Current research projects

Currently, our research is focussed heavily on black grouse. It currently covers three topics: factors affecting male fitness, parasites and life history trade-offs and grouse survival and hunt.

Factors affecting male fitness

Investigators: Matti Kervinen, Christophe Lebigre, Carl Soulsbury & Heli Siitari

Black grouse offers a great possibility to follow individual males through their life time: old males will perform lekking in the same lek through their lives. Individuals are captured several times per season and marked with colour rings, and females are equipped also with radio transmitters to find their nests (and also to sample their chicks, see also molecular ecology of the lek mating system) later in the breeding season. Effects of environmental heterogeneity (i.e. cohort effects) on the development of individual traits can be investigated. In addition, we will study the phenotypic correlations between major life-history traits and male performance traits. However, the main research objective is to explore inheritance and maternal effects of performance traits and their relevance to sexual selection and life history evolution.

Parasites and life history trade-offs

Investigators: Kaisa Rokka, Anssi Lipponen, Carl Soulsbury, Vincent Staszewski & Heli Siitari

Understanding the dynamics of immune response to vector-borne microparasites and its causes in bird systems might offer important insights into how parasite-host systems operate, how and when parasite control measures should be applied and how disease risks will respond to anthropogenic climate change and altered patterns of seasonality, especially for vector-borne diseases with pronounced seasonal cycles. Using samples collected on the same individuals during consecutive breeding events we will address the issue of the link between seasonality of exposure to ectoparasites and the dynamics of antibody levels. Samples from geolocated nests will also allow to investigate spatial patterns at different scales.

Survival and hunting mortaility in grouse populations

Investigators: Miina Pekkola, Christophe Lebigre, Carl Soulsbury & Heli Siitari

We study causes and patterns of adult mortality in Black Grouse and itsí relative importance in population dynamics. Annual and seasonal variation in the adult grouse mortality can be high, even if the long term trends do not indicate any trend. This variation is likely to be an important driver of short term regulation in the population dynamics. We record the timing and cause of mortality of Black Grouse females by radio telemetry all year round, and further follow survival in males from spring to autumn. Moreover, we monitor age structure and activity of males at both legally hunted and protected lek sites. We will also investigate the season and the rate of dispersal in different sexes. Our general aim is to combine more detailed information on the mortality factors into evolutionary understanding of Black grouse ecology, and produce applicable information for management use.

Maternal effects and life history evolution in natural populations

Investigators: Heli Siitari, Marjo Pihlaja

The aim of the research is to understand the adaptive significance of maternal effects and the effects of variable environmental conditions on offspring performance. Specifically we will investigate in what extent external factors affect the variation in egg constituents (hormones, immunoglobulins, nutrients) in birds and how this variation is reflected in offspring fitness-related traits, like growth and immunity. In addition, environmental conditions at early stage of life may have major effects on offspring size and survival, and thus, early conditions and maternal effects may affect the evolution of sexually selected traits as well. Moreover, closely related to immunity, parasites are the key factors shaping host life-history evolution. Parasites can affect host reproductive performance and output, and shape offspring fitness scenarios. Interspecific brood parasitism functions as an effective selection pressure on host life-history traits.