Carita will also continue as an academy research fellow until 2025.
What is your field of research?
In my research, I am interested in nature’s complexity and how organisms evolve under multiple selection pressures. For example, I study how social factors such as living in a group or engaging in cooperation, ecological factors such as host plant quality, predation or parasitism, and abiotic factors such as temperature shape the evolution of forest pest insects. I am also interested in chemical and visual communication.
I have worked with different types of insect model systems such as butterflies, moths and carrion feeding beetles, but my current study systems are socially behaving pine sawflies. I do experimental research, and I collaborate with geneticists and theoreticians to understand how genetic structure changes in different stages of an outbreak and how this ecological and genetic information could be used to predict outbreak risks and dispersal in a changing environment.
Why is your research important?
My research will increase our basic understanding of how insects can adapt to changes in their environment. This kind of data on economically important forest pest species is largely missing but is very much needed to make more accurate predictions of how organisms can adapt to human-induced, rapid environmental changes, and to successfully minimise biodiversity losses and protect ecosystem services.
What in your field of research especially inspires you right now?
I am currently inspired by how social behaviour promotes organisms’ ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions. The importance of the social environment has been acknowledged in animal and plant breeding programmes. For example, studies on carrion feeding beetles suggest that the social environment can influence the pace of evolution in adapting to changes in the environment. Currently, interesting research is going on both in Finland and abroad about the significance of social information use in insects such as bumblebees or bees. However, the role of sociality and its link to fitness and population density cycles in forest insects have received little attention, even though many of the world's most economically important crop and forest pest insects are social.
Tell us a bit more about yourself
I am very motivated to work with science communication and outreach. I am currently a leader of the ‘Evolution in action’ project funded by the Kone Foundation. We organise workshops at schools and science venues as well as produce openly available teaching material about biological interactions and how they shape an organism’s evolution. We combine both science- and art-based methods in our teaching materials. We also offer short courses for teachers about evolution and biological interactions. In 2021 I was also leading a pilot project of ‘Science testers’ in Central Finland, in which approximately 1000 6th grade school kids participated in different types of science workshops run by the researchers. This project was funded by the Finnish Cultural Society and organised in collaboration with the University of Turku, the University of Jyväskylä and the Finnish Cultural Society. Active science communication by researchers encourages a participatory society for citizens and demonstrates how scientific information is produced and is therefore very important.