Our group is a consortium of multiple principal investigators working around the common theme of sociality, behaviour and evolution.

Find us below in alphabetical order.

Teresa Abaurrea

Doctoral researcher, LUOVA doctoral programme

Information ecology & co-evolution

I am interested in how hormones influence animal behaviour, particularly when they are transmitted from one generation to another.  For my PhD I will work on how cuckoos manipulate their hosts through the begging display, and whether cuckoo "mothers" give their chicks the best start in life. I will conduct my field work with Robert Thomson's group from the University of Cape Town, in forests close to Oulu. I have funding from the Societas Pro Fauna et Flora Fennica, the Finnish Cultural Foundation (Suomen Kulttuurirahasto), and the LUOVA doctoral programme

Nora Bergman

Doctoral researcher, Doctoral Programme in Wildlife Biology (LUOVA) 

My PhD combines genomic and behavioural methods to study the drivers and consequences of range expansions in highly mobile species. Can high dispersal capability help a species to maintain genetic diversity even during rapid range shifts? Do certain behaviours facilitate the colonization of new areas? In order to find answers, I study local and range-wide patterns of genomic and behavioural variation in the Common reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus), a migratory passerine that has recently experienced a rapid northward range shift in response to environmental change.

Melanie Brien

Postdoctoral researcher 

I am part of the Ecology & Evolution of Interactions group where I use our study species, the wood tiger moth, to research the genetic basis of complex polymorphisms. This species has multiple colour morphs which differ in behavioural and life history traits, such as immunity, chemical defences and flight patterns. A long-standing puzzle has been how complex polymorphisms such as these, where multiple traits are involved, are controlled genetically. Our current work aims to determine the genetic basis of multiple traits, using crosses of lab individuals, sampling of wild populations, and experiments such as CRISPR gene editing.

Twitter: @mnbrien 

Theo Brown

Doctoral Researcher, LUOVA doctoral programme

Ecology and Evolution of Interactions

I am a PhD student in the Predator-Prey Interactions Research Group under the supervision of Prof. Johanna Mappes and Dr. Sandra Winters. I am a behavioural ecologist interested in the factors which influence an animal's foraging decisions. My current research focuses on the different ways moths might deter predators using visual signals. To achieve this, I am using a new touchscreen operating system where we can train predators (blue tits) to attack simulated prey. This technology provides the opportunity to empirically test previously theoretical principles on wild birds. 

Follow me on Twitter @Theobrown96 

Patrick Heidbreder

Doctoral researcher, LUOVA doctoral programme

Speciation & Hybridization in ants

I am broadly interested in the genomics of evolution, and particularly the genomic effects of speciation and hybridization. As a part of the SpecIAnt research group my study system is mound building wood ants (Formica rufa group). My PhD work combines bioinformatics, field experimentation and modeling to understand how hybridization can modify adaptive potential. Currently I am focusing on investigating the genomic basis of thermal tolerance. I am partially funded by the The Entomological Society of Finland, through Jonna Kulmuni's Academy of Finland Project grant, and the LUOVA doctoral programme.

Outside my PhD I have worked on mobile DNA elements in hybrid ants and sex chromosome evolution in sticklebacks. I also enjoy teaching biology and I collaborate with Finnish high school students in a series of outreach projects.

Laura Hiisivuori

PhD Researcher, Organismal and Evolutionary Biology Research Programme & Evolution, Doctoral Programme in Interdisciplinary Environmental Sciences (DENVI)

I am a PhD researcher in Emotion science – Visualizing animal emotions project. My research covers animal welfare from an anthrozoology view: how humans can recognize animal emotions and factors affecting them (i.e., gender, cultural background, empathy towards animals).  

I am also a communication specialist, with expertise in scientific communication, but also strategic, crisis, value and internal communication as well as leadership. Because of that, I have responsibility for our project communications.  

I have a long career at university communications and the Finnish Museum of Natural History, an M.Sc. degree in biology (University of Helsinki) and an M.A. in service design (LAB University of Applied Sciences).  

Emotion science Emotion science | University of Helsinki

Patrick Krapf

Postdoctoral researcher, Organismal and Evolutionary Biology Research Programme & Evolution, Behaviour, Sociality 

I am a postdoctoral fellow in the SpeciAnt research group and interested in hybridisation among mound-building Formica wood ant species. Specifically, I address the question if hybridisation in wood ants can mitigate the effects of climate change. In my work, I combine large-scale sampling with multidisciplinary experimental datasets including environmental, genomic, and life history approaches. I am also interested in the environmental and genomic factors that drive genetic and phenotypic variation to understand how the environment influences trait development and ecological adaptation in the wild. Using social media and the Myrmecological News blog, I try to communicate science to the public. 

Follow me on Twitter @krapfpatrick

Jonna Kulmuni

Principal Investigator, Academy of Finland

Speciation and hybridization in ants

I am interested in speciation and adaptation both at molecular and phenotypic levels. I aim to understand how natural selection acts on genes and genomes and how different evolutionary processes either promote or hinder speciation, adaptation and the maintenance of biodiversity. I am also enthusiastic about science communication and creating opportunities for dialogue between science and society.

You can see my project website here.

Johanna Mappes

Professor, Organismal and Evolutionary Biology Research Programme, hiLIFE, Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS) 

Ecology & Evolution of Interaction

I study animal interactions, particularly how the predator community and predator behaviour shape prey traits, communication and evolution. We often use colourful animals as models because they are an excellent tool for understanding adaptation. Animals use colours in social interactions, during sexual communication and in communication between predators and prey and they are involved in thermoregulation, immunity, and environmental shielding. In other words, colours and animal communication provide an excellent opportunity to study interplay between ecology and evolution. 

See my group's research here

Taru Niittynen

Doctoral Researcher, Kone Foundation 

Horse Interaction Project

I am interested in animal behaviour and I am fortunate to be able to include my other passion, horses, into my work. My master’s thesis looked into the effects of oxytocin and cortisol on learning in young horses. Now in my PhD project I am looking more closely into oxytocin, learning and horse-human interactions. I will study whether oxytocin enhances learning and how training with different methods affects oxytocin levels. I will also look at how ownership length affects learning and oxytocin levels in horses. I am also in the process of validating salivary oxytocin in horses by measuring oxytocin levels during birth.  

My studies are a part of the Horse Interaction Project that includes people from several universities. You can find more info about it here

Cristina Ottocento

Postdoctoral Researcher 

I am a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Helsinki. I did my BSc and MSc in Evolutionary Biology at the University of Padova, in Italy. In 2018, I applied for the Erasmus+ scholarship and I moved to the cold and snowy Central Finland, where I studied how the early life resource availability affects the anti-predatory defence in the wood tiger moth. 

During my Master's thesis, I fell in love with Finland, and I found my way into science. I started my PhD studies within the Predator-Prey Interactions Research Group, under the supervision of Prof. Johanna Mappes, Dr. Bibiana Rojas (University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna) and Dr. Emily Burdfield-Steel (University of Amsterdam). For my doctoral research, I researched to understand which mechanisms drive variation in the chemical defences of Wood Tiger Moth Arctia plantaginis. I defended my PhD this summer.

Zowi Oudendijk

Doctoral researcher, LUOVA doctoral programme

Ecology & Evolution of Interactions

I am interested in the evolution of chemical defence in insects and its variation across species. My PhD work focuses on examining the evolution and prevalence of de novo synthesized pyrazines as a chemical defence in Tiger moths (Arctiinae) species. My research focuses on understanding the origin and evolutionary framework of de novo synthesized methoxypyrazines of the research group model system Wood tiger moth (Arctia planataginis). 

Find out more about me here

Beatriz Portinha

Doctoral researcher, ILS

Speciation and hybridization in ants

I am a doctoral student in the SpecIant (University of Helsinki) and Evolutionary Genomics (cE3c) groups. I am interested in how hybridization can facilitate faster adaptation to changing environments and my PhD is built around the adaptive potential of hybrid wood ants under climate change. Using forward-in-time simulations, I will investigate how different neutral and selective evolutionary processes affect genomic variation in hybrid populations. By experimentally manipulating parental and hybrid queens, I will assess the effect of temperature on egg-laying and hatching rates and sequence their offspring to produce genomic data from a developmental stage before temperature-related selection – eggs – and after temperature-related selection – larvae. I am also an editor for the Myrmecological News blog and often contribute to other science communication blogs.


Katja Rönkä

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.

Ina Satokangas

Doctoral researcher, ILS

Speciation and hybridization in ants

I explore the genomes of diverging and hybridizing species, focusing on Finnish mound-building ants. I’m curious to understand how interactions between loci (i.e. gene networks) influence reproductive isolation and the emergence of new species. In my PhD work, I concentrate  on bioinformatic analyses, but there’s a bit of lab and field as well. I also enjoy teaching and growing as a teacher, which used to keep me busy before my doctoral studies.

Follow me on Twitter @InaSatok

Eetu Selenius

Doctoral Researcher, Doctoral Programme in Wildlife Biology (LUOVA) 

Ecology and Evolution of Interactions

I am interested in better understanding the positive and negative effects of sexual selection on a population level. My field of expertise is mainly in behavioral ecology, but I am also very interested in the possibilities brought on by computational methods such as individual-based modeling. 

My PhD focuses on the effects of strong sexual selection, female choosiness and male harassment on the population fitness of the wood tiger moth (Arctia plantaginis). I have set out to study how population density effects the components of sexual selection and how plastic they are when the population size goes through changes.  

You can check out our group website for more information on research topics concerning the wood tiger moth.

Perttu Seppä

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 main study species are Myrmica and Formica ants and Polistes wasps, but I have also participated in a range of studies on non-social organisms, including solitary wasps, shoaling fish, amphibians and sea weed.

I am also the director of the Master’s Programme in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the head of the Molecular Ecology and Systematics lab in the University of Helsinki. I teach population genetics and related topics at undergraduate and master’s levels and supervise PhD and MSc students.

Erika Sininärhi

Doctoral researcher, Doctoral Programme in Wildlife Biology (LUOVA)

I am interested in behavioral ecology, especially consistent individual behavioral differences (animal personality) and social behavior. In my PhD, I study physiological correlates of variation in personality traits in the Banded mongoose (Mungos mungo). My purpose is to investigate the relationship between prenatal hormone exposure (androgen and cortisol) and offspring personality traits and stress reactivity.  

During writing my bachelor’s thesis about family dynamics of African mammal species, I learned how fascinating mongooses are as a study species in terms of their behavior. When I wrote my master’s thesis about the impact of fishing-induced selection on personality of juvenile perch, I learned about animal personality and knew right away that this is what I want to study further.  

Will Smith

Postdoctoral Researcher, HiLIFE 

I am broadly interested in the application of genomic analyses in the study of wild populations. For my PhD, I quantified hybridisation between wild and feral pigeons in the British Isles. Now, as part of the Information ecology & co-evolution research group, I am studying the genomic impact of brood parasitism on European Reed Warblers. We hope to compare populations which are parasitised by Cuckoos with those that are not, and to look for evidence of selection. 

Outside of my postdoctoral work, I am a keen bird ringer. Since 2019, I have been running a mark-recapture study of a population of undomesticated Rock Doves in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. I also have an interest in non-native birds, and their long-term prospects in novel environments.


Twitter: @WJSmith97

Lotta Sundström

Professor Emerita 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.

Rose Thorogood

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

Deryk Tolman

Doctoral researcher, Academy of Finland project 333803

Information ecology & co-evolution

I am interested in how interactions within and between species produce evolutionary change, and what kind of change we might expect from different interactions. I delight in using simple field methods to elucidate the complex processes behind coevolution. Attempting such an approach, my research focuses on how reed warblers use social information to defend themselves in the arms race against brood parasitic cuckoos. I also aim to investigate this in the context of geographic mosaics, whereby selection acts differently depending on local ecology. I have previously worked on other brood parasites, including cowbirds and cuckoo catfish, and other coevolutionary relationships such as mussels and their pathogens, and sexual conflict in damselflies.

Sometimes I indulge in artsy fartsy photography as another outlet for my love of nature, which you can look at on Instagram (@deryk.tolman).

Emma Vitikainen


Professor of Ecology
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).

Sandra Winters

Postdoctoral researcher 

Why do animals look the way they do? What evolutionary processes have contributed to the generation and maintenance of the incredible diversity we see in animals today? Are animal appearances optimized for a particular function, or do they reflect selective trade-offs? Why does a particular species occupy a certain region of phenotype space? My research is focused on answering these questions by studying the evolution of the form and function of animal color patterns. I am interested in multiple scales of inquiry, ranging from the in-depth analysis of a particular species to comparative analyses assessing evolutionary trends across large groups.  

I am more interested in questions than in particular taxa (and can easily get distracted by a cool new system). My current research is focused primarily on the wood tiger moth (Arctia plantaginis) as a model system of polymorphism and selective trade-offs. I have also worked extensively on primates (mostly guenons and macaques) and Cepaea land snails, and have dabbled in other groups including felids, bird eggs, fish, butterflies, and even humans. 

Current Master's students & interns

Sil de Bruin (2023) - MSc student (with Rose Thorogood): Information ecology & co-evolution

Zalihe Kourtoural (2023) - MSc student (with Rose Thorogood): Information ecology & co-evolution

Jonna Heino (2023) - research intern (with Rose Thorogood): Information ecology & co-evolution

Guido Piraino (2023) - MSc student (with Johanna Mappes): Ecology and Evolution of Interactions

Andrea Pomares Palomares (2023-2024) - MSc student (with Johanna Mappes): Ecology and Evolution of Interactions