Virpi Lummaa

Professor
Principal investigator

I currently hold an Academy of Finland Professorship at the University of Turku, Finland to study natural selection in contemporary human populations. I am keen to 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. My group uses longitudinal demographic data from Finland spanning 350 years and 15 generations to look at how the strength and direction of selection on key fitness traits may have changed with the modernisation of societies. I also hold an ERC Consolidator grant to study senescence patterns in another long-lived mammal, the Asian elephant - see The Myanmar Timber Elephant Project for details.

Funding: Academy of Finland 292368: 2016-2020; ERC-2014-CoG 648766: 2016-2020

Contact: virpi.lummaa (at) utu.fi

Publications
Dr. Virpi Lummaa

Vérane Berger

PhD,  Post Doctoral Researcher

Research interests: I am an evolutionary ecologist and my research aims to understand the influence of biotic and abiotic factors in shaping senescence and the consequences on life history strategy. Senescence is a highly complex process that varies across species, population, individuals and traits and investigations are needed to identify factors and understand how they modulate senescence patterns. Do individuals that are helped or born in good year senesce later and/or slower than other individuals? I have had the great opportunity to use long-term monitoring in a wild population of Alpine marmots to investigate the influence of sociality on senescence during my PhD at the University of Lyon. I am now extending my research at the University of Turku by searching what ecological and social factors could explain variation in senescence between cohorts, individuals and traits thanks to extensive longitudinal datasets of the Finnish population and the semi-captive population of Asian elephants in Myanmar.

Funding: EU Horizon2020 ERC-2014-CoG 648766 / Virpi Lummaa
Contact: verane.berger (at) utu.fi
 
 

Publications
Dr. Vérane Berger
Dr. Vérane Berger

Robert Griffin

PhD, Post Doctoral Researcher

Research interests: My research is focused on natural selection and adaptation in contemporary humans. I use data from the Finnish population to explore the causes and evolution of sex differences, the evolution of life-history traits, and selection and adaptation in the light of modern innovation and cultural change. I also have ongoing research in sex chromosome evolution, intralocus sexual conflict, and the multivariate process of adaptation.

Funding: Academy of Finland 292368 / Virpi Lummaa
Contact: robert.griffin (at) utu.fi
 

Publications
Dr. Robert Griffin
Robert Griffin

Michael Briga

PhD, Post Doctoral Researcher

Research interests: Most of my work aims to identify factors affecting the dynamics of survival and senescence. I did this first in zebra finches, where I manipulated environmental quality through a foraging costs manipulation and found that environmental factors affecting lifespan differ from those affecting senescence.
Here, I use an amazing 350 year demographic dataset on historical Finns to investigate the associations between infectious diseases and human vital rates. More specifically, I will focus on the dynamics of smallpox epidemics and vaccination and their consequent effects on human survival. Smallpox is the only infectious disease that was successfully eradicated in human history and unravelling its epidemiological dynamics will help to identify important parameters in the fight against the spread of infectious diseases in contemporary humans. 
 

Funding: Academy of Finland 292368 / Virpi Lummaa
Contact: michael.briga (at) utu.fi
 

Publications
Dr. Michael Briga
Michael Briga

Jenni Pettay

PhD, Researcher

Research interests: The aim of my research is to understand the evolution of behaviour and life history traits. My main current research interest is the evolution of human family. Based on findings in our study populations of historical Finns, claiming humans to be cooperative breeders is justified as grandmothers improve reproductive success of their offspring and elder siblings can also be beneficial, to some extent, to their younger sibling fitness. But it is not well studied how proximity of non-kin affects survival or reproductive success. Presence of non-kin such as sister-in-laws in joint-families creates opportunity for conflict over resources, but it could also end in reciprocal help in some circumstances. I study fitness consequences of joint-family living, where brothers with their wives and children share a house, on survival of children and reproductive success of women and men.

Funding: Academy of Finland 292368 / Virpi Lummaa
ORCID ID: 0000-0002-7768-5883
Contact: jenni.pettay (at) utu.fi

Publications
Dr. Jenni Pettay
Jenni Pettay

Mirkka Lahdenperä

PhD, Researcher

Research interests: My research interests have been mainly focused on evolutionary benefits and conflicts of family living in humans (PhD thesis) and currently in Asian elephants. I am especially interested in the relationship between longevity and fitness and the inter-generational effects on these traits. My current research combines previous expertise on co-operative breeding in humans with examining the longitudinal dataset on Asian elephants from Myanmar. The study provides an opportunity to compare evolution of life-history traits in humans and elephants sharing many similarities such as long lifespan, high cognitive abilities, long offspring dependency and social groups containing several generations of breeders. Currently I’m also collaborating to clarify the benefits and costs of family living in pre-industrial Eastern Finnish families.

Funding: Kone Foundation 
Contact: mirkka.lahdenpera (at) utu.fi

Publications
Dr. Mirkka Lahdenperä
Mirkka Lahdenperä

Samuli Helle

PhD, Adjunct professor

Research interests: I aim to understand the demographic behavior of preindustrial humans from the perspective of life history theory. My current research project focuses on how environmental and socio-cultural variation shaped selection pressures on human life histories and how these processes are manifested at the population level. Since these processes are inherently complex and hierarchial in nature, I am using multilevel structural equation modeling to examine the complex causal links between the environment and demography from evolutionary perspective. To study these questions, I use large demographic data (app. 87 000 individuals) from several preindustrial (17th-19th centuries) Fennoscandian populations that have been collected from historical church books. I also have long-term interest on the evolutionary ecology of human sex allocation and one of my main enduring goals is to search for the potential signatures of adaptive sex allocation with respect to environmental and demographic variation in humans. During the years, I have also been involved in research on various evolutionary and ecological topics e.g. in voles, birds and modern humans.

Funding: Kone Foundation
Contact: samuli.helle (at) utu.fi

Publications
Dr. Samuli Helle
Samuli Helle

Robert Lynch

PhD,  Post Doctoral Researcher

Research interests: My current research involves the analysis of a database of refugees from Karelia - a part of Finland that was ceded to the Soviet Union during World War 2. These individuals comprised approximately 400,000 individuals (12% of the Finnish population). These records, detailing the lives and movements of the evacuees, have just recently been extracted from several books and I hope to use them to inform our understanding of the current refugee crisis facing Europe. I am particularly interested in exploring the impact of previously isolated ethnic groups and cultures colliding with one another. Combining anthropological theory with quantitative methods, I will examine the impact of contact with refugees on social integration and the cultural practices of both migrants and their host communities. My previous research includes the analysis of a database of previously uncontacted Yanomamo Indians from the Amazon rainforest, seeking to understand the evolutionary forces that affect fertility, lifespan and sex ratios, the impact of religious beliefs on attitudes towards out-groups and the evolutionary function of humor and laughter.

Funding: Kone Foundation
Contact:  robert.lynch (at) utu.fi

Publications
Robert Lynch
Robert Lynch

Simon Chapman

MSc, PhD student

Research interests: My research is aimed at investigating the evolution of behaviours and life-history traits, in particular the context-dependence of kin help. Using the Finnish population data, I will explore grandmother effects on grandchild survival in various environmental and social contexts. I will also look at how these survival effects might have changed over time with industrialisation and the demographic transition. I have also been working on how the demography of the relationship between grandmothers and grandchildren has changed from pre-industrial Finland to the mid-20th century.
Previously, I worked with Virpi and the Myanmar Timber Elephant Project (MTEP) at the University of Sheffield, studying how Asian elephants grow, how to predict weight from other body metrics, and how to predict elephant height using photogrammetry. I have also collaborated with members of MTEP to investigate how different faecal storage methods can affect detection of nematode eggs in horses.

Funding: Academy of Finland 292368 / Virpi Lummaa
ORCID ID: 0000-0003-2342-3383
Contact: simon.n.chapman (at) utu.fi
 
 

Publications
PhD student Simon Chapman
PhD student Simon Chapman

Kimmo Pokkinen

Research assistant

I am a project worker in the Human Life History Group, responsible for collecting and updating genealogical information from the old church books in Finland.
I have a MSc in Technology. After my career elsewhere I have worked with genealogical issues and assisted the researchers in the Human Life History Group for many years.

Contact: kimmo.pokkinen (at) utu.fi

Kimmo Pokkinen
Kimmo Pokkinen

Jenni Järvinen

Research assistant

As a project worker in the Human Life History Group, I gather information from the judgement books from the 18th and 19th centuries about certain sales contracts, in Finnish titled syytinkisopimus. The purpose of these contracts was generational transition of farms and crofts in Finnish countryside, and they included the right-of-occupancy on the estate and some kind of pension for the sellers, depending on the terms of the contract.
 
I study Finnish and Nordic History at the University of Helsinki. In my studies I have focused on Finland’s history during the Swedish rule, particularly on legal and criminal history in the 18th century. My MA thesis was about Castle Courts in Helsinki and Hämeenlinna at the end of Swedish rule.

 

Contact: jenni.jarvinen (at) helsinki.fi
 

Jenni Järvinen
Jenni Järvinen

Matleena Tuomisto

BSc, Research assistant

Research interests: I am a biology student, working for the project during the summer. I am mostly working with old church records, typing information on vaccinations into more useful format, so it can be used for research.
I got my bachelor's degree this spring and did my thesis for that on human evolution.

Funding: Academy of Finland 292368 / Virpi Lummaa
Contact: hemtuo (at) utu.fi

Matleena Tuomisto
Matleena Tuomisto

Anne Hemmi

PhD, Research Coordinator

Project Management

​Contact: hemmi (at) utu.fi

Dr. Anne Hemmi
Anne Hemmi