Biodiversity research under changing climate

Dates: MON 10–FRI 21.8.2020
Organizer: University of Turku (Biodiversity Unit)
Price: 900 €
Credits: 5 ECTS
Class size: min. 10, max. 15 students

Teachers: Ilari Sääksjärvi, Jari Hänninen, Samuli Lehtonen, Mia Lempiäinen-Avci, Katja Mäkinen, Pasi Nurmi, Sirkku Häkkilä, Anna-Mari Pessi, Otso Suominen, Elina Vainio.

Course description

The aim of the course is to deepen the students’ understanding of biodiversity and its connection to climate change, as well as current research methodologies. The present massive extinction rate now caused by human activity threatens the biodiversity all over the world, while also hugely impacting the economic opportunities and vital ecosystem services.

The course introduces students to ecological interdependencies, ecosystem dynamics and trophic levels. The effects of human behaviour and scenarios for the future are discussed. Current basic research at the species level focuses on the process of species formation, the standing levels of species numbers in various higher taxonomic categories, and the phenomena of hyperdiversity and extinction proneness. The course offers insights on the characteristics of different climate zones, from equator to the Arctic, from marine to terrestrial and aerobiological biomes.

The course consists of:

  • a pre-assignment
  • field visits with practical assignments (botanic garden, archipelago, a moor)
  • project work

Learning objectives

Upon completing the course, the participant will:

  • have acquired up-to-date knowledge on biodiversity issues
  • are able to operate basic sampling equipment for zooplankton and handle collected samples
  • have knowledge on methods and techniques on species identification


Students will be evaluated based on completion of pre-assignment, course work and class participation. Assessment will be from 1-5.

Image of a research boat in the Finnish Archipelago Sea Image from Seili Island

Image from the UTU Zoological museum


Day 1 (Mon 10.8.): Introduction.
Venue: University campus
Discussing and defining biodiversity and climate/global change, going through learning outcomes of the course, getting to know the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku.

Multidisciplinary research and teaching lie at the heart of the activities of the Biodiversity Unit. As well as these, the unit also focuses on public outreach. Research topics addressed by our staff and students include the effect of climate change on subarctic biodiversity, the diversity of a wide range of taxa, and threats to the Archipelago Sea.

Day 2 (Tue 11.8.): Climate change, indigenous knowledge and subarctic research
Venue: University campus
The students familiarise with subarctic research and environmental monitoring in the circumarctic north and especially at Kevo Subarctic Research Institute. The focus is on the impact of climate change and other anthropogenic impacts on northern ecosystems and biodiversity. People are also viewed as part of the ecosystems. The local (indigenous) people have traditionally had an impact on the northern ecosystems, and they are exposed to the changes in the ecosystems in their traditional livelihoods, and their knowledge of functioning of the system is valuable. The ecology of reindeer and reindeer herding are discussed as an example. The impacts of both natural and human controlled herbivory on ecosystems is dealt as an example of the importance of biological interactions on the ecosystem processes under global change.

Day 3 (Wed 12.8.): Climate zones and boreal flora
Venue: Ruissalo Botanical garden
The University of Turku botanic garden in the island of Ruissalo contains a collection of over 5,000 plant species / varieties and is a living display of the diversity of the plant kingdom. The greenhouses offer a journey to the Earth’s different climate zones. Scientists have access to research fields, research greenhouses and laboratories which are suitable for a large variety of basic and applied biological research. Many plant species are threatened and botanical gardens participate in keeping them alive. The largest research fields of the outdoor garden are for research on birches. International seed exchange between botanical gardens gives the garden and its scientists the required plant material.

Days 4 and 5 (Thu-Fri 13.-14.8.): Ecology of the Baltic Sea
Venue: Archipelago Research Institute, Island of Seili (overnight trip)
The Archipelago Research Institute is a historical marine station at the island of Seili, located in middle of the Turku archipelago. The Institute offers various research support services as well as participates in multidisciplinary research of the Baltic Sea, with a special focus on the condition of the Archipelago Sea. At Seili, students are introduced to brackish-water ecology and general characteristics of the Baltic Sea and the Archipelago Sea. Students are also introduced to methodology used in marine research during a sampling trip on board of the Institute’s research vessel r/v Aurelia. During the sampling trip, the purpose of environmental monitoring and how it is done is also discussed as a way of understanding both ecological and human-induced changes in the ecosystem.

The students will also be introduced to an archaeobiological project which uncovers the past biodiversity and human impact in the island of Seili during the last 500 years. Session will include e.g. introduction to scientific methods in archaeology, practical work on archaeobotanical material with microscopes and a small tour on the northern part of the Island, where a group work will be done.

 Day 6 (Mon 17.8.): Collections-based biodiversity research and the access to genetic resources with fair benefit sharing (The Nagoya Protocol)
Venue: University campus, Zoological museum & Herbarium
The students are introduced to modern collections-based biodiversity science and to the Nagoya Protocol on Access to genetic resources with fair Benefit Sharing (ABS). They will learn how natural history collections are maintained, curated and digitised, and what kind of research questions can be answered using these collections. The access and utilisation of genetic resources for research purposes are governed globally by the international Nagoya Protocol. The students will learn how to ascertain legal access to the genetic resources and how to fulfil the requirements of the protocol and the EU ABS-regulation. The day will begin with an general overview to the global natural history museum network, and continue be covering various topics related to collections, such as basics of the museum work, an introduction to open access biodiversity data and the challenges inherent to these data, the potential of natural history collections for molecular, genomic and long time-series analyses, and a lecture concerning the Nagoya Protocol with hands-on practicals to accessing genetic resources and fair benefit sharing. Students will familiarize themselves with the collections hold in the Zoological Museum and Herbarium of the University of Turku.

Day 7 (Tue 18.8.): Biodiversity of the atmosphere
Venue: University campus
The students are introduced to the study of Aerobiology and its implication in atmospheric biodiversity, species distribution and gene flow, and human health in present and future climate. The day consists of lessons and practical laboratory assignments. The students will learn the basics of pollen and spore identification.

The topics of the day cover the definition of Aerobiology, distribution of life in the atmosphere and the patterns behind, outdoor and indoor Aerobiology and human health, pollen and spore monitoring and identification exercises, and climate change.

Day 8 (Wed 19.8.): From the Big Bang to the present time
Venue: University campus
This day will tackle the question what is the long-term relationship between the Earth and its surroundings in the astronomical context. We will go through the whole history of the Universe from the Big Bang to present time. You will learn how the Universe became as it is today, how the basic elements were formed and how our Solar System formed. There is also a more concrete relation between the Earth and its surroundings, namely the hits by asteroids and comets to the Earth. Those have had a big effect to the living species in the long term being the reason for many extinctions. You will learn how astronomers and space agencies have taken this threat seriously. Tens of new exoplanets are found every year and a big open question is that is there life outside our planet? We will review the current situation and future plans how to study these interesting problems.

Day 9 (Thu 20.8.): Day trip to national park
Venue: Kurjenrahka National Park
Field visit. Nature trails, studying typical Finnish ecology and biomes. Field lunch at laavu. The area consists mainly of bog but also includes primeval forests, some of which have been unmanaged for over 150 years.

Day 10 (Fri 21.8.): Closing
Venue: University campus
Closing lecture and going through what was learned during the course, closing ceremony.

 Subject to change