oxygen consumption with the highest rates in the late evening and at night (0.766 and 0.869 mu mol -O-2 m(-2) s(-1), respectively). These repetitive diel patterns were not seen in the laboratory, where water conditions (temperature, pH, and oxygen) showed minor fluctuations and only light varied. The gene expression analysis did not give clear evidence on drivers behind the respiratory fluxes; however, expression levels of the selected genes generally increased when the seagrass was kept in constant darkness. While light may influence mitochondrial respiratory fluxes, it appears that other environmental factors (e.g., temperature, pH, or oxygen) could be of significance too. As seagrasses substantially alter the proportions of both oxygen and inorganic carbon in the water column and respiration is a great driver of these alterations, we propose that acknowledging the presence of respiratory fluctuations in nature should be considered when estimating coastal carbon budgets. As dark respiration in field at midnight was approximately doubled from that of midday, great over-, or underestimations of the respiratory carbon dioxide release from seagrasses could be made if values are just obtained at one specific time point and considered constant.

  • 2017. M. M. Mangora, M. S. P. Mtolera, Mats Björk. African Journal of Marine Science 39 (2), 167-174

    This study aimed to establish the effects of waterlogging, salinity and light on the early development of mangroves. Seedlings of Bruguiera gymnorrhiza (L.) Lamk. and Heritiera littoralis Dryand were exposed to 12 weeks of waterlogging, during which time growth and photosynthesis were measured every two weeks. The salinity of the water inundation ranged from fresh water to full-strength sea water (salinity 35). Seedlings were exposed to either full sunlight of 1 500 mu mol photon m(-2) s(-1) (SD 397) at midday or shade conditions of 325 mu mol photon m(-2) s(-1) (SD 40) of light at midday, to explore whether the plants would be differently affected by prolonged waterlogging in increased salinities and under different light conditions. Heritiera littoralis was more sensitive to waterlogging, salinity and light, displaying a least relative growth rate of 0.127 g g(-1) week(-1) (SE 0.032) under shade, and 0.025 g g(-1) week(-1) (SE 0.021) in full light; while under shade, photosynthesis continued only in fresh water, but photosynthetic yield decreased from 0.7 to 0.4 with increasing duration of waterlogging. By 12 weeks, all H. littoralis seedlings treated with any saltwater mixture had died. Bruguiera gymnorrhiza seedlings maintained a moderate rate of photosynthesis throughout inundation in both shade and full light, with yields of 0.7 and 0.3, respectively. Furthermore, B. gymnorrhiza survived waterlogging in up to 66% seawater, and maintained comparable relative growth rates of 0.164 g g(-1) week(-1) (SE 0.066) with 0.083 g g(-1) week(-1) (SE 0.065) and 0.074 g g(-1) week(-1) (SE 0.036) with 0.052 g g(-1) week(-1) (SE 0.037) under shade and in full light between fresh water and the highest salinity conditions, respectively. These results suggest that B. gymnorrhiza is broadly tolerant, making it a potential candidate species for restoring vulnerable mangrove forests.

  • 2016. Martin Dahl (et al.). Journal of Ecology 104 (3), 654-664

    1. There is an ongoing world-wide decline of seagrass ecosystems, one of the world's most efficient carbon sink habitats. In spite of this, there is a clear lack of studies experimentally testing the effects of anthropogenic disturbances on carbon sequestration of seagrass systems. 2. We assessed the effects of two disturbances of global concern on the carbon sink function in a five-month in situ experiment within a tropical seagrass (Thalassia hemprichii) meadow by testing the impacts of shading and simulated grazing at two levels of intensity using shading cloths and clipping of shoot tissue. We measured the effects of these disturbances on the carbon sequestration process by assessing the net community production (NCP), carbon and nitrogen content in tissue biomass, and organic matter and THAA (total hydrolysable amino acids) in the sediment down to 40 cm depth. 3. Treatments of high-intensity shading and high-intensity clipping were similarly impacted and showed a significantly lower NCP and carbon content in the below-ground biomass compared to the seagrass control. No significant effects were seen in organic carbon, total nitrogen, C:N ratio and THAA in the sediment for the seagrass treatments. However, both clipping treatments showed different depth profiles of carbon and THAA compared to the seagrass control, with lower organic carbon and THAA content in the surface sediment. This can be explained by the clipping of shoot tissue causing a less efficient trapping of allochthonous carbon and reduced input of shredded seagrass leaves to the detritus sediment layer. In the clipping plots, erosion of the surface sediment occurred, which was also most likely caused by the removal of above-ground plant biomass. 4. Synthesis. Our findings show that during the course of this experiment, there were no impacts on the sedimentary carbon while the high-intensity disturbances caused a clear depletion of carbon biomass and reduced the seagrass meadow's capacity to sequester carbon. From a long-term perspective, the observed effect on the carbon biomass pool in the high-intensity treatments and the sediment erosion in the clipping plots may lead to loss in sedimentary carbon.

  • 2016. Pimchanok Buapet, Mats Björk. Photosynthesis Research 129 (1), 59-69

    This study investigates the role of O-2 as an electron acceptor alternative to CO2 in photosynthesis of the common marine angiosperm Zostera marina L. Electron transport rates (ETRs) and non-photochemical quenching (NPQ) of Z. marina were measured under saturating irradiance in synthetic seawater containing 2.2 mM DIC and no DIC with different O-2 levels (air-equilibrated levels, 3 % of air equilibrium and restored air-equilibrated levels). Lowering O-2 did not affect ETR when DIC was provided, while it caused a decrease in ETR and an increase in NPQ in DIC-free media, indicating that O-2 acted as an alternative electron acceptor under low DIC. The ETR and NPQ as a function of irradiance were subsequently assessed in synthetic seawater containing (1) 2.2 mM DIC, air-equilibrated O-2; (2) saturating CO2, no O-2; and (3) no DIC, air-equilibrated O-2. These treatments were combined with glycolaldehyde pre-incubation. Glycolaldehyde caused a marked decrease in ETR in DIC-free medium, indicating significant electron flow supported by photorespiration. Combining glycolaldehyde with O-2 depletion completely suppressed ETR suggesting the operation of the Mehler reaction, a possibility supported by the photosynthesis-dependent superoxide production. However, no notable effect of suppressing the Mehler reaction on NPQ was observed. It is concluded that during DIC-limiting conditions, such as those frequently occurring in the habitats of Z. marina, captured light energy exceeds what is utilised for the assimilation of available carbon, and photorespiration is a major alternative electron acceptor, while the contribution of the Mehler reaction is minor.

  • 2016. Martin Dahl (et al.). PLoS ONE 11 (12)

    Seagrass ecosystems are important natural carbon sinks but their efficiency varies greatly depending on species composition and environmental conditions. What causes this variation is not fully known and could have important implications for management and protection of the seagrass habitat to continue to act as a natural carbon sink. Here, we assessed sedimentary organic carbon in Zostera marina meadows (and adjacent unvegetated sediment) in four distinct areas of Europe (Gullmar Fjord on the Swedish Skagerrak coast, Asko in the Baltic Sea, Sozopol in the Black Sea and Ria Formosa in southern Portugal) down to similar to 35 cm depth. We also tested how sedimentary organic carbon in Z. marina meadows relates to different sediment characteristics, a range of seagrass-associated variables and water depth. The seagrass carbon storage varied greatly among areas, with an average organic carbon content ranging from 2.79 +/- 0.50% in the Gullmar Fjord to 0.17 +/- 0.02% in the area of Sozopol. We found that a high proportion of fine grain size, high porosity and low density of the sediment is strongly related to high carbon content in Z. marina sediment. We suggest that sediment properties should be included as an important factor when evaluating high priority areas in management of Z. marina generated carbon sinks.

  • 2013. Pimchanok Buapet (et al.). PLoS ONE 8 (12)

    The gross primary productivity of two seagrasses, Zostera marina and Ruppia maritima, and one green macroalga, Ulva intestinalis, was assessed in laboratory and field experiments to determine whether the photorespiratory pathway operates at a substantial level in these macrophytes and to what extent it is enhanced by naturally occurring shifts in dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and O2 in dense vegetation. To achieve these conditions in laboratory experiments, seawater was incubated with U. intestinalis in light to obtain a range of higher pH and O2 levels and lower DIC levels. Gross photosynthetic O2 evolution was then measured in this pretreated seawater (pH, 7.8–9.8; high to low DIC:O2 ratio) at both natural and low O2concentrations (adjusted by N2 bubbling). The presence of photorespiration was indicated by a lower gross O2 evolution rate under natural O2 conditions than when O2 was reduced. In all three macrophytes, gross photosynthetic rates were negatively affected by higher pH and lower DIC. However, while both seagrasses exhibited significant photorespiratory activity at increasing pH values, the macroalga U. intestinalis exhibited no such activity. Rates of seagrass photosynthesis were then assessed in seawater collected from the natural habitats (i.e., shallow bays characterized by high macrophyte cover and by low DIC and high pH during daytime) and compared with open baymouth water conditions (where seawater DIC is in equilibrium with air, normal DIC, and pH). The gross photosynthetic rates of both seagrasses were significantly higher when incubated in the baymouth water, indicating that these grasses can be significantly carbon limited in shallow bays. Photorespiration was also detected in both seagrasses under shallow bay water conditions. Our findings indicate that natural carbon limitations caused by high community photosynthesis can enhance photorespiration and cause a significant decline in seagrass primary production in shallow waters.

  • 2011. Elizabeth Mcleod (et al.). Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9 (10), 552-560

    Recent research has highlighted the valuable role that coastal and marine ecosystems play in sequestering carbon dioxide (CO(2)). The carbon (C) sequestered in vegetated coastal ecosystems, specifically mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and salt marshes, has been termed blue carbon. Although their global area is one to two orders of magnitude smaller than that of terrestrial forests, the contribution of vegetated coastal habitats per unit area to long-term C sequestration is much greater, in part because of their efficiency in trapping suspended matter and associated organic C during tidal inundation. Despite the value of mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and salt marshes in sequestering C, and the other goods and services they provide, these systems are being lost at critical rates and action is urgently needed to prevent further degradation and loss. Recognition of the C sequestration value of vegetated coastal ecosystems provides a strong argument for their protection and restoration; however, it is necessary to improve scientific understanding of the underlying mechanisms that control C sequestration in these ecosystems. Here, we identify key areas of uncertainty and specific actions needed to address them.

  • 2009. Immaculate Sware Semesi, Sven Beer, Mats Björk. Marine Ecology Progress Series 382, 41-47

    Diel fluctuations in seawater pH can be >1 pH unit (7.9 to >8.9) in the seagrass meadows of Chwaka Bay (Zanzibar, Tanzania). The high daily pH values are generated by the photosynthetic activity of the bay’s submerged seagrasses and macroalgae, and maintained by the relatively low, tide-dominated, water exchange rate. Since pH in principle can affect rates of both calcification and photosynthesis, we investigated whether diel variations in pH caused by photosynthesis could affect rates of calcification and photosynthesis of the calcareous red (Hydrolithon sp. and Mesophyllum sp.) and green (Halimeda renschii) algae growing within these meadows. This was done by measuring rates of calcification and relative photosynthetic electron transport (rETR) of the algae in situ in open-bottom incubation cylinders either in the natural presence of the rooted seagrasses or after the leaves had been removed. The results showed that seagrass photosynthesis increased the seawater pH within the cylinders from 8.3–8.4 to 8.6–8.9 after 2.5 h (largely in conformity with that of the surrounding seawater), which, in turn, enhanced the rates of calcification 5.8-fold for Hydrolithon sp. and 1.6-fold for the other 2 species. The rETRs of all algae largely followed the irradiance throughout the day and were (in Mesophyllum sp.) significantly higher in the presence of seagrasses despite the higher pH values generated by the latter. We conclude that algal calcification within seagrass meadows such as those of Chwaka Bay is considerably enhanced by the photosynthetic activity of the seagrasses, which in turn increases the seawater pH.

  • 2008. Mats Björk (et al.).

    There is growing evidence that seagrasses are experiencing

    declines globally due to anthropogenic

    threats (Short and Wyllie-Echeverria 1996, Duarte

    2002, Orth et al. 2006). Runoff of nutrients and

    sediments that affect water quality is the greatest

    anthropogenic threat to seagrass meadows,

    although other stressors include aquaculture, pollution,

    boating, construction, dredging and landfill

    activities, and destructive fishing practices. Natural

    disturbances such as storms and floods can

    also cause adverse effects. Potential threats from

    climate change include rising sea levels, changing

    tidal regimes, UV radiation damage, sediment

    hypoxia and anoxia, increases in sea temperatures

    and increased storm and flooding events.

    Thus, seagrass meadows, the ecosystems that

    they support and the ecosystem services that they

    provide are threatened by a multitude of environmental

    factors that are currently changing or will

    change in the future.

    Seagrasses are flowering plants that thrive in shallow

    oceanic and estuarine waters around the world.

    Descendants of terrestrial plants that re-entered

    the ocean between 100 and 65 million years ago,

    seagrasses have leaves, stems, rhizomes (horizontal

    underground runners) and roots. Although

    there are only about 60 species of seagrassesworldwide, these plants play an important role in

    many shallow, near-shore, marine ecosystems.

    Seagrass meadows provide ecosystem services

    that rank among the highest of all ecosystems on

    earth. The direct monetary outputs are substantial

    since highly valued commercial catches such

    as prawns and fish are dependent on these systems.

    Seagrasses provide protective shelter for

    many animals, including fish, and can also be a

    direct food source for manatees and dugongs,

    turtles, water fowl, some herbivorous fish and sea

    urchins. The roots and rhizomes of seagrasses

    also stabilise sediments and prevent erosion while

    the leaves filter suspended sediments and nutrients

    from the water column. Seagrass meadows

    are thus linked to other important marine habitats

    such as coral reefs, mangroves, salt marshes and

    oyster reefs.

    This paper presents an overview of seagrasses,

    the impacts of climate change and other threats to

    seagrass habitats, as well as tools and strategies

    for managers to help support seagrass resilience.

Show all publications by Mats Björk at Stockholm University

Last updated: August 27, 2020

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