Doctoral student Sirke Piirainen studies endangered birds in her upcoming dissertation for the University of Helsinki.
“I am studying how environmental changes in the past few decades have affected the distribution or decline of various species,” Piirainen explains.
Her data includes 130 bird species in Finland, Sweden and Norway and the corresponding bird counts from 1975 onwards. In a new method of modelling, Piirainen has combined abundance information on these species with concurrent changes in land cover and climate.
“We are looking at what has changed in the environment of the birds during the period and trying to find out how these changes are related to the numbers of birds.”
The model also provides a way of looking into the future: In her dissertation, Piirainen combines bird data with climate change projections and studies what will happen to various species in different global warming scenarios by 2050.
Last year, Piirainen received a €2,500 scholarship for her research from the Ilkka Hanski Fund. The fund is established on the basis of donations given to honour the work of Academician Ilkka Hanski.
The everyday life of a grant-funded researcher may be quite precarious when it comes to income, and the scholarship was a great source of joy, says Piirainen.
“The scholarship from the Ilkka Hanski Fund allowed me to proceed with the dissertation as well as think about my next step.”
Triumph of the researcher spirit
Piirainen was attracted to life as a researcher by her curiosity and will to find answers to questions.
“I like orienteering, and I have always been interested in maps. Likewise animals and conservation have attracted me. I graduated with a master’s degree in biology and continued my studies to become a location-based information expert, which opened the door for me to work with birds at the Finnish Museum of Natural History,” recounts Piirainen about her career path.
In her summer jobs on the field and at the museum, Piirainen mapped the terrain and bird species.
“The work was fun and concrete, but I noticed that my head was simultaneously filling with questions, and I wanted to find the answers to these questions.
“I noticed that I wanted to be the one to study and analyse the collected data; the one to find the answers. The researcher in me triumphed over other career plans.”