Erkki Haukioja

From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2005. Profile circa 2004.

Degree                                                  Ph.D.
Organization                                        University of Turku, Finland

Honorary Member Award 2005

ehaukiojaSince my early childhood I have been interested in nature, especially birds. During the school years. I used far too much time bird watching relative to studying. Furthermore, because neither my parents nor any of my relatives received a college education, I did not really understand why we had to learn, for instance, English at school. I do not remember meeting any foreigners when I was a child.

I went to Turku University to study biology, with zoology as the major. Zoology, botany and genetics were strictly separate disciplines at that time. The teaching of zoology in Finnish universities was very traditional: morphology, systematics, anatomy, and very little ecology. Together with practically all other students, my goal was to become a biology teacher: we knew very little of other alternatives. I had a couple of short terms as a school teacher, and found that I could manage the job, but also that I did not like it very much.

I chose to do my doctoral work on the reed bunting, a small passerine. I used four field seasons to study its life- history, especially productivity of different clutch sizes, and completed my PhD thesis in 1969. I got practically no supervising during the job – a fact that did not bother me at all. It just came perhaps ten years later to my mind that it would have been good if somebody would have advised me to try to publish in international, instead of Finnish, periodicals.

Paavo Kallio, professor in botany, recruited me into the IBP (International Biological Programme) work at the Kevo research station, in northernmost Finland. For some time I was happy measuring energy flows among ecosystem boxes, but finally found out that finding one more decimal to a flow arrow was not very exciting. I decided to switch back into life-history evolution. Before leaving the IBP work, I wrote some advice for students, and during the writing process I covered animal cycles (typical for the northern study area) as an example of a more ambitious work than ecosystem ecology. Then I got the idea that plants might actually have defenses, even induced defense (I had not read of such alternatives), and these might have a role behind herbivore fluctuations.

My career history is very different from present day practices in northern Europe. Although I fully appreciate the benefits of an efficient student supervising, I also feel that too many students just study what their supervisors did. Accordingly, because I belong to the boards of two private Finnish foundations, my contribution now to Finnish ecology is realized if I succeed to separate innovative research applications from outstanding routine applications. The older I become, the more I seem to appreciate understanding the mechanisms behind dynamics of natural systems – not only consequences of dynamics.


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