Our research themes and focus areas

Our research focuses on the Baltic Sea region, as well as regions in the Global South.

Our research is conducted within two research themes, divided into different focus areas. The two areas are:

Sustainability Challenges and Pathways

Societal, cultural, economic and ecological systems are intrinsically intertwined in terms of governance arrangements, power structures and socioeconomic conditions. The Sustainability Challenges and Pathways research theme studies how sustainability is described, understood and practiced in and across different contexts, and how it is and can be promoted and implemented at various levels, from the local to the global. We see this as particularly important amid growing concern about the negative and unevenly distributed socio-economic consequences, risks and impacts of environmental change – most importantly the escalating societal concerns about the current and future impacts of climate change. To embrace the full complexity of sustainability research, a wide range of scientific approaches, methods and theories are used across the different focus areas.

The overarching theme of Sustainability Challenges and Pathways is divided into three overlapping and interrelated focus areas:

  • Governance and management,
  • Development, equity and power, and
  • Transdisciplinarity and transformation.

Governance and management

The complex, uncertain, ambiguous, transboundary and changing characters of environmental and sustainability problems generate significant political, environmental and scientific challenges. Contemporary forms of governance and management are frequently inadequate for dealing with these complex, multi-scale and multi-dimensional challenges.

Research in this focus area includes governance structures and processes in marine and terrestrial regions, as well as the management of habitats and ecosystems. This encompasses governance and management-related research into natural resources that ranges from climatic systems to local ecosystem services, as well as marine and terrestrial habitats.

Our research seeks to explain, understand and transform the interaction of ecological, economic, societal and cultural dimensions, and thus advance knowledge about sustainability in diverse settings. There is an emphasis on multi-actor and multi-level interconnections and interdependencies between societal and ecological systems, including the role and importance of power structures and claims on interests, values and knowledge.

Development, equity and power

There is growing recognition of the importance of equity in sustainability and development, but how power relations generate inequitable conditions and undermine prospects for sustainability is a complex and context-dependent issue. As a response, this focus area comprises wide-ranging inter- and transdisciplinary research approaches to human-nature-society interactions, including critical analytical approaches that engage with sustainability challenges, questions and opportunities for change. Research into democracy, conflict, state-society relations, governance processes, economic and identity-related inequalities, power relations, social inclusion, land and water use, and rural and urban livelihoods are the subjects of this focus area. In scrutinising sustainability challenges and possibilities, we emphasise the importance of societal and environmental justice, identity and rights-based approaches, as well as knowledge about power relations, societal movements and analyses of cultural, epistemic, and ontological divides.

Transdisciplinarity and transformation

To meet sustainability challenges, now and in the future, transdisciplinary and transformative research is needed to develop sustainability pathways that are underpinned by scientific understanding. They should be embedded in resource-user and practitioner understandings and enabled through institutionalised action. This research seeks to generate critical insights into the obstacles and possibilities for increasing global and intergenerational equity, while respecting and conserving biodiversity and the ecosystem services on which diverse socio-cultures depend for their wellbeing. Adopting a transdisciplinary and transformative research approach to exploring and examining sustainability pathways, necessitates dialogue between society (communities, societal movements and NGOs), companies, governmental institutions and academia, in and across different contexts.

Researchers and doctoral students

Juliana Amaral Porsani, Maria Bergman, Madeleine Bonow, 
Natasja Börjeson
, Gloria L Gallardo FernándezMichael Gilek, Monica Hammer, Björn Hassler, Tomas Kjellqvist, Johanna Johansson,
Rickard Lalander, Kari Lehtilä, Clas Lindberg, Ola Luthman, Nikolina Oreskovic, Romina Rodela, Fred Saunders, Nandita Singh, Sara Sjöling,
Sara Söderström, Igne Stalmokaite, Ralph Tafon.


Here are a few examples of research projects conducted within the research theme:


The environment is constantly changing, both naturally and as a result of human activities, typically with complex relationships between the two. The unsustainable use of natural resources affects the ecosystem functions and services provided by local and global environments, leading to pollution problems and changes in the climate and biodiversity. This research theme focuses on how geological, biological and ecological processes relate to ecosystem functions and environmental change on different scales. These range temporally from contemporary to millennial scales, and spatially from molecules to landscapes, ecosystem and global scales, providing a strong international focus. The overarching objective of this research theme is to understand the history and function of our environment, with the potential to predict and establish management directions for a sustainable future.

Environment is divided into three overlapping and interrelated focus areas:

  • Environmental change
  • Ecological processes
  • Human interaction and sustainability

Environmental change

This focus area combines research into recent processes of environmental change with research into long-term natural environmental change as the background condition prior to ecosystems being affected by humans. Paleoenvironmental research into long-term change examines natural variation and the speed and trajectory of ecosystem change. We also study how environmental stressors, such as climate change and excess nutrient discharge result in eutrophication, oxygen deficiency and changed salinity, all resulting in alterations in biodiversity and microbially-driven ecosystem functions.

Paleoecological methods are applied to sediment archives with timescales from a few hundred years to >100 000 years for studying the response of the Scandinavian Ice Sheet to climate variations, for example. These methods also provide information about historical landscapes, which is integrated with research on ongoing landscape dynamics and human-induced change. There is an emphasis on ecological and socioeconomic factors that underly landscape change, the environmental effects of changing landscapes, and the relationship between landscape structure and biodiversity. Approaches such as geographical information systems (GIS) are used to visualise, analyse and model our data.

Ecological processes

This focus area studies how human and climate-driven processes serve as stimuli for responses, adaptive and evolutionary changes in a wide range of aquatic organisms and communities. Biological diversity is studied at species, community and metacommunity levels using molecular methods and environmental genomics to understand relationships with local and regional factors, environmental change, diseases and geography. Research in microbial ecology concerns ecological questions related to ecosystem functions and the interactions of microbial communities with other communities and the environment. We also use revived resting spores of a diatom taxon to predict the ecological and evolutionary paths of marine diatom diversity in the Baltic Sea.

Human interaction and sustainability

To understand the consequences of pollution in the environment, this theme studies the occurrence and effects of selected pharmaceuticals and toxic compounds in water, sediment and biota, from microbiota to birds. We study how the aquatic environmental reservoir of infectious disease is impacted by environmental change, helping us understand the relationship between microbial environmental pathogens and human health, particularly as regards development.

We also study the transitional zone between urban and rural areas, where there has been a recent shift from traditional food-producing farms to modern agricultural businesses that focus on equestrianism and recreation. We evaluate the modern agricultural landscape’s capacity to provide old and new ecosystem services, such as nutrient retention and bird biodiversity. Peri-urban landscapes also host environmental reservoirs for infectious disease, such as ticks that transmit infections to humans and animals. The relationships between land cover, tick abundance, disease distribution and the risk of infection are studied. These studies combine fieldwork, molecular methods for species’ identification, GIS-mapping of land use practices, and interviews and stakeholder dialogue workshops.

Researchers and doctoral students

Mohanad Abdelgadir, Elinor Andrén, Thomas AndrénPatrik Dinnetz, Karin Ebert, Mats GrahnMonica Hammer, Josefine Larsson, Kari Lehtilä, Lena Norbäck Ivarsson, Håkan OlsénMona Petersson, Jan Plue, Sara Sjöling, Christian Sommer, Therese Janzén, Olena Vinogradova.


Here are a few examples of research projects conducted within the research theme: