Two PhD positions (1: vegetation ecology, 2: ecosystem function/host-parasite interactions) are now open for applicants at Karlstad University. Both positions are full time for five years within the River Ecology and Management (NRRV) research group and include 80 % research and 20 % department duties (mainly teaching).

The applications for both positions close on 31 January 2019.


PhD position in vegetation ecology

River Klarälven, Värmland

The project will study which factors control diaspore dispersal and plant community composition along boreal streams, which in turn may have cascading effects on functional plant diversity and ecosystem functioning. The specific research questions to be addressed will be decided in consultation with the candidate. Areas of particular interest are (1) the effects of local and landscape-scale factors for plant species composition and diversity and cascading effects on ecosystem functioning and (2) studies of factors promoting or constraining plant dispersal along streams.

Read more and apply for the position here!


Ecosystem function/host-parasite interactions

The position will focus on either the role of mussels for ecosystem function or host-parasite interactions. Areas of interest are (1) the role of mussels for stream ecosystem function and (2) host-parasite interactions between mussels and their host fish. The specific research questions to be addressed will be decided in consultation with the candidate.

Read more and apply for the position here!

A thick shelled river mussel (Unio crassus).

Lea SchneiderAnders Nilsson, and Martin Österling from Karlstad University, and Johan Höjesjö from University of Gothenburg, recently published the scientific article “Local adaptation studies and conservation: Parasite–host interactions between the endangered freshwater mussel Unio crassus and its host fish in Aquatic Conservation. In the article the authors present a study on thick shelled river mussels (Unio crassus) and their interaction with potential host fishes originating from the same or a different river than the individual mussels. In the abstract they write:

“1. Parasite–host interactions can involve strong reciprocal selection pressure, and may lead to locally adapted specializations. The highly threatened unionoid mussels are temporary parasites on fish, but local adaptation has not yet been investigated for many species.

2. Patterns of local adaptation of one of Europe’s most threatened unionoids, the thick-shelled river mussel (Unio crassus) were investigated. Eurasian minnows (Phoxinus phoxinus) from two rivers (separate drainage areas) were cross-infested in the laboratory with sympatric and allopatric mussel larvae, while bullheads (Cottus gobio), inhabiting only one of the rivers, were infested with sympatric or allopatric mussel larvae. Larval encystment, juvenile mussel excystment and survival were measured.

3. For one river, but not the other, juvenile excystment from P. phoxinus was highest when infested with sympatric mussels. The opposite pattern was found for C. gobio in this river, where juvenile excystment and post-parasitic juvenile survival from allopatric C. gobio were highest. The results thus cannot confirm local adaptation of U. crassus to P. phoxinus in the study rivers, as excystment was not consistently higher in all sympatric mussel–host combinations, whereas there were potential maladaptive signs of U. crassus in relation to C. gobio. There was no loss of encysted larvae 3 days after infestation until juvenile excystment. Most juveniles were excysted between 17 and 29 days after infestation, and the numbers of excysted juveniles increased with fish size.

4. The results have implications for parasite–host ecology and conservation management with regard to unionoid propagation and re-introduction. This includes the need to (1) test suitability and adaptation patterns between U. crassus and multiple host fish species, (2) evaluate the suitability of certain unionoids and host fish strains after more than 3 days, and (3) determine whether large fish produce more juvenile mussels than smaller fish.”

Access the paper here: “Local adaptation studies and conservation: Parasite–host interactions between the endangered freshwater mussel Unio crassus and its host fish“, or email any of the authors.


According to tradition, Lea Schneider (center) last week nailed her thesis to the wall, at the entrance to Karlstad University. On the photo are also Martin Österling (supervisor) and Reine Lundin (dean).

On February 24, Lea Schneider, will defend her PhD-thesis “Conservation ecology of the thick-shelled river mussel Unio crassus – the importance of parasite-host interactions”. In the abstract Lea Schneider writes: “Unionoid mussels are globally threatened and their conservation requires species-specific knowledge on their ecology and parasite-host interaction. Unio crassus is one of Europe’s most threatened unionoid species and has a temporary obligate parasitic life stage (glochidia) on fish. A lack of suitable hosts is probably a major limitation for mussel recruitment, but host species composition, suitability and availability in time and space have yet to be fully explored. This thesis examines different aspects of the host fish species, including their composition, suitability and ecological importance, in relation to U. crassus, using both field and laboratory studies. The effects of mussel and host density on mussel reproductive potential were considered, as were aspects of evolutionary adaptations between mussels and fish and how climate change may affect their interaction.

The results show that U. crassus is a host generalist, parasitizing a variety of fish species. Host suitability and density, which varied among fish species and rivers, affected the level of glochidia encapsulation, hence mussel reproductive potential, more so than the density of mussels taking part in reproduction. Ecologically important hosts included both highly suitable primary hosts, and less suitable hosts that were highly abundant. Whether or not U. crassus has specific adaptations to its hosts to enhance juvenile transformation remains unclear. No distinct pattern of local adaptation was found, nor was there an effect of host fish presence on the timing of glochidia release by adult mussels. Instead, temperature played a major role, with results suggesting that changes in spring water temperature regimes can cause temporal and spatial mismatches in the mussel-host interaction. This thesis indicates that investigations of local mussel-host interactions help in identifying mechanisms important for unionoid conservation management and prioritization.”

The defense will take place on February 24 at 10:15 in room 1B309 (Sjöströmsalen) at Karlstad University. The frame of the thesis is available online here.

For the defense, Caryn Vaughn (University of Oklahoma, USA) is the opponent, and Leonard Sandin (Swedish University of Agriculture), Niklas Janz (Stockholm University, Sweden), and Annie Jonsson (University of Skövde, Sweden) constitute the grading committee (betygskommitté).

In the afternoon (from 13:30 onwards) the day before the defense (Feb 23), seminars related to the thesis will be given in Room 5F416 at Karlstad University. Here Caryn Vaughn will present on “Consumer aggregations act as hotspots of ecosystem function and services in rivers”, Niklas Janz on “What is host range?”, and Leonard Sandin on “Evaluation of ecological restoration in Swedish streams – some results from the EKOLIV project”. 

Everyone is welcome to attend both the PhD-defense and the seminars.