We seek to understand how habitat fragmentation and environmental variation shapes intraspecific differences in life history traits in natural populations.

We are also interested in identifying genomic regions associated with key performance-related traits, and to assess how their allele frequencies vary across space and time and affect the dynamics of natural populations.

Environmental Stress and its Effects on Life-history and Resource Allocation

Severity, frequency, and unpredictability of environmental change has increased dramatically in recent years due to human caused phenomena, such as habitat fragmentation, habitat degradation and climate change. Species in the wild are constantly experiencing stress due to this environmental variation, for example, when their resource availability becomes limited or they experience sub-optimal thermal conditions. We aim to assess variation in the possible strategies that allow individuals to cope with such environmental stresses in wild populations. We couple laboratory and field-based studies with molecular approaches to unravel the significance of different mechanisms – genetics and intestinal microbial communities – potentially influencing individual responses to environmental challenges.

Spatiotemporal ecology and genomics in the Glanville fritillary butterfly

Fast and large-scale environmental changes, including climate change and habitat fragmentation, are leading to worldwide biodiversity declines. We use the Glanville fritillary butterfly (Melitaea cinxia) as a study system to investigate which factors influence the adaptive potential of wild populations under such global change. The system is exceptional as more than 25 years of large-scale survey data exist for the butterfly metapopulation in the Åland islands of Finland. By combining these fine-scale spatial and temporal ecological data with extensive genomic resources, we answer a wide range of questions about population persistence. We use spatial and temporal genomics studies to assess eco-evolutionary dynamics in real-time, focusing on how ecological processes such as population dynamics influence the population’s genomic composition. Identifying genomic regions associated with key performance related traits (e.g. fitness, life-history and dispersal) and assessing how their allele frequencies vary across space and time will give key insights into the factors that determine a population’s ability to cope with environmental change.

Read more about the long-term monitoring of the Glanville fritillary in the Åland islands:

The miss­ing link: un­rav­el­ing the role of ge­netic vari­ation of be­ne­fi­cial arth­ro­pods in agro-eco­sys­tems

Insects are vital components of most terrestrial ecosystems. We are currently experiencing large population declines in insects due to anthropogenic causes, such as intensified land use, habitat loss and fragmentation, but we know very little about the implications for genetic diversity. Loss of genetic diversity can amplify population extinction risk, reduce the functions that insects perform, and decrease their adaptive potential in future. We are currently investigating the population genetic consequences of the changes observed in insect diversity and abundance, and the potential consequences for their performance. In Finland, butterflies constitute a particularly suitable target group to address these questions due to their strong association with agricultural environments, availability of Finnish long-term monitoring data, and well digitized museum collections, offering the opportunity to assess how factors responsible for insect decline, such as climate change, have shaped genetic diversity in space and time.  

Two main approaches currently implemented: 

  • Using a museomics approach, we aim to investigate temporal changes in genetic diversity over the last century for butterfly species showing population decline, and to disentangle differences in responses, assessing how genetic diversity has changed for species belonging to the same genus but presenting contrasting population trends. 
  • By combining field studies, common garden experiments and genetic data, we intend to shed light on the impacts of agriculture, namely land use and effects of pesticides, on different performance traits of butterflies. 

Read more about the Centre for Ecological Genetics and the project here.

Understanding the impacts of global environmental changes on Finnish Biodiversity

We live in a time when both the natural environment and humanity are changing at an unprecedented rate. The changes are being driven by multiple factors, such as global warming, habitat fragmentation and declining biodiversity. The response from ecosystems and ecosystem processes (e.g. pollination and decomposition) to this change—and the subsequent consequences to food safety and human health—are challenges that urgently need solutions.

As core members of the Research Centre for Ecological Change (REC), another important focus of our research is therefore the understanding of the impacts that land-use and climate change have on natural communities and the ecosystem services they provide, in order to accumulate fundamental knowledge to enable the development of solid solution to these challenges.

This work is conducted utilising a unique knowledge reserve made up of long-term series of nature observations in Finland, gathered by universities, volunteers and, especially, Finnish research institutes, with whom we closely collaborate. Therefore, our approaches include time series and multi-taxa analyses across Finland, to produce results of broad significance that can ultimately have impacts on policies.