Ongoing projects


Maternal thyroid hormones: ecology, evolution and environmental disruption

This is a 5-year project (2016-2020) funded by the Academy of Finland. We study the function, environmental plasticity and evolutionary correlates of maternally-derived egg thyroid hormones in birds. I also study the potential for pollutants as (transgenerational) thyroid function disruptors. Research methods include international large-scale inter-and intraspecific sample collection and experimental manipulation of hormones and environmental conditions. We also develop new methodology to measure thyroid hormones (nano-LCMS).

Current project members: Post-docs: Bin-Yan Hsu, Antoine Stier; PhD student: Tom Sarraude, MSc Mikaela Hukkanen, Kalle Aho

Collaborators: Veerle Darras (KUleuven, Belgium), Blandine Doligez (CRSN, Lyon), Ton Groothuis (Univ Groningen, NL), Marcel Visser (Netherlands Institute of Ecology, NL), Tapio Eeva (Univ. Turku), Rodrigo Vasquez (Univ Chile) ​and numerous other groups involved in sample collection.

Maternal effects in extreme climatic conditions

In collaboration with Martje Birker (Uni Groningen), Rodrigo Vasquez (Uni Chile), we study how maternal effects (hormones, incubation behavior) may play a role in adapting to extreme climatic conditions in a passerine bird (Thorn-tailed Rayadito) across a gradient in Chile, using correlative and experimental appraoch.

Maternal effects and adaptation to novel climatic conditions

With Amanda Pettersen and Tobias Uller (Lund Uni) we study how maternal effects via maternal hormone transfer may explain countergradient variation in developmental rates in Wall lizard populations.


Early-life environment, mitochondria, aging and plasticity

We study how prenatal and postnatal environment influences aging markers and mitochondrial function in birds, with Antoine Stier (UTU, Glasgow)

Maternal effects under predation risk

Together with Dr. Chiara Morosinotto and Dr. Robert Thomson we study how breeding under simulated predation risk affects resource allocation to egg in pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca).

Human impact and transgenerational effects in fish

With Katja Anttila and Giovanna Mottola (Univ Turku) we explore among population variation and consequences of human-induced environmental changes (temperature changes due to nuclear power plants) on maternal thyroid hormones and reproduction.


Causes and consequences of variation in mitochondria function

We study genetic and enviromental origins (incl early life environment) mitochondrial function (activity and density) and plasticity of mitochondria in wild bird populations with Antoine Stier (UTU) and Coline Marciau. PhD student Nina Cossin-Sevrin (UTU)

Towards an evolutionary theory of stress: – combining modelling and empiricism

Starting from University of Bern (SW) ’Arolla workshop’ we are a team of empiricists (prof Barbara Taborsky, prof Carmen Sandi, Dr. Sinead English and me) and theoreticians (Dr. Tim Fawcett, Dr, Bram Kuijper, Prof Olof Leimar) who are processing how to model stress responses and evolution of stress, as well as the links between stress programming and development.

Oxidative stress and life-histories

Using various experimental designs and long-term data collection we study oxidative cost of reproduction- using the pied flycatcher as the model system. Collaborators: Robert L Thomson (Univ Cape Town), Chiara Morosinotto (Novia)


We study how early-life exposure to pollutants and poor nutrition affects methylation markers in a wild bird model (great tits).

We are also compiling a review on methodologies in analysing methylation data from non-model organisms.

We study how agrochemicals (glyphosate-based herbicides) may influence organisms via altering DNA methylation patterns, both short-term and after cumulative exposure.

Collaborators: Dr. Hannu Mäkinen, Dr. Tapio Eeva (UTU) and Dr. Kees van Oers and Dr. Veronika Laine (NIOO, NL).

Students: MSc student Mark Verschuuren (NIOO; NL)

We study the epigenetic mechanisms programming long-lasting effects of early life hormone environment. Collaborators: Riikka Lund, Mikko KOnki (FFGC; UTU).

MSc Student: Mikaela Hukkanen (UTU), PhD student Bernice Sepers (NIOO; NL).


Effects of glyphosate on non-target taxa: glyphosate in a vertebrate model

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbidice in the world, but data on the effects on non-target taxa in environmentally relevant concentration is scarce. Together with the group of Marjo Helander (5-year Academy of Finland project, 2017-2021) we study its short-​ and long-term effects on development, physiology in a vertebrate model (bird model). We also study how remains of herbicides in manure may influence plant performance in circular economy.

Collaboration: Marjo Helander, Irma Saloniemi, Miia Rainio (UTU), Anne Muola, Benjamin Fuchs, Kari Saikkonen (Biodiversity, UTU)

Glyphosate and bacterial adaptation

We study the evolution of EPSPS, the target enzyme for glyphosate, and its resistance.

Collaboration: Pere Puigpo, Miia Rainio, Marjo Helander (UTU)



he role of gut microbiome in thermal adaptations in wild birds (Academy of Finland, 2021-2023)

All animals on our planet carry microorganisms in their gut. Gut microbiome has recently been shown to be strongly linked to health in human and captive animals. The host together with its full microbial community have been suggested to form an inseparable entity – the holobiont. There is ongoing debate if and how the microbiome may facilitate adaption to varying environmental conditions. To truly address the variety of adaptations, holobiont studies must be taken from the current model organisms to a wide range of wild species and populations to understand how selection on the gut microbiome works in the natural world. Winter at high latitudes proposes an energetic and thermoregulatory challenge, influencing survival. Studies in mammalian model organisms suggest that the microbiome changes with temperature and there is proof-of-concept data that this compositional shift in microbiome occurs as an adaptive response
to a cold environment. In this proposal, our overarching aim is to test the hypothesis, whether and how the microbiome can contribute to host cold tolerance and thus potentially affect survival in wild bird populations. To achieve this, we address the following questions using great tit populations as our model system:

(i)Does gut microbiome change with exposure to cold, and how plastic is this change?
(ii)Are temperature-induced changes in microbiome linked to thermoregulation?
(iii)What are the underlying molecular mechanisms that link microbiome and thermal physiology?

Collaboration, e.g. Andreas Nord (Lund University), Antoine Stier (University of Lyon/Turku), Sami Taipale (University of Jyväskylä), Eero Vesterinen (University of Turku), Leo Lahti (University of Turku), Tapio Mappes (University of Jyväskylä), Zbyszek Boratynski


The role of gut microbiome in adapting to changing environmental conditions (starting 2020)

All organisms on our planet carry microorganisms in their gut. Human and animal model studies show that gut microbiome is strongly linked to health. Host and its full microbial community have been suggested to form an inseparable entity – the holobiont. It is currently heatedly debated whether  and how microbiome may help holobiont to adapt to variable environments. To address this, holobiont studies must be taken from the lab to the wild to reach the natural variation in developmental and selective environments. In this proposal, my overarching aim is to contribute to the understanding whether microbiome can drive the holobiont adaptation to environmental variation in wild populations, by following the principles of evolutionary theory (variation,  inheritance, selection, adaptation). We also test a novel hypothesis of adaptive developmental programming via microbiome. We have the following objectives:


  • VARIATION: We quantify variation in gut microbiome within and among wild animal populations across the breeding range
  • INHERITANCE: We characterize parent-to-offspring vertical transmission of microbiome via eggs in wild populations
  • SELECTION: We measure the influence of variation in gut microbiome on reproductive success and survival in wild populations, and study the physiological and behavioural mechanisms causing the fitness variation
  • ADAPTATION: We test the hypotheses that microbiome variation can underlie adaptive developmental programming, and contribute to local adaptation in wild populations

The study will be conducted at extensive temporal and European-wide spatial scale using well-established wild passerine bird populations. The work will build on the group’s research expertise on evolutionary ecology and microbiology in wild populations, outstanding molecular and bioinformatic competence, combined with novel, interdisciplinary experimental approaches adopted from medical science. The work is timely, addressing a topical challenge with innovative hypotheses, building on recent results from lab animals and cutting-edge molecular methods. The results help to understand how microbiome can contribute to phenotypic variation and allow animals to adapt to changing environments.

Collaboration: Adj. Prof Leo Lahti (Dept of Mathematics, UTU),  Dr. Kirstin Grond (Univerisity of Conniticut, USA), Dr. Manu Tamminen (UTU) sDr. Carlos GomezGallego (Uni Eastern Finland);. Dr. Emrah Yatkin (Head of Animal Center Laborator, UTU) Dr Andreas Nord (Lund Uni),  Dr. Caroline Isaksson (Lund Uni), prof Kees van Oers (Netherlands Institute of Ecology, NL), Prof Anne Charmantier (Uni Montpellier), Dr. Balasz Rosivall (Eotvos , HUN), Dr. Silvia Espin (University of Murcia, SP). Veli-Matti Pakanen (University of Oulu) Prof Lars Gustafsson (Uppsala Uni, SWE),  Prof Ilari Sääksjärvi (Biodiversity Unit, UTU).

MSc students: Lotta Hollmen, Kaisa Merimaa

Anthropogenic stressors and microbiome

We study how various anthropogenic stressors, such as pollution and herbicides may influence organism health and performance via influencing their gut microbiome. Methods include experimental approaches and collecting data from pollution gradients.

In collaboration with Pere Puigbo, we study the phylogeny and molecular evolution of the target enzyme of glyphosate, EPSPS in bacteria. We also experimentally test sensitivity of bacteria to glyphosate in vitro (with Arto Pulliainen).

Collaboration: Marjo Helander, Irma Saloniemi, Pere Puigpo, Miia Rainio (UTU), the group of Seppo Salminen (Functional Foods Forum, UTU), Arto Pulliainen (Biomedicine, UTU), Dr. Blandine Doligez (CRNS Lyon).

MSc student Lyydia Leino.


Main collaboratorsDurationProjectFunded
Dr. Bin-Yan Hsu (UTU)

Prof. Shinichi Nagakawa (Uni South Wales, Australia)

Dr. Sandra Bowhuis, Dr. Oscar Vedder

2019-23Thyroid hormones and life-history variation in vertebratesA of FIN;


Prof. Tobias Uller and Amanda Petterson (Lund Uni)2020-21THs driving population differentiation in LH traits in lizardsVR, SWE
Prof. Rodrigo Vasquez (Uni Chile), PhD student Martje Birker (Uni Groningen)2018-22The role ole of maternal THs in adapting to extreme environments across bird populationsAcademy of Chile
Dr. Patrik Karell, Chiara Morosinotto (Novia)2020-21THs underlying differences in fitness across colour morphsA of FIN
Dr.Leonida Fusani (UVienna)2020-22THs and variation in avian migratory phenotypesU Vienna
Prof. Stafford Lightman, Thomas Upton (Medical School, Uni Bristol)2020-21Human ultradian TH hormone variationU Bristol
Dr. Katja Anttila (UTU)2017-20TH variation across the Baltic sticklebacksA of FIN
Dr. Marjut Rajasilta and group (UTU)2020-24THs and iodine as drivers of LH variation in Baltic herringsAlhopuro
Dr. Antoine Stier, Vincent Viblanc (Strasbourg)2018-2022Causes and consequences of variation in mitochondria (within and across species)TCSM
PhD student Kasja Malkoc, PhD student Marlene Oefele, Prof Mikaela Hau (Max Planck Institute)2020-22Covariation between different hormonal axis; THs, growth and ageingMPI

List of collaborators

In alphabetical order:

Prof. Katja Anttila (University of Turku) -animal physiology

Prof. Anne Charmantier (University of Montpellier, France) – evolutionary ecology

Dr. Blandine Doligez (CRNS, France) – evolutionary ecology

Dr. Tapio Eeva (University of Turku) – ecology

Dr. Sinead English (University of Bristol, UK) -evolutionary ecology, modelling

Dr. Silvia Espin (University of Murcia, Spain) – ecotoxicology

Prof. Leonida Fusani (Vienna University) – endocrinology

Dr. Benjamin Fuchs (UTU) – ecology

Dr. Carlos Gomez-Gallego (University of Eastern Finland) – microbiology and nutrition

Dr. Kirsten Grond (University of Conniticut, USA) – microbiology

Prof. Ton Groothuis (University of Groningen, NL) – endocrinology

Prof. Lars Gustafsson (Uppsala University, SWE) – ecology

Prof. Mikaela Hau (Max Planck Institute) – evolutionary ecology

Dr. Arttu Heinonen (UTU Proteomics) – proteomics

Dr. Marjo Helander (University of Turku) – ecology

Dr. Bin-Yan Hsu (UTU) – evolutionary ecology, physiology

Dr. Caroline Isaksson (Lund Uni) – ecophysiology

Dr. Patrik Karell (NOvia Applied University, FIN) -ecology

Dr. Bram Kuijper (University of Exeter, UK) – modelling

Prof. Leo Lahti (Dept of Future Technologies, University of Turku) – applied mathematics

Dr. Veronika Laine (Netherlands Institute of Ecology, NL) – molecular biology

Prof Stafford Lightman (Medical School, University of Bristol, UK) – medicine

Dr. Chiara Morosinotto (Novia Applied University, FIN) – ecology

Dr. Anne Muola (UTU) – ecology

Prof. Shinichi Nagakawa (University of Southern Wales, Australia) – ecology

Prof. Jan-Åke Nilsson (Lund University, SWE) – ecology

Dr. Andreas Nord (Lund University, SWE) – ecology and ecophysiology

Prof. Kees van Oers (Netherlands Institute of Ecology, NL) – evolution, molecular ecology

Prof. Arto Pulliainen (Biomedicine, University of Turku) – biomedicine, microbiology

Dr. Amanda Patterson (Lund University) – evolutionary biology

Dr. Pere Puigbo (University of Turku) – molecular biology

Dr. Miia Rainio (University of Turku) – ecotoxicology

Dr. Marjut Rajasilta, Katja Mäkinen (University of Turku) – ecology

Dr. Balasz Rosivall (Eotvos Lorand University, HUN) -ecology

Prof Kari Saikkonen (Biodiversity, University of Turku) – ecology

Msc Bernice Sepers (NIOO; NL) – evolutionary ecology

Dr. Antoine Stier (UTU)

Prof Ilari Sääksjärvi (Biodiversity, University of Turku)- biodiversity

Prof. Barbara Taborsky (University of Bern, SW) – evolutionary ecology

Prof. Seppo Salminen (Functional Foods Unit, University of Turku)- microbiology

Prof. Tobias Uller (Lund University) -evolutionary biology

Dr. Thomas Upton (Bristol University) – medicine

Dr. Vincent Viblanc (University of Strasbourg, France) – ecophysiology

Prof. Rodrigo Vasquez (University of Chile, Chile) – ecology

Prof. Marcel Visser (Netherlands Institute of Ecology, NL) – evolutionary ecology

Dr. Emhra Yatkin (University of Turku)- veterinary science


2020: Translation for a documentary in epigenetics

2020: Interviews for a documentary film on glyphosate-based herbicides (Univerisiy of Tampere)

2020: Media presence on glyphosate-based herbicides

2020: Suomen Siipikarja-magazine article on glyphosate

2019:  High school even on evolutionary biology (conducted at ESEB conference)

2019: Organizing events for ESEB, kids’ science

2018: Exhibition (text, photos) on bird eggs in Ruissalo garden

2017: Public outreach event ’Lintuilta’, panelist responding to bird-related questions from the public