Post-doctoral researcher

Ecology & Evolution in Ants

Inbreeding affects many life history traits of organisms due to the deleterious effects of homozygosity. In social Hymenoptera such as ants, inbreeding can occur at two different levels: that of the reproductive queen and that of the workers. I am currently investigating a population of the ant Formica exsecta in south-western Finland, which has colonized many small islands in the archipelago. These islands severely limit their ability to disperse, which in turn is predicted to increase inbreeding levels over time. For over 25 years, data has been collected from these colonies, ranging from productivity and genotype measurements to demographic data.

Using this extensive dataset, I am analysing the long term effect of demographics on inbreeding, as well as the effect of inbreeding on life history traits such as colony growth, survival and sexual brood production. This project is conducted in collaboration with Prof. Lotta Sundström.

Post-doctoral researcher, Business Finland

Innate immunity

I am broadly interested in host-diet/ host-parasite interactions, insect immunity and insects’ ability to cope with a high infection risk or disease by using their environment as “pharmacy. In my research I try to emphasize the importance of taking into account the natural conditions insects are living at, also when studying them in the lab. They are exposed to multiple stressors at a time and rarely to only a single one at a time, and some herbivorous insects feed on a variety of plants and not only on one during their development. For my work I am combining various tools from behavioral studies to bioassays and molecular studies, using various insect species.

Currently I am a member of Dalial Freitaks working group, helping to establish and specify the development of a first-ever insect vaccine for honeybees.

Principal Investigator, Business Finland

Innate immunity

I am an Estonian biologist, specialized in insect physiology and immunity, and my work focuses on the mechanisms behind immune priming in insects. I have been using a variety of insect models in my studies.

Trans-generation immune priming has been the central interest for the last decade. I and my collaborators were the first to demonstrate a novel mechanism behind immune priming in insects, involving transfer of bacterial fragments from one generation to another. Currently my team is utilizing this discovery to develop a first-ever insect vaccine for honeybees.  The effect of the diet on the immunity of insects has been another big interest. I have studied self-medication behaviour in the wood ants and demonstrated that wood ants are medicating themselves against fungal infections. I and my collaborators are further investigating the occurrence and mechanisms behind self-medication behaviour in ants.

PhD student, Finnish Cultural Foundation

Conservation & population genetics

Sociality: genomes, behaviour & theory

I study the social evolution of Formica ants, focusing on supercolonial societies and dispersal. Supercolonial lifestyle and weakened dispersal go hand in hand, and I am trying to dig to the roots of this connection. My questions deal with selfish behavior and conflicting interests among different members of the society. I study several species that are closely related but socially very different, and combine a range of methods from behavior to biochemistry, and from population genetics to electron microscopy. In my free time (or when I procrastinate...) I write about life, the universe and everything.

Follow me on Twitter @SanjaHakala

Principal Investigator, Kone Foundation

Sociality: genomes, behaviour & theory

I see sociality, cooperation, conflict and communication practically everywhere. My main study system is Formica ants, especially their social evolution and genetics. I combine many approaches to reach a multi-faceted view on social evolution. I work on genomics and transcriptomics, behaviour, chemical ecology and theoretical and conceptual approaches to evolution. In addition to ants and other social insects, my second main interest is the major transitions in evolution. I carry out theoretical, philosophical and empirical analyses on the similarities and differences between transitions in complexity, such as evolution of multicellularity and evolution of superorganismal insect societies.

Post-doctoral researcher

Information ecology & co-evolution

I am interested in how a changing environment affects the breeding biology of birds. My present research is on how Reed and Sedge warblers use social information. When establishing new breeding ranges birds encounter multiple novel threats such as brood parasitism and predation. Social information acquired from the direct environment of the birds may help successful breeding. Furthermore, I participate in projects on; use of thermal imaging in the detection of bird nests on arable land, nest survival analysis using nest-card data, color-ringing of blackbirds to get information on their wintering strategies.

I did my degree in Forest and Nature management (ecology) at Wageningen University (The Netherlands), a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (animal personality) at the University of Helsinki and a postdoc on changes in breeding phenology in Finnish breeding birds (Helsinki Lab of Ornithology, Natural History Museum LUOMUS).

Principal Investigator, Academy of Finland / HiLIFE

Speciation in ants

I am interested in the process of speciation at molecular and genomic levels. I want to understand how natural selection acts on genes and genomes and how different evolutionary processes either promote or hinder speciation and generation of new biodiversity. I am also enthusiastic about science communication and creating opportunities for dialogue between science and society.

You can see my project website here.


Innate Immunity

I’m a former electrical technician, current master student in ecology and evolutionary biology and a future PhD-student under Dalial Freitaks supervision. I will be studying the insect immunity, more specifically the phenomenon where insect parents are able to prime their offspring against pathogens they have encountered themselves, called transgenerational immune priming (TgIP). In particular the project will focus on the potential to use TgIP to vaccinate honeybees against a bacterial pathogen (P.larvae), and on effects of the vaccine in the Finnish apicultural environment. I’ve been also taking care of our research beehives in Viikki.

PhD student, LUOVA

Ecology & evolution in ants

I joined the team in 2012 after completing my MSc in plant pathology at the faculty of Agriculture and Forestry and began my PhD project in 2013. Switching focus from plants to ants has been an intriguing challenge. Ants and their nests potentially harbour specialized microbial communities, with which they interact over ecological and evolutionary timescales. In my project, I study seasonal changes and spatial distribution over ecological timescales in microbial communities, as well as interactions within these communities, and between the ant F. exsecta and the communities.

Post-doctoral researcher

Sociality: genomes, behaviour & theory

I study the evolution and maintenance of female castes (queen and worker) in ants. In my work, I take advantage of the power of genomic methodologies and technologies to provide new insights into the mechanisms of social evolution, and the evolution of plastic gene expression in general. During my postdoc, I will expand my previous work to investigate in more details the transcriptional architecture associated with reproductive division of labor in ants. I use genomics tools such as RNA sequencing, comparative genomics, evolutionary analysis, gene co-expression networks and DNA  methylation to answer these questions, in collaboration with colleagues in Japan and Denmark.

Follow me on Twitter @ClaireMorandin

PhD-student, LUOVA.

Ecology & evolution in ants

I am interested in animal behaviour, especially in social animals. Currently I am studying recognition in (Formica) ants. More specifically I study recognition of the brood, as well as the recognition abilities and chemosensory biology of the brood itself. For example, I study ant larvae and their role in defending colonies against social parasites through recognizing and consuming social parasite eggs. In my work I use an array of behavioural assays, chemical analyses and transcriptomic approaches to better understand recognition from behavioural and chemosensory points of view. Besides doing research I am passionate about public outreach, which I think is a very important (and fun!) part of our work as scientists.

Post-doctoral researcher

Information ecology & co-evolution

Ever since I was introduced to the broad field of ecology and evolutionary biology, I've been busy learning new concepts and methods (e.g. spatially explicit movement modeling, behavioral experiments, field experiments, phylogenetics, RAD sequencing) and systems (butterflies, moths, passerine birds). I aim to answer questions about the origin of natural diversity and the role of different interspecies interactions in the maintenance of diversity, ranging from investigating the selective pressures caused by predator-prey and host-parasite interactions to the effects of human land use on species ecology and range shifts. Currently, I am mainly interested in "evolution in action", testing selection in the field and looking at how selection affects traits at the genetic level. 

See my personal website here.

Principal Investigator, JAES / TEKES

Innate immunity

I am interested in the health effects of large lipid transport proteins. Such lipoproteins are associated with metabolic regulation, inflammation, innate immunity, aging and gut microbiota in animals. But how do the lipoproteins actually act? I use the honey bee to study these associations at the molecular level. The honey bee is a wonderful model system, because its physiology, aging rate and immune responses can easily be manipulated. Also, the honey bee has a simple lipoprotein system and gut microbiota compared to mammals. My key methods are those of protein chemistry, immunological methods, microscopy and structural biology.

Research Assistant

Speciation in ants

My current focus is on analyzing genomic regions that are hypothesized to underlie the sex-related differences in hybridization of the Formica species. I have a background in ecology and evolutionary biology, and I wrote my MSc thesis combining a systems-level neuroscience topic with an evolutionary approach. At the moment my special interest is on developing my skills in bioinformatics – especially in programming and statistical analyses. Alternating with research–related activities, I teach biology and geography at a secondary level.

University Lecturer

Conservation & population genetics

My research focusses on studying mating systems, colony kin structure and spatial genetic structure in social insect populations, by using genetic markers (mostly DNA microsatellites and mitochondrial markers). My main study questions are to assess how the evolutionary transition from i) a simple (monogyny) to more complex (polygyny) social structure and ii) free-living to a parasitic life style affects spatial genetic structures and eventually speciation. My most important study objects are Myrmica and Formica ants and Polistes wasps, but I have also participated in a range of studies on non-social organisms. These include, for instance, solitary wasps, shoaling fish, amphibians and birds.

I also teach population genetics related topics at undergraduate and master’s levels and participate in planning the teaching curriculum in the EEB Master’s program. I am head of the Molecular Ecology and Systematics lab, editor-in-chief for the journal Annales Zoologici Fennici and currently supervise 2 PhD and 2 MSc students.

Professor in Evolutionary biology

Ecology & evolution in ants

My work focuses on three avenues of research: the proximate and ultimate causes of conflicts and their resolution, population biology encompassing causes and consequences of inbreeding, and caste-specific life history trade-offs. The work on conflict resolution asks to what extent workers can enhance their inclusive fitness given the fact that colonies may regularly contain multiple reproductive queens. The work on population biology and life history trade-offs builds on the long-term data set we have collected on the ant Formica exsecta at the Tvärminne zoological station. Based on demographic, productivity, and genotype data we have estimated colony inbreeding, and ask how the life time fitness of colonies depends on caste-specific trade-offs at the colony, the individual, and the gene level. The approaches entail the level of genes, individuals, and populations, and combine genetic, and behavioural work in the laboratory and the field.

Assistant professor, Behavioural ecology / HiLIFE

Information ecology & co-evolution

I was recruited to the University of Helsinki by the Helsinki Institute of Life Science (HiLIFE) and sit within the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences.  My research uses information ecology theory to better understand coevolution: I look at how variation in the way information is acquired and used influences the evolutionary outcomes of species interactions. In a broader sense, I am fascinated by the way that social interactions make up the environment that individuals experience, and shape processes of natural and sexual selection.

Birds are my main study taxa.  Current research focusses on interactions between brood parasitic cuckoos and their hosts in Finland, where I am exploring how social environments allow Acrocephalus warblers to expand their range and adapt to novel enemies; and addressing how predators' social interactions influence the evolution of defences in their prey (using great tits as our model system).  A third focus is to use this approach to suggest novel solutions to conservation problems, starting with the hihi, a threatened bird species in New Zealand that I have worked with since 2002.

Folllow me on Twitter @InformedBirds, and see my group's research here

Post-doctoral researcher
Docent, Evolutionary Ecology

Early-life effects & life-history evolution

Ecology & evolution in ants

My main interest is the evolution of cooperation, particularly how the social environment affects behaviour, health and ageing in social animals - humans included.

My project investigates the effects of early life environment on life-history trajectories and fitness in a cooperatively breeding mammal, the banded mongoose. Specifically, I use measures of stress and care received from other group members as predictors of fitness and physiological markers of ageing, in a long term study population located in Uganda. I also continue the work I did for my PhD, on effects and incidence of inbreeding in the Tvärminne population of the ant Formica exsecta.

Outreach and disseminating scientific knowledge to the wider audience is close to my heart, and I am currently writing a popular science book on Biology of inequality: how early life adversity contributes to societal inequality in humans (in Finnish).