A new research initiative at Tvärminne Zoological Station (TZS) brings together long-term research projects and conducts field and laboratory experiments, all in order to understand the function of the Baltic food web and how it is affected by environmental change. The research focuses on a community module consisting of blue mussels, eider ducks and white tailed sea eagles. This module forms a central part of the Baltic ecosystem and contains a keystone species, a mesopredator and a top predator and it links the marine and the terrestrial environments. We investigate the direct and trophically mediated impacts of environmental change within this group of closely interacting species representing three different trophic levels. Special emphasis is put on the trophic interactions surrounding the eider duck and how these affect its population development. The eider populations are in precipitous decline and the species was recently classified as endangered within the EU. We hope to understand what processes are driving the eider populations and to mitigate potential threats.
In 2017 Kim Jaatinen (TZS) and Markus Öst (Åbo Akademi) conducted their traditional fieldwork studying the Tvärminne eider population. This season was especially interesting and worrisome: the research group recorded an all time low in the population’s offspring production. Normally the 12 km wide research area produces between 1000 and 2000 ducklings, but this year only a mere 41 ducklings were seen in the standard duckling survey conducted at the end of June. Predation by sea eagles plays a major role in this low production but also other causes are under investigation.
The blue mussel study conducted by Mats Westerbom, Kim Jaatinen and Alf Norkko focuses this year on analysing the effects of climate change on the population dynamics of this species so central to the Baltic ecosystem. In addition to applying new analysis techniques to the long-term data, the group has continued work on monitoring recruitment of young mussels to the population. This year a new monitoring scheme was started, which aims at following spatial and temporal variations in the condition (i.e., meat content) of the mussels.
The findings of this year’s projects will all shed light on the impact we are having on the Baltic Sea and how its ecosystem will be affected. This knowledge may help us mitigate the bad influence we are having on our environment. Stay tuned for upcoming results!
Text: Dr. Kim Jaatinen, Tvärminne Zoological Station
Photos: Heikki Eriksson & Kim Jaatinen
In order to introduce mobile data gathering tools, a web browser based visualization service was set up for the stations a few months ago. The service is aimed for any visitor at any of the stations; people can use their mobile devices to record their own nature observations. The observations made are visualized on a map below (fig. 1) in real-time. The idea of this project, besides introducing the tools, is to provide meaningful doing for different groups visiting or staying at the research stations. So far observations have been made by staff, researchers, different courses and sudden visitors.
Fig. 1. The mobile nature observations visualized on a map. A green marker means a positive observation and a red marker means a negative observation.
We used Open Data Kit –tools for data gathering and Google’s services in visualizing the data. All the tools used work seamlessly hand in hand. All the necessary tools have been installed and are available at the stations. Mobile data gathering tools can be used for example both in research and teaching purposes.
Using mobile devices for data gathering has some advantages against traditional field forms. With digital mobile forms, all kinds of data can be gathered simultaneously with one device. Besides of numeric data it’s also possible to record co-ordinates, take photos, record sound etc. With ready-made digital forms and pre-formatted answers to choose from, errors in writing down the data can be minimized. One big advantage is also that the data is sent directly to the server (or a spreadsheet) from the field. The forms work also off-line, which is very important in field conditions, also in a technologically advanced country like Finland there are numerous areas with no mobile data connection available.
Contact Lammi Biological Station for more information on the tools available. The nature observation system is at your disposal if you visit any of the five HiLIFE-stations.
There are also co-operation between Lammi Biological Station and some teachers around Finland. The idea is to use the mobile observation tools in school projects and public science projects.
The Muddusjärvi Research Station differs slightly from the other four HiLIFE-stations for not having a large infrastructure and year round activities. The station belongs to the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Helsinki and is situated in northern Finland in the village Kaamanen, 25 km from the city of Inari. The station operates with ca. 13 hectares of field and ca. 700 ha of forest and administrates also a 1000 ha lake area. The original purpose was to conduct research to support Lappish agriculture and other subarctic research for the Faculty. Since 1996, the usage of the station has been more or less project based and concentrated to the summer time. There is one permanent employer accompanied by the necessary summer help.
The Inari lowlands are among the best farming areas in the northern Lapland. Fields are situated near the water systems and therefore better sheltered from the frost. The soil is mineral soil ranging from fine sand / moraine to fine silt. The fields are low with organic material and the forests are flat dry coniferous forests. Reindeer are a regular sight.
In a future blog post we will write more about the recent research projects which have been conducted from the Muddusjärvi Research Station. The station provides an excellent base for smaller research activities and the station owned areas makes it easy to set up different experiments.
The title of this blog post comes from this excellent time lapse video from a local Inari based photographer Rauno Koivunen. The video shows the leaving of the ice cover from the lake Muddus which happened quite late this year.
Situated in the distant north-western corner of Finland, Kilpisjärvi Biological Station is the youngest of biological field stations of University of Helsinki. The field station was established in 1964 and is famous for its unique location, surroundings and research activities based on long-term monitoring schemes, especially on phenology and population dynamics of the key species in arctic ecosystems.
Since 1986 a field course on subarctic ecology has been a steady part of the stations summer program and one of the most traditional field courses for students of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. (Well, the first course was held in 1980 but was put to halt for two years because of the stations renovation work). For sure the course structure has seen many changes and co-teachers during its +30 year history, but it is still more or less driven by the field station’s manager, Professor Antero Järvinen, and concentrates on the main characteristics of subarctic nature.
Recently the course has been held for up to 15 students, lasting 10 days during the end of June and the first half of July. The combination of excellent surroundings, introductory and advanced lectures, small-scale course studies and variety of field excursions has made this course one of the most anticipated field courses among the students. Every course is unique, since the students themselves are one of the key contents, as every student gives a presentation, chosen from a list of given topics, in a student seminar or during a field excursion.
The starting point for the course is the conditions that organisms face in these arctic latitudes; how the ecological features and limiting factors shift as the importance of biotic factors (e.g. predation, competition between species) decrease and the importance of abiotic factors (average temperature, extreme variations of weather conditions) increase, how organisms have adapted to cope with the extreme conditions and how to exploit the resources available. Furthermore, the theoretical background highlights the role of key species and, naturally, the long-term changes, both in the climatic conditions and species’ population dynamics.
“The field excursion and teaching species
identification in the field were the best part
of the course.”
But there’s no better way to put theory into practice than sending the students to the field. As a starter, the students collect data for small-scale course works in a small study area nearby the station. The topics have varied, from surveying bird nests to collecting spiders, but the focus is on field methodology, standardizing, sampling and observing the nature from scientific perspective. Step by step, the excursions tend to get broader, from full day hikes to the nearby fells (mountain) or visiting the Norwegian fjords with their own wildlife. The course also visits the bog areas situated 100 km south of Kilpisjärvi, especially the palsa bog areas, introducing the students to another important habitat type of arctic ecosystems.
“Teaching was really inspiring and teachers gave
attention to every student. Each teacher on the
course is a firm expert of one’s own field.”
Species identification is another important aspect on the course. The purpose is to mainly give general education, as different habitats are characterized by their species compositions. Of course, the background and purpose of species identification skills and mastering species communities were dealt with, since knowing the different bird calls or leaf structures can be essential when working with experimental or plain monitoring studies. But “picking up the cool stuff” and highlighting the specialties of this particular region is also important.
For sure every hue and detail cannot be observed during a single course, but it’s also about exciting and inspiring the students. What a way to familiarize a new generation of students for the function of field stations, biodiversity monitoring and scientific examination than offering hands-on experiences and chances to witness the atmosphere of this one-of-a-kind environment. Field courses like this are also important for recruiting new people for the field stations – and field station based teaching also serves its crucial part on university-level education.
“During the field excursions I realized how
unique the nature in this part of Finnish Lapland
really is. Many thanks to the organizers!”
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.
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.
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.
Associate Professor Bob Wong, Monash University, Australia.
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.
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.
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
New research from LBS professor Lauri Arvola and colleagues shows that contrary to expectations, Finnish lakes on the whole have not become browner over a 101 year period (1913-2014). This is the first time that a comparison over such a long time period has been made.
The hue of the water has become browner in many lakes, but the opposite is true in others, and many have remained stable.
See this link for the publication:
Summer is coming and field activities are increasing at the research stations. In the north there is still a thick cover of snow, but in the south of Finland the students from different faculties and departments are all around, busy with their teachers. Research groups are installing their equipment and starting to execute their fine plans outdoors. The interns have plenty of things on their hands, helping in the research or doing their own research projects.
The University of Helsinki research stations offer excellent logistics and support for research and teaching. With their long history the stations are able to provide long term environmental background data sets from the Baltic Sea to the north of Finland. The stations have modern infrastructure to support a wide variety of research, from field studies to laboratory analyses. Accommodation and catering services make the stay at the stations easy and comfortable.
This blog is all about the happenings at the University of Helsinki research stations. The stations belong to the RESTAT-station network along with the other Universities’ field stations. Five of the stations form also a HiLIFE-network (Helsinki Institute of Life Sciences) for co-operation. You are welcome to follow the activities of Tvärminne Zoological Station, Lammi Biological Station, Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station, Kilpisjärvi Biological Station and Muddusjärvi Research Station in this blog.
A common www-page is also under construction for the stations. When it is ready you good people will be informed here. Have an interesting summer and do not forget to visit here now and then!
The University of Helsinki research station network provides excellent framework for conducting research and teaching. This blog provides insight into the five HiLIFE-stations, ranging from the Baltic Sea to the north of Finland. Stay tuned for news and do not forget to visit also