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

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

Simon Chapman

PhD, Post Doctoral Researcher

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.

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

Publications
Simon Chapman
Simon Chapman

Susanna Ukonaho

MSc, PhD student

Research interests: My current research investigates how vaccination and vaccination refusal affect the prevalence of disease epidemics and survival. For studying the effects of vaccination before public healthcare, I use 200 year Finnish vaccination records on the first vaccination campaign against smallpox. Thus far, smallpox remains the only successfully eradicated infectious disease and identifying its epidemiological characteristics can help to improve the effectiveness of vaccination and fight the spread of other infectious diseases.
I have also worked with Academy Professor Lummaa and the Myanmar Timber Elephant Project (MTEP) for my MSc project at the University of Turku, Finland.

Funding: Doctoral Programme in Biology, Geography and Geology (BGG)
ORCID ID: 0000-0003-1085-1549
Contact: susanna.s.ukonaho (at) utu.fi

Publications

Elisabeth Ylitalo

MSc student

Research interests: I am a Master’s student of ecology at the University of Turku. I am interested in behavioral ecology, genetics and evolution of life history traits and behaviors. In my Master’s thesis I study the effects of a living grandmother on the reproductive success of her children and survival of her grandchildren. I use multigenerational demographic data collected from church books from preindustrial northern Finland to study grandmother effects in a natural fertility and mortality population before modern medicine and birth control. The study population consists of both indigenous Sami people, who practiced traditional reindeer herding and foraging and farmers, who practiced animal husbandry and small-scale farming.

Contact: elmayl (at) utu.fi
 

Elisabeth Ylitalo
Elisabeth Ylitalo

Anne Hemmi

PhD, Research Coordinator

Project Management

​Contact: hemmi (at) utu.fi

Dr. Anne Hemmi
Anne Hemmi

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 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.
From 2020, I am working in the INVEST project in UTU's Department of Sociology.

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.
Starting in March 2020, I am moving to work in the Department of Public Health at the University of Turku.

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

Publications
Dr. Mirkka Lahdenperä
Mirkka Lahdenperä

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
Vérane Berger, Post Doctoral Researcher
Vérane Berger, Post Doctoral Researcher

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.
Currently, I am based in the Department of Sociology at UTU.

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

Publications
Dr. Samuli Helle
Samuli Helle

Sara Itkonen

Project researcher

I am a project researcher whose responsibilities are collecting the vaccination records from several Finnish archives and creating a database needed in the evaluation of the impact of smallpox vaccination. I have an MA in the history of Finland and Scandinavia. My scientific interests are the survival of humans and the role of food especially during famine.

Sara Itkonen
Sara Itkonen