Male-male competition

Research in the Behavioural Ecology Research Group (Monash University, Australia), led by Associate Professor Bob Wong, focuses on the evolution of animal mating systems and behaviour. We have, for instance, investigated the impacts of environmental change on animal behaviour and the evolutionary process, and how investment in sex influences reproductive strategies and biological diversity.

Vargskär island in Tvärminne archipelago.

Members of the Group have had a long association with Tvärminne Zoological Station. In this respect, the Group has also been working in close collaboration with Prof. Kai Lindström (and others) for over a decade on sexual selection and parental care in fish. The work in Tvärminne has involved both field and laboratory-based research investigating the role of environmental factors (e.g. salinity, predation risk, competition, resource quality and density) on male and female mating behaviour. Our work has also included student research, with Australian-based students undertaking experiments on male parental care in sand gobies and sticklebacks.

Catching gsand gobies in shallow water.

In 2017, Bob Wong and Dr. Topi Lehtonen completed a field based experiment in Tvärminne, investigating the role of nesting resource quality and male-male competition on patterns of nest colonisation in male sand gobies. The research involved setting up artificial nesting resources (ceramic tiles) in shallow water near Vargskär Island and manipulating both the quality of the resource (large versus small tiles) and the extent of resource aggregation (i.e. a single nesting resource on its own, or two nesting resources in close proximity) and examining the attributes of the males that subsequently settle into those areas. The findings will contribute to our understanding of how resources and resource competition affect settlement patterns in the wild.

Artificial nesting resource (ceramic tiles) in shallow water (photo: Topi Lehtonen).
Artificial nesting resource (ceramic tile) in shallow water (photo: Topi Lehtonen).
Dr. Topi Lehtonen and Associate Professor Bob Wong on a small boat doing a selfie.
Dr. Topi Lehtonen and Associate Professor Bob Wong on a small boat doing a friedsie (photo: Topi Lehtonen).

Associate Professor Bob Wong, Monash University, Australia.

Read more from:
Bob Wong lab webpage:
Topi Lehtonen:

Silvicultural diversity

Only two decades ago, there seemed to exist just two silvicultural options in Finland, either commercial forestry or conservation. There was public debate over the adequacy of conserved forest area and the usefulness of the geographical locations of conserved areas. Improving the biodiversity of forests became a widely known concern at the turn of the century. After that, more and more alternative goals for forest management have become established hand in hand with increasing diversity of forest owners. Suddenly there seem to be as many options for forest management as there can be options to account for different societal needs.

Photo by Pekka Kaitaniemi

The variety of competing interests and methods may make even the scientific debate appear more like politics. The use of wood for carbon economy provides an example: is it best to allow forests in Finland to capture as much carbon from the atmosphere as quickly as possible, or is it best to promote the replacement of fossil fuels with biofuels as soon as possible? Although both options are sensible and based on good arguments, predicting the end result of either is highly complex depending on the time perspective and on the multiple connections among interacting ecological and societal processes.

Forestry courses at Hyytiälä station serve to teach silvicultural decisions through actual field examples. A look at the former and present course programs shows how the alternatives of forest management have appeared in the teaching agenda. Just ten years ago the division was simple “Differences between natural and commercial forests”, and the management methods included basic routines such as soil preparation, choice of proper tree species, seeding or planting practices, thinning procedures and cutting. Game management, a dear hobby for many traditional forest owners, was included as the sole added aspect.

Nowadays even the basic courses cover a much wider choice of management alternatives. As explicated in the course topics, people can have multiple values and objectives, and it is rational to emphasize different aspects in different decisions: landscape management, household needs, economical security, recreation, and generally the presence of multiple criteria for forest management, including various ecosystem services that can be promoted through proper nature management. The recommendations of WWF become covered as well.

Photo by Pekka Kaitaniemi

Forest sciences have good chances to be an active member in the current rise of Finnish forestry sector. The modern teaching of forest sciences has great potential for producing highly skilled experts of ecological engineering who can consider the invaluable role of forests for functioning of both biosphere and human economy. Despite the unavoidable complexity of balancing different goals, a student with proper values and insight – and hopefully accompanied with support from the society – has good possibilities to learn just the right tools to successfully tackle these challenges.

Text and photos: Dr Pekka Kaitaniemi, research coordinator, adj. prof. at Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station