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The main building of the Lammi Biological Station.

    Lammi Biological Station - international science and university teaching in the heart of Häme

    Jorma Keskitalo

 

The Lammi Biological Station is surrounded by a fragmented forest-farmland mosaic, which kind of landscape is typical of the region of Häme in South Finland. It is one of the three field stations run by the Faculty of Science at the University of Helsinki, the two others being located at Tvärminne and Kilpisjärvi.

The operation of all these stations was hampered by the economic recession of the early 1990's, which meant that the grants for their upkeep had to be reduced and many projects had to be cut short. They have survived the worst period, however, and are now held in high regard internationally, as is true of the Finnish universities' network of field stations in general.

 

The decades of lake ecology

Lammi Biological Station was opened in 1953, in buildings that had previously been the local parsonage. The main emphasis at first was on providing field courses in biology and geography as part of the university's teaching programme. The older generation of biologists recalls with affection the intimate atmosphere of the courses held in the 1950's and 1960's, in spite of fairly poor accommodation and working conditions. Some research took place at that time, too, but not all the year round.

The scope of research expanded dramatically on completion of the present buildings in 1970, and the International Biological Programme (IBP) brought with it the Pääjärvi project, the first comprehensive research contract to be made by the Academy of Finland with the universities. Under the supervision of the director of the station at that time, Professor Rauno Ruuhijärvi, a group of young researchers set out to analyse the entire ecosystem of the lake, its food chains and its energy flows.

Ever since the Pääjärvi project, the station has maintained a strong research tradition. A large humic lake project was carried out in the 1980's and early 1990's, and the resulting expertise was applied to many other investigations that took place at the station. A few years ago the Faculty of Science named the group engaged in studying the ecology of humic waters as one of its top research units. Workers from the station have also been prominent in the extensive Finnish research projects concerned with acidification and atmospheric changes. A new round of hydrobiological research began in the early 1990's as part of an integrated environmental monitoring programme subordinate to the UN European Economic Commission.

Where the large-scale projects of previous decades sometimes employed as many as 20 researchers and students working together at Lammi, all the research carried out nowadays is divided into numerous small entities that employ less people but are by no means of any less significance. Other joint international projects in addition to the integrated environmental monitoring include research focused on Lake Tanganyika, funded by FAO and FINNIDA, and two separate EU projects on the effects of environmental and climatic changes on lakes. In addition, a joint British-Finnish-Russian project on long-term changes in lakes commenced in April 1998 under the auspices of the EU.

Docent Uwe Münster came to Lammi from the Max Planck Institute for Limnology at Plön in the early 1990's and is now in charge of research into bacterial diversity in humic waters that is funded by the Academy of Finland. Altogether the joint projects in which the station is involved mean that researchers from about a dozen countries are using its facilities from time to time. It has been assumed since the mid-1970's, in fact, that the work of the station will become progressively more international.

In addition to studying lakes and rivers, the station has constantly had research going on into terrestrial ecosystems. The largest of these projects were organized by Docent Juha Tiainen, concerned with the biodiversity of agricultural environments, and by the Academy Professor Ilkka Hanski, concerned with the population dynamics of microtine rodents.

Ilpo Hakala, acting head of the station, has been studying nutrient loads entering Lake Pääjärvi from the surrounding fields over the last 25 years. The lake has gradually drifted from being in a natural state towards more pronounced eutrophication, although there is no immediate threat of deoxygenation in its deepest parts. In addition to studying agricultural nutrient loading, the station is examining the effects of the use of wood ash for forest fertilization on lakes and rivers. The research conducted at the station has in general gradually expanded towards more applied topics as environmental problems have gained in importance.

Even up to the 1970's the local inhabitants looked on the researchers at the Lammi Biological Station as strange creatures whose activities nobody could understand. Today, the station works in close cooperation with the surrounding local councils and ordinary people, like farmers and owners of summer cottages. It has assessed the condition of the lakes in the Lammi and Tuulos areas, for instance, and drawn up plans for reducing agricultural loading.

 

Success in the face of increasing competition

Docent Lauri Arvola is currently on leave of absence from his position as head of the Lammi Biological Station to work as a senior researcher for the Academy of Finland until summer 1999. He stresses the role of the station in integrating university biological teaching with research. The teaching provided in Finland is indeed practically oriented, thanks to the field courses offered by the stations, and it is not limited to mere learning from books or in the laboratory. The courses also provide an introduction to scientific research methods. With researchers from the station often acting as teachers on these field courses, they provide good opportunities for entering research projects later at the postgraduate stage.

Arvola points out that the Biological Station finds itself in a rather difficult position now that the various units in the university are assessed on the strength of their results, as it is laid down in the rules of the station that its primary function is to act as a base providing equipment and working facilities for university teaching and research in biology and geography. It has no actual permanent research staff of its own who receive a salary from the university, although numerous research projects are carried out in its name. The duties of its own staff are to administer and manage the station and to assist in teaching and research. Even so, the station is still expected to compete as an independent scientific unit and to produce results.

Several dozen scientists from different universities are working at the station in the course of a year, in additional to its "own" project researchers, of which there are more than ten, mostly employed throughout the year. These latter gather their funding together from the Academy of Finland, various research foundations and other external sources, and partly through the station's international contacts.

Like many other field stations, the Lammi Biological Station is engaged in environmental monitoring programmes, even though these are not always rated very highly in the scientific world at large. It often takes 30 years or more of diligent work before any significant results emerge. Yet research of this kind, if performed well, can yield basic and background information which is otherwise badly lacking, for use both in interpreting scientific results and in making political decisions. Under the guidance of Professor Kalevi Salonen, the Lammi Biological Station has established a research base at Lake Valkea-Kotinen in Evo, where both continuous monitoring work and separate short-term experiments can take place.

The university's system for the allocation of financial resources is nowadays based on the number of degrees completed. No degrees are actually taken by persons working or studying at the biological stations as such, as all these people gain their degrees in their own subject departments. This means that the University of Helsinki has had to take the special position of the stations into consideration in its funding decisions.

The money available for running the stations has nevertheless decreased steadily since 1992, and the Lammi station has had to make up the deficit by developing fee-paying educational and research services, which have in effect become a third sector of its activities alongside actual scientific research and university teaching. This commissioned research has now progressed so far that the station's laboratory enjoys the status of an officially licensed water research laboratory, as the only one among the Finnish universities. The station also offers its meeting and seminar facilities for use by outside organizations.

The field stations at Lammi, Tvärminne and Kilpisjärvi have also learned to cooperate more closely, partly as a result of the economic depression of the early 1990's and the pressures imposed on them to produce even more results. New regulations are being drawn up for all three, which establish a joint body to coordinate their activities and to develop their own profiles which will reduce the feeling of mutual competition. The Lammi station will concentrate on lake and terrestrial research, Tvärminne on the Baltic Sea and its coast, and Kilpisjärvi on the subarctic environment.

Lauri Arvola emphasizes that the launching of projects, the obtaining of funding and the establishing of international cooperation all call for a greater effort on the part of the station than would be the case for a traditional university department, because of the lack of research and teaching positions of its own. He can't resist reminding us that six former project researchers at Lammi have gained full professorships at the universities of Helsinki, Turku, Joensuu and Jyväskylä. Honourable research traditions do not alone guarantee success in competition, however. After the difficult years of the recession, the situation is now better - but in the long run the activities of the field stations, like all other aspects of life, will inevitably experience their ups and downs.