In a report published in January 2017, the UN deemed biodiversity and a clean environment basic human rights. Research has shown what a significant impact they have on both our health and our economy. What happens to Finnish forests will, to a great extent, determine what happens to Finland. Right now, a fifth of our export revenue depends on our forests. Within a few years, forests could be the keys to our energy solutions both nationally and internationally. Food production is also entirely reliant on ecological processes; for instance, one-fifth of the people in the world derive their protein mainly from fish.
The timing of the UN report is no accident, for 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.
Long-term nature observation series are vital records of how communities of organisms and the ecosystem services they provide react to environmental change. Finland is one of the world's leading countries in this area—we have a unique knowledge reserve made up of long-term series of nature observations. This knowledge has been gathered by universities, volunteers and especially research institutes. We have unique observational datasets on e.g. game, timber reserves, birds, voles and their predators, crop diseases, the organisms of Åland's dry meadow networks, moose damage and fish stocks. Finland can have a key position in studying communities' responses and their ecosystem services to environmental change. The latest research has also shown that studies that are based on long-term datasets have a greater impact on policy, as policymakers have a lot of faith in these studies.
The main goal of our endeavour is to gain an understanding of the mechanisms of change—for without understanding cause and effect we cannot reliably predict future change. By analysing several time series at once, we can identify patterns in the kinds of species groups and ecosystem processes that are most sensitive to environmental change, as well as the strength and speed of their responses. Drawing such a big picture is such a unique endeavour even on an international scale, that it will enable scientific breakthroughs in our understanding of the effects of global environmental change. This knowledge is also of primary importance in planning our own response to the effects of global environmental change.
Our collaboration with the president and CEO of LUKE (Natural Resources Institute Finland) Johanna Buchert is essential to the success of our endeavour, as LUKE holds the largest and most versatile time series in Finland. The collation and analysis of these time series support LUKE's long term strategy, and the work done in this consortium will have long-standing benefits for both the collaborators and the wider scientific community and society.
To monitor our progress and ensure our impact, we will have a follow-up group. The group represents our stakeholders and end-users: Johanna Buchert (President and CEO of LUKE), Mikko Peltonen (Research Director, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland), Tanja Suni (Research Director, Ministry of the Environment of Finland), Prof. Ben Sheldon (Director, Edward Grey Institute, Oxford University) and Aino Juslén (Director of LUOMUS).