Plant Adaptation and Conservation (PAC) is a bunch of more than a dozen researchers, postdocs, PhD students, MSc students that are interested in conservation biology of plants and work together with a large number of collaborators from all over the world. Here are some pacmen, pacwomen and pacpersons from our core group in Helsinki. 
Group photo

Group seminar in Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden on 28 Sep 2022

Marko Hyvärinen, Group Leader

I work as a Director of Botany and Vice-director of the  Finnish Museum of Natural History Luomus. I would describe myself as a plant ecologist and conservation biologist with a particular adherence to experimental ecology. I am also a lichenologist as I spent my early research years studying these fascinating combinations of fungi, algae and cyanobacteria. My PhD from the University of Nottingham, UK dealt with nutrient relationships in mat-forming lichens. 

I have led several research and infrastructure projects (funded e.g. by the Academy of Finland,EU, and Finnish and foreign Foundations) in the past. I am also is involved in several research networks (European Seed Conservation Network; Restoration Alliance) and act as the Finnish representative for European Botanic Gardens Consortium (EBGC) and the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF).

During recent years I have studied conservation and population biology of threatened species with the emphasis on endemics and Arctic seashore species threatened by climate change. This has involved also testing for novel ex situ conservation methods such as assisted migration (AM) with the conservation biology research group that preceded the PAC. 

This work has led to the present project where I am together with the PAC investigating the ability of plats with European distribution to adapt into changing climate at two different levels: via adaptive plasticity and through evolutionary processes. 

Maria Hällfors, Postdoctoral Researcher

I’m a postdoc interested in species’ abilities to cope with climate change. By using long-term data and experiments, I try to figure out what kind of species are able to e.g. shift their ranges or their phenology, or even adapt evolutionary, in order to stay within their suitable niches. 

I did my doctoral thesis at the botany unit of the Finnish Museum of Natural History, looking into a novel approach in the conservation of species, called assisted migration. I defended in 2016 and thereafter spent 1.5 years on family leave. In January 2018, I joined the Research Centre for Ecological Change at the University of Helsinki as a postdoc to investigate the effects of global change on populations and ecosystems using existing long-term data sets. Here, I connect different data sets containing information on phenological events to understand how the varying ability of different species in matching climate change by shifting their phenologies can make some species more vulnerable than others to the impacts of climate change.

In 2020, I received a 3-year postdoctoral grant from the Academy of Finland. In the project I will compare past responses in phenology to those of today using a variety of methods: by coupling long-term data on phenological dates with weather conditions in the past and today, crowdsourcing phenological information from herbaria samples, and resurrecting old plant populations from stored seed accessions for comparing them with contemporary populations. Together, this will enable estimating species’ abilities to cope with climate change by quantifying the relative roles of plasticity and evolutionary adaptation.

Anniina Mattila, Postdoctoral Researcher

I am an evolutionary biologist with broad interests in the origins of diversity in nature and how (and if) organisms adapt to a changing environment. One of my foremost aims is to do research applicable in the conservation of species and biodiversity in this era in which we are facing a biodiversity and climate crisis.

I am an ecology and evolutionary biology graduate of the University of Helsinki (UH). In my PhD, I studied flight and dispersal, as well as the consequences of loss of connectivity between small and isolated populations, in Glanville fritillary butterflies inhabiting a metapopulation on the Åland islands in Finland (a long-term study system of metapopulation dynamics initiated by Prof. Ilkka Hanski in the 1990s). Following the completion of my PhD, I received an independent postdoctoral research grant from the Academy of Finland to work on a research project focusing on the ecology and evolution of chemical defenses in Heliconius butterflies, another butterfly model system in evolutionary biology. In this project, I collaborated with Prof. Marjo Saastamoinen (UH) and Heliconius researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Smithsonian Tropical Research institute, collecting butterflies from tropical forests of Panama and undertaking butterfly common garden experiments to investigate the extent and origins of chemical defense variation, which could be a major contributor to the incredible diversity found in aposematic and mimetic systems.

As of autumn 2020, I am working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Finnish Museum of Natural History (LUOMUS) to try and answer the question “can adaptive plasticity and evolvability help plants survive climate change?” Together with the PAC, we are utilizing seeds of European plant species stored at seed banks around Europe to quantify variation in trait plasticity and evolvability of widespread versus narrowly distributed plant species, in their range centres and edge populations. The ability to track changes in the environment by exhibiting or evolving different phenotypes can be key for persistence under environmental change. We combine reciprocal transplant and greenhouse experiments for a selection of species with their leading range edge in Finland. We measure phenotypic variation both between species and within species and their populations, and their evolutionary potential, to estimate their ability to adapt to changing conditions. The outcome of the project will help predict the effects of climate change on plants, and is thus relevant to the management of populations and conservation of Finnish and European flora.

Laura Pietikäinen, PhD student

I am a fresh PhD student in the PAC-team. I have recently graduated from the Master's programme in Agricultural Sciences. During my studies I focused on plant breeding and worked on the side for the Finnish Museum of Natural History (Luomus). Since I began to work for Luomus, I dreamt for a possibility to combine my studies in plant breeding to my work in conservation and plant science. Now the possibility for me to combine these interests has opened, as well as a possibility to take part in researching one of the biggest threats humankind has ever seen, I am beyond thrilled.

In my PhD project, I am going to compare trait means and variances, thermal plasticity and evolvability in widely and narrowly distributed species and populations from edges and core of their distribution ranges. I am also going to  explore the molecular mechanisms behind this variation with gene expression and RNA sequencing methodology. By these comparisons, I aim to identify general patterns that will allow us not only to understand but also to predict the adaptive potential of populations and inform conservation planning. Furthermore, extending the investigation beyond phenotypic trait measurements by employing gene expression approaches will help us to understand the molecular mechanisms behind variation in plant adaptive potential.

In the picture, I am pruning some of the large trees in the Rainforest room of Kaisaniemi botanical gardens. Without regular pruning, the trees would grow through the glass ceiling!

Charlotte Møller, Postdoctoral researcher

I am a plant evolutionary ecologist with a background in evolutionary adaptation, genetic differentiation, and intra-individual variation of herbaceous species in relation to microclimate and forest management.

I did my BSc and MSc at the University of Copenhagen up until 2018, where I studied the impact of the African elephant on the vegetation and investigated various deterrent methods to protect trees from elephant damage. After my MSc, I became a research assistant for six months in Madagascar in 2019, assessing populations and distributions of lemurs, reptiles, birds, turtles, and coral reef fish. From 2020 - 2023, I did my PhD at the Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany.  Here, I investigated the adaptation of understorey herbs to forest management, the related microclimate, and potential effects of future climatic changes through a series of experiments including common gardens and reciprocal transplants.

Now, I work as a postdoc here in the PAC group, where I mainly use Hypericum spp. to research thermal plasticity, local adaptation and selection across space and time through reciprocal transplants and green house experiments.