Research topics & projects

Major research topics include:

  • Biodiversity in freshwaters
  • Regulation of diversity by local and regional forces
  • Global patterns in beta diversity
  • Biogeography of diatoms
  • Metacommunity ecology
  • Plankton ecology
  • Diversity-productivity relationships and ecosystem functioning
  • Microbial macroecology


Aquatic ecosystems in a changing climate – introducing a cost-effective tool to guide management options in poorly developed countries

Duration: 2013-2014

Funding: Academy of Finland (FICCA research program)


The ongoing global change poses unprecedented challenges to living organisms on Earth. The effects of changing climate on biota will be substantial especially in highly fragmented freshwater systems. Freshwater organisms and ecosystems are susceptible to large-scale changes in environment also because major conservation efforts typically do not consider freshwaters. Clean water provided by lakes and rivers is one of the most important ecosystem services globally and sustaining freshwater ecosystem services has identified as one of the greatest challenges facing society today. Here, we will study the interplay between abiotic environment, catchment productivity, aquatic food web and ecosystem services in a changing climate in Yunnan region, China. We first use remote sensing to estimate the climatic variables, land use and geomorphology of the study area ranging 1800-4100 m.a.s.l. We then examine the lake biota ranging from bacteria to fish and relate climatic variables and catchment properties with biotic variables using Structural Equation Models. Finally, we will introduce a simple tool for poorly developed countries to identify the important water sources for multiple services (i.e. drinking water, irrigation and aquaculture) and to guide how these sources could be managed and conserved via land use. In poorly developed countries, freshwater resources at low elevations are typically intensively utilized and often of low quality. High-quality freshwater systems at high elevations represent thus extremely important resources (e.g. drinking water, irrigation and aquaculture) for the local communities. We provide here a cost-effective tool to understand and predict the land use effects on water chemistry as well as freshwater biota widely applicable for developing countries.



Scaling biodiversity in tropical and boreal streams: implications for diversity mapping and environmental assessment

Duration: 2014-2017

Funding: Academy of Finland (joint research program between AoF and Brazilian FAPESP)


Variation in biotic communities is understood as beta diversity, which is highly important in our understanding of biotic homogenisation. Despite increasing efforts, patterns in and processes underlying beta diversity are still poorly understood for many ecosystems. We will examine effects of landscape disturbance on the beta diversity of stream macroinvertebrates and diatoms in both Brazil and Finland using large-surveys and modern statistical approaches. Such a comparison is a novel research area in stream ecology, as very few studies have considered differences between tropical and boreal regions in the levels of beta diversity. The tropical-boreal comparison is important, as the former harbours seasonally stable ecosystems, while the latter comprises seasonally highly variable ecosystems; seasonality may lead to profound differences in the patterns of beta diversity. Our research should thus be of importance in developing both basic and applied ecology, with the studies helping to understand the structuring of ecological communities and homogenisation of biological diversity in the face of anthropogenic changes. In addition to community-level phenomena, we will also examine which natural and anthropogenic factors affect the distributions of single species. The research is closely associated with the fields of expertise of the three principal investigators and the research teams.  



Patterns and causes of elevational gradients in freshwaters

Duration: 2015-2017

Funding: Emil Aaltonen Foundation


The ongoing global change poses unprecedented challenges to living organisms on Earth. Ecosystems at high latitudes and altitudes are expected to be among the most vulnerable systems to global change, and thorough knowledge on their biodiversity and functioning is thus urgently needed. The gradients in biotic communities along elevation may give deep insights into how communities change under a changing climate. Elevational gradients offer a highly useful natural “laboratory” for examining the potential effects of future warming. Although the literature on global change and elevational diversity is relatively extensive and rich, smaller organisms (e.g. bacteria and algae) important in many ecosystem processes have been left understudied. Patterns and processes have also been examined largely separately for the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Our aim is to examine how aquatic biota (e.g. species richness, composition, C:N:P stoichiometry, phylogenetic diversity) responds to drivers operating at multiple scales ranging from local scale variables such as water chemistry to land use and large scale climatic variables. This project contributes strongly to basic ecological research as well as has wide implications for climate change research. The project will open new avenues for research – it is expected that integrative research on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems will increase and unicellular organisms would gain their importance as study objects in ecological biogeography and species-distribution modeling.



The influence of environmental quality and climate on the reliability of bioindicators in freshwaters

Duration: 2014-2016

Funding: Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation


A trait-based approach for diatom functional biogeography in the Baltic Sea

Duration 2017-2020

Funding: Walter and Andree de Nottbeck Foundation


The influence of climate and catchment on arctic pond ecosystem diversity

Duration 2019-2020

Funding: Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation


Coupling of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity in forests

Duration 2022-2023

Funding: Kone Foundation


BIOISLAND – Biodiversity loss in freshwaters under changing environment – lessons from island diatoms

Duration 2022-2026

Funding: Academy of Finland

One of the most stunning features of Earth is how biodiversity varies in space and time. Due to the current biodiversity crisis, it is vital to understand how habitable area and land use changes affect biodiversity and accelerate biotic homogenization regionally. Biodiversity patterns are still poorly understood for small unicellular organisms especially in freshwaters even if these are crucially important in maintaining ecosystem functions and services. Our aim is to examine freshwater diatom functional and taxonomical biodiversity patterns and drivers on islands and continents and explain and predict biodiversity variation using key ecosystem characteristics. We use both observational global and regional diatom data sets and conduct field campaigns and experiments at smaller spatial scales in the Baltic Sea islands. These results will increase our understanding of how ecosystem fragmentation affects biodiversity in freshwaters.


ACTNOWAdvancing understanding of Cumulative Impacts on European marine biodiversity, ecosystem functions and services for human wellbeing
Duration 2022-2026
Funding: Horizon Europe

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