Research at the Department of Biology

​Our multifaceted research covers biological phenomena from the level of the ecosystems and populations all the way to the cellular and molecular levels. Many of our projects are multidisciplinary and involve the fields of physiology, genetics, ecology and environmental biology, among others.

Our department participates in two central areas of research specified in the University of Turku Strategy: Ecological Interactions and Ecological Genetics Research and Molecular Biosciences. In addition, a Nordic Centre of Excellence status has been assigned to the Nordic research group in tundra ecology.


Centers of Excellence, research coalitions and projects funded by the Academy of Finland  

How to preserve the tundra in a warming climate?, Prof. Lauri Oksanen, Prof. Erkki Korpimäki, Prof Pekka Niemelä - We study the interaction between the ecological phenomenon of top-down impacts in food webs and climate–vegetation interactions and integrate this perspective with the man-managed reindeer husbandry and the Sámi culture dependent on it. NCoE Tundra is a Nordic Centre of Excellence (2011–15), funded by TRI, the Top-level Research Initiative.

Effects of air pollution on birds, Adj. prof. Tapio Eeva – This project focuses on the effects of air pollution on free-living bird populations. The main goal is to find out which kind of ecological impacts environmental pollution has on birds. One of the major interests are the indirect effects of air pollution on birds, e.g. via pollution-induced dietary changes.

Regulation of littoral biodiversity by foundation species and trophic cascades. Prof. Veijo Jormalainen - We focus on littoral communities of the Baltic Sea associated with the foundation species, the rockweed Fucus vesiculosus. We ask, on the one hand, how genetic characteristics of a foundation species may extend to communities and, on the other hand, how top-down regulation by herbivores, fish and predatory sea birds affect the foundation species itself. 

Baltic Sea marine biodiversity – addressing the potential of adaptation to climate change. Prof. Veijo Jormalainen (as part of a consortium coordinated by Prof. Kerstin Johannesson, University of Gothenburg). In the face of the rapid climate change, the survival of the Baltic Sea species is challenged. We study the potential for species to adapt to a changing environment focusing on phenotypic plasticity, demography and genetic diversity. 

Finnish tick project, Adj. prof. Tero Klemola - We study biology of hard ticks (Ixodes ricinus and Ixodes persulcatus), prevalences of pathogens (strains of Borrelia bacteria and TBEv) in tick populations, and tick-borne diseases in Finland.

Vertebrate Ecology Research Group, Prof. Erkki Korpimäki, Assistant professor Jon E. Brommer, Adj. prof. Esa Lehikoinen, Adj. prof. Toni Laaksonen, Adj. prof. Vesa Selonen, Adj. prof. Samuli Helle and Adj. prof. Robert L. Thomson -  Researchers in this group are studying fundamental questions of ecology and evolution: trade-offs in life history decisions and other behaviors, population dynamics and regulation, and species and trophic interactions. In many studies the effects of environmental changes on the study species play a major role and many studies have an applied aspect to them.

Signalling in cells and in C. elegans, Adj. prof. Päivi Koskinen - Our group investigates the physiological roles of Pim kinases and their substrates in the regulation of cell growth, metabolism and motility. We also use the C. elegans nematodes to study evolutionarily conserved signalling pathways controlling sensory functions and environmental responses.

Insect herbivory in forest ecosystems, Adj. prof. Mikhail V. Kozlov - Until very recently, ecologists studying insect-plant interactions focused on severe plant damage caused by insect outbreaks, paying little attention to relatively minor damage caused by background herbivory. Combining meta-analyses of published data, observations and experiments, we explore factors affecting the variations in background herbivory and effects of below- and aboveground herbivory on structure and productivity of forest ecosystems. We plan to incorporate effects of background herbivory on tree growth into dynamic ecosystem model and use this model to predict the effects of herbivory on vegetation structure and ecosystem parameters in Northern Europe under future climate scenarios. 

Geographic variation in the impacts of land use changes on ecosystem stability (GILES), Adj. prof. Mikhail V. Kozlov -Biomass production of trees is threatened by climate change, land use and insect herbivory. This project explores geographical variation in the impacts of land use on the stability of the interactions between plants, plant-feeding insects and insect-feeding birds, test whether mechanisms underlying the stability of these functions are consistent across the globe, and identify the factors that affect ecosystem stability and the regions where natural and managed ecosystems are most vulnerable to ongoing environmental changes.


Natural selection in contemporary human populations, Virpi Lummaa studies natural selection in contemporary human populations. During her term as Academy Professor, Lummaa will investigate how the modern environment itself fuels human evolution and how demographic shifts to low birth and death rates affect the opportunity for selection or specific trait selection. She will use longitudinal demographic data from Finland spanning 350 years and more than twelve generations to look at how the strength and direction of selection on key fitness traits may have changed with the modernisation of societies. 


Elephant Project, Virpi Lummaa studies the causes of variation in health, survival and reproduction using longitudinal demographic data recorded over the past century, combined with new physiological, physical and behavioural data collected from live individuals. Her research group aim to provide new solutions to elephant management and healthcare in order to optimise the balance between working ability, survival and fertility, and to minimise calf deaths. This will lead to a self-sustaining working population, which will avoid the need to bolster the captive population with elephants captured from the endangered wild population.

Environmental and evolutionary physiology research group​, Prof. Mikko Nikinmaa - The group investigates the effects of changes in oxygenation and temperature, eutrophication and toxicants on the function of especially fish but also other vertebrates. An important aspect of the work is to study how multiple environmental stresses interact. Our research clarifies the mechanisms by which the pollution of the Baltic Sea and climate change disturb the function of animals and what the capabilities of animals to adapt to changing environments are. The work spans from molecular to ecosystem level. We investigate the molecular mechanisms of environmental adaptation, and how these are utilized when natural populations respond to environmental changes.

Evolutionary Conservation Genetics, Academy Professor Craig Primmer - How are species responding to human induced environmental changes at the genomic and phenotypic levels? What biodiversity needs to be preserved to maximize the chances of species to adapt? At what pace can these adaptations occur? My research program applies state of the art evolutionary genetic and genomic methodologies to a range of natural and experimental aquatic systems to address these issues.

​Populations in temporally varying environments, Adj. prof. Satu Ramula - We use long-term population and climate data coupled with demographic models to investigate the responses and demographic strategies of populations to temporally varying environments. We aim to identify organismal groups that are likely to suffer or benefit from increasing temporal variation.

Mechanism and utilization of transpositional DNA recombination, Prof. Harri Savilahti - Genomes are not rigid and stable. Segments of DNA are moved, inverted, duplicated, and extensively multiplied within living cells. Collectively, these phenomena are called DNA recombination. DNA transposition is a recombination reaction, in which a DNA element (a transposon) moves from one location to another in the genome of its host organism. The underlying molecular mechanisms are universal from lower prokaryotes to higher eukaryotes including retrotransposons and retroviruses. In this process specific protein molecules, utilizing tightly controlled biochemical reactions, excise a piece of DNA and splice it into another location in the genome. We are studying the molecular mechanisms of DNA transposition and developing the reactions into general tools for molecular biology applications. 

Amazon Research Team, Adj. prof. Hanna Tuomisto - The multidisciplinary research of the Amazon Research Team of the University of Turku aims at documenting and understanding the characteristics and geological history of Amazonian rain forests. Ongoing research projects are clarifying, for example, how the spatial and temporal variation in environmental properties are reflected in the structure and species composition of plant and animal communities, and how the geological history of the area may be reflected in the evolution and biogeographical distribution of species.

Aquatic Molecular Ecology and Genomics, ​Adj. prof. Anti Vasemägi - My research focuses on evolutionary and ecological questions in aquatic organisms. I am interested in understanding the relationships between genotype and phenotype, genetic basis of adaptation and how contemporary natural- and human-induced selection works on ecological time-scales.

Biological Evolution and Diversification of LANguages (BEDLAN), Dr. Outi Vesakoski - The BEDLAN Research Group was established in 2009 and involves researchers from the universities of Helsinki, Tampere and Turku. The central aim of our cross-disciplinary research group is to investigate how the theories and methods of evolutionary biology can help to explain the diversification of languages. Our research combines linguistic and evolutionary biological approaches; its purpose is to contribute both to linguistics and to the study of population divergence and speciation in biology. More precisely, we introduce macroevolutionary framework to historical linguistics (study on histories of languages families) and microevolutionary framework on dialectology (quantitative study of dialects).  More...


Colour polymorphism and population dynamics of a leaf beetle, Adj. prof. Elena L. Zvereva - The study aims at testing the theoretical prediction that natural selection can influence population cycles (Chitty’s hypothesis). We explore whether selection for different phenotypes on increasing and declining stages of population cycles of polymorphic leaf beetle Chrysomela lapponica imposes feedback control on population dynamics, or contributes to this feedback through interaction with some extrinsic factors.



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Themes and researchers at the Department of Biology