Current research group members

Our researchers, PhD students and visiting scholars:

Johan Kotze

PhD, Adjunct Prof., university lecturer in urban ecosystem studies, group leader

My research interests include the responses of invertebrate and plant communities to urbanisation. To this end, I concentrate on the effects of various urban features, such as habitat edges, trampling intensity, and greenspace fragmentation in general, on communities in remnant urban forests, grasslands, meadow and verge habitats, and vegetated/green roofs. Additionally, during the past years I have become interested in using urban soils as in situ laboratories to investigate decomposition and soil quality, and soil biodiversity. 

For research and study inquiries, please contact me by email (

I am also a member in the Fifth Dimension research group.

Heikki Setälä

PhD, Professor emeritus in urban ecosystem studies

I started my scientific career as a forest and grassland soil food web ecologist, while my current interests rest largely in urban ecosystem ecology. Although urban systems are likely to share vast amount of features atypical to “natural ecosystems”, they nevertheless provide amply of relevant research questions – both basic and applied – for an ecologist to solve. Of special interest to me is exploring the role of urban greenspace soils and the processes (“ecosystem services”) therein as affecting the ecological functioning of urban ecosystems. For instance, I explore the influence of urban parks on (i) urban runoff (“stormwater”) generation, (ii) soil carbon and nutrient retention as influenced by plant-soil interactions, and (iii) urban air quality.

For research and study inquiries, please contact me by email (

Basile Finand

PhD, Post-doctoral researcher

I am an evolutionary ecologist interested in how species adapt to current environmental changes. I have an integrative approach using different tools (modelling, experiments and fieldwork) at different scales (from population to community) to tackle my research questions. During my PhD at Sorbonne University (Paris, France), I studied the evolution of dispersal and community structure in response to habitat fragmentation using ants as a study model in parks and forests near Paris. I am joining the Urban Ecosystem group to continue studying habitat fragmentation with a particular focus on its history, to understand its effects on beetle communities' composition and life history traits in the urban forests of Helsinki.

Anna Oldén

PhD, Post-doctoral researcher

My background is in forest ecology and the conservation biology of bryophytes, especially. In my PhD thesis I studied the factors influencing vascular plant and bryophyte communities in wood-pastures (defended in 2016 at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland). More recently, I have become interested in how citizens, cities and companies could increase biodiversity in their surroundings. I am joining the Urban Ecosystems Research Group to study how unused lawns could be turned into meadow-like habitats. I will experiment different methods of manipulating the topsoil as well as sowing a hemiparasitic plant (Rhinanthus minor), which should weaken lawn grasses. I will follow the development of the vegetation, the growth of sown meadow plants and changes in soil properties. My aim is to find methods that produce meadow-like habitats with low costs to both the owner and the environment.

Please feel free to contact me via email (

Jarmo Saarikivi

PhD, Post-doctoral researcher

My background is in animal ecology, in which I did my Master’s degree on the smooth snakes (Coronella austriaca) in Finland and my PhD on the biodiversity in urban golf courses. I studied amphibians, carabid beetles and birds for my thesis and showed that golf courses can be surprisingly rich and diverse in their species assemblages. Since then, I have continued my research in urban ecology, with the focus on threatened and/or invasive species. My main interest is herpetology (reptiles & amphibians), but I have worked with plants, insects and birds as well. I work to protect biodiversity and species in urban environments for the benefit of nature and people.

John Allen

MEng, doctoral researcher

I received my BS in geology from the University of Georgia, USA in 2002 and then worked for nearly ten years in the environmental regulatory and compliance field in the US, where I focused on water quality issues. In 2016 I received my MEng from the Lahti University of Applied Sciences, where completed my thesis on the retention of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon contaminates in municipal snow disposal site sediments. I began working as a research technician with the University of Helsinki's Ecosystems and Environment Research Programme and the UERG in 2014 and have been involved in projects examining the ecosystem services provided by urban greenspaces, the use of nanotechnologies in brownfields remediation and the effects of street trees on urban air quality. My primary research interests are in human-nature interactions in urban environments and ecological and environmental change in the Anthropocene. In my doctoral project, DogsNParks, I am examining the poorly understood impacts of domestic dogs on soil biogeochemistry in urban greenspaces and their underappreciated role in urban nutrient cycles.

Please feel free to contact me via email (

Pasi Pouta

MSc, doctoral researcher

I finished my Master’s degree in Plant Biology at the University of Helsinki. My PhD work focuses on the vegetation of urban grasslands, such as road verges, rock outcrops, remnant semi-natural grasslands and abandoned fields managed as meadows. Whereas semi-natural grasslands and many of their species have become endangered, other open habitats have become important for many grassland species. With a particular focus in the Helsinki region, my main question is how vascular plant biodiversity can be increased in urban grasslands. How do these plant communities, their biodiversity measures and functional trait composition vary according to local and landscape-scale drivers? Can more biodiverse grasslands be created by sowing or planting native grassland plants, or by reducing management intensity in lawns? What kinds of practical actions, motivations and barriers are related to biodiversity conservation in urban grasslands?

Please feel free to contact me by email (

Marju Prass

MSc, doctoral researcher

Starting from environmental management (BSc), I quickly found my way to the fascinating world of urban ecology (MSc). I am particularly interested in conserving biodiversity in this highly human-dominated landscape. Thus, my research interests lie in the fields of population, community and invasion biology. In my master’s thesis I studied the effects of neighbouring urban habitats on carabid beetle communities in linear habitats. After graduation, I broadened my area of expertise and moved from beetles to plants. My PhD research concentrates on an invasive alien species, the large leaved-lupine. I am interested in understanding why it is such a successful invader and how it could be controlled. For example, could herbivores control lupine populations? But what if the soil properties are changed?

Feel free to contact me via email (

Alexander Stelzer

MSc, doctoral researcher

I received my Master's in Integrated Geography from the University of Cologne, Germany in 2022, with a focus on geoecology, environmental statistics, and soils in urbanizing areas. Throughout my studies, I have been interested in the relationship between soil nutrient dynamics and how these influence urban ecosystem services. Going further, I am on my path to deepen this understanding and share my enthusiasm of these topics. For my PhD project, I aim to investigate the effects of park lawn management practices on nutrient and carbon balances. I will study low-cost practices such as different mowing patterns and turning park lawns into meadow-like areas. Utilizing fieldwork and modeling methods I hope to contribute valuable information on how to transform urban green spaces into more sustainable, resilient, and beneficial environments.

Research group alumni

Gaia Francini

PhD, Environmental Consultant at AFRY

Marleena Hagner

PhD, Senior Scientist / Researcher at Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)

Nan Hui

PhD, Associate Professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Paula Kajankari-Shelvey

MSc, Team Leader at Eurofins Ahma Oy

Kirsi Kuoppamäki

PhD, Docent in environmental sciences at the University of Helsinki

Changyi Lu

PhD, Post doctoral researcher at the Institute of Urban Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Anna-Lea Rantalainen

PhD, University Lecturer in environmental chemistry at the University of Helsinki

Viljami Viippola


Vesa Yli-Pelkonen

PhD, Docent in urban ecology at the University of Helsinki

Shen Yu

PhD, Senior Scientist/Full Professor at the Institute of Urban Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Haoxin Tan (Seven)

BSc, doctoral researcher, Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Yuan Wang

PhD, Post-doctoral researcher at Finnish Institute for health and welfare (THL)