Finnish Museum of Natural History

Aleksi Lehikoinen

Academy Research Fellow

I coordinate Finnish common bird monitoring schemes and lead my research group the Helsinki Lab of Ornithology in the Finnish Museum of Natural History. Currently I have a five-year Academy Research Fellowship (till August 2019) funded by the Academy of Finland. I have written my first bird observations in year 1987. I started my biology studies in 1999 and finished my MSc thesis about population dynamics and diet of the Great Cormorant in 2003. In my PhD thesis (2009), I studied impact of climate and food availability on timing of breeding and breeding success of eight bird species. I have been working in the Finnish Museum of Natural History since November 2009. I'm also an active at the Hanko Bird Observatory and board member of the European Bird Census Council and a member of the Finnish rarity committee of BirdLife Finland.

Research topics

Publications and activities

Research group

Monitoring and birds as indicators of environmental change

Habitats and their quality are changing all the time because of human influence and natural processes. Impacts of agriculture, forestry, drainage of peatlands and eutrophication are examples of human caused habitat changes. Succession of forests and fluctuation of the seed crop of tree species are on the other hand examples of natural processes, which affect habitat type and quality. My group uses bird monitoring data to study how bird populations fluctuate and how populations are responding to changes in the environment. Finnish monitoring schemes are part of international monitoring network and I'm acting in the board of the European Bird Census Council, which coordinates the bird monitoring in Europe. In recent years state of the biodiversity has been increasingly started to monitor using status indicators of species. My projects include developing and updating of habitat specific status indicators of birds.

•    Post-doc Ulisses Camargo is developing identification tools for automatic recording of animal sounds
•    Doctoral student Purabi Deshpande is studying native bird species interact with introduced non native plant species
•    Post-doc research Päivi Sirkiä is studying the role of environmental conditions on the maintenance of phenotypic variation in free-living populations


Birds in changing climate

In addition to human caused habitat change, global climate change affects the environment. The effect of climate change on populations is not necessarily independent, but interacts with land use practicies. Climate change causes shifts in species' migration and breeding phenology and distribution areas. My group is studying for instance, which factors are explaining the species-specific variation in response to climate change.

•    Doctoral student Katja Koskenpato investigates variation in winter survival of tawny owl colour morphs
•    Master student Valtteri Lehto studies impact of climate and forest cover on winter survival of passerines
•    Master student Ari Turula investigates impact of climate on Finnish winter bird communities



Protection areas, environmental change and management

Traditional nature conservation is to establish protection areas for species. Status of the protection areas does not necessarily remain stable because of large-scale environmental changes such as climate change and eutrophication. For instance climate change is shifting species distributions, but position of the protection areas are constant. Because of this, it is important to investigate do the protection areas ameliorate species in relation to climate driven range shifts. Quality of the protection areas can also be improved using management actions. To make management cost-efficient, it is important to investigate the effects of different action types.

•    Doctoral student Petteri Lehikoinen studies impacts of protected areas and management actions on numbers of waterbirds and landbirds
•    Post-doc Sanna Mäkeläinen evaluates effects of land use on birds and flying squirrel using environmental impact assessment data  
•    Doctoral student Sirke Piirainen is examining what factors affect species' risk to be endangered  
•    Post-doc Andrea Santangeli addressed important issues in nature conservation, working across disciplines to understand problems and devise effective solutions.




Fascinating bird migration

Majority of the bird species in North Europe are migratory spending part of their life cycle outside breeding areas. Because of this their population dynamics for instance can be affected by environmental changes during the both winter and summer areas. Long-term bird ringing has revealed migration routes of species and current modern tracking devices enables to investigate migration online in the globe (look at research pages of Jari Valkama). Annual migration numbers and phenology of birds are also affected by environmental changes. In our research, we are for instance combining migration data with the species distribution data to improve our understanding about overall changes in the bird populations. In addition, we are studying processes of bird migration. The key source of the bird migration data is the Hanko Bird Observatory, which is maintained by the Ornithological Society of Helsinki region, Tringa.

•    Master student Samuli Haapalainen investigates how population trends of species calculated based on breeding and migration surveys are correlated.




Post-doc Ulisses Camargo's project called “Community ecology through automated identification of animal sounds” aims to apply the animal sound identifier (ASI) software he developed during his PhD to acquire and analyze big data on vocal communities, using Finnish forest birds as a case study of automated acoustic monitoring. The outcomes of his research are: i) provide a comparison of the cost-effectiveness of autonomous recording as an alternative to traditional methods such as point and line counts, and to design optimal sampling designs for species surveys; and ii) enhance adaptation of the monitoring schemes to climate change by investigating the seasonal changes in the species activity and detectability. Ulisses did his PhD at the University of Helsinki in the Metapopulation Research Centre, working on the development of software to automatically identify vocal species from field audio recordings. Ulisses is a Brazilian biologist trained at the University of São Paulo (2009), with a Masters in Ecology (2012) from the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA).

Publications and activities in Tuhat-database

Doctoral student Purabi Deshpande is supervised by Aleksi Lehikoinen and Dr. Rose Thorogood. She is broadly interested in urban ecology and ornithology.  For her PhD she will work on how native bird species interact with introduced non native plant species in cities. She will study the effect of extent of pollination and dispersal carried out by urban birds on the invasive potential of introduced plant species. She hopes to carry out this work in two diverse systems provided by two cities: Helsinki, Finland and Bangalore India. Apart from research, she has worked in the field of science communication and is enthusiastic about communicating research pertaining to the environment and ecology to the general public.

Twitter: @DPurabiD


Doctoral student Katja Koskenpato started her PhD thesis in the group in 2017. She is studying differences between tawny owl colour morphs, focusing on their difference in winter survival. In her Master’s thesis she studied differences in plumage insulation capacity between these morphs. Her thesis is supervised by Patrik Karell and Aleksi Lehikoinen and founded by The Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation.

Publications and activities in TUHAT database

Twitter: @ECCHO_Owl


Doctoral student Petteri Lehikoinen started his PhD thesis in the group in 2016. He investigates the efficiency of conservation actions are in relation to differential environtal changes. The work is funded by the Maj and Tor Nessling foundation. Petteri did his Master's thesis in University of Helsinki on wetland management actions and waterbird numbers during migration and breeding seasons in South Finland. Petteri has also worked in the FMNH as a Senior Museum Technician. He is an active ringer and birder and involved in several bird monitoring schemes. Petteri is also a member of the Finnish rarity committee.

Publications and activities in TUHAT database

Twitter: @LehikoinenPepe


Master student Valtteri Lehto started his master’s thesis at the HelLO in 2018. The topic of the thesis is the connection of ambient temperature and land use with the winter survival of resident birds in Finland. The aim is to find out whether there is a correlation between the winter survival of the birds and the winters’ severity and if a good quality habitat can help the birds to survive through the coldest periods of winter. Valtteri pursues to connect the results of the study with the overall conversation about climate change and habitat destruction.


Post-doc Sanna Mäkeläinen investigates how land use projects affect birds and the Siberian flying squirrel using information of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes in a three-year project funded by Kone Foundation. During the project the material of Finnish EIA projects is gathered to make a comparison of the abundances, richness and trends of different species in the developed project areas with those of the surrounding areas. Sanna defended her PhD about the effects of human-modified forest landscapes on the Siberian flying squirrel. While not in office, she is going outdoors with her dog and doing different dog sports, but she is also watching birds during her spare time.

Julkaisut ja aktiviteetit Tuhat-tietokannassa

Twitter: @SannaMkelinen

Doctoral student Sirke Piirainen is investigating which factors related to climate change and land use are affecting breeding populations of endangered bird species and also the risk of becoming endangered. She will also try to predict which currently general species might become endangered in the future and figure out with what measures the protection of these species could be enhanced. The thesis is supervised by Jari Valkama, Markus Piha and Aleksi Lehikoinen. Sirke obtained her MSc in 2014 in the University of Helsinki. She did her Master’s thesis in Kenya, studying the co-operative breeding behavior of Cabanis’s greenbul. After graduation Sirke acquired additional training in GIS and spent 4 months at the FMNH working with Jari Valkama on various GIS tasks. When not at the office Sirke can be found outside either running, mountain biking, skiing or kayaking. 

Publications and activities in TUHAT database


Post-doc Andrea Santangeli joined the group in January 2016. His main line of research is improving the practice of conservation via sound evaluation of the effectiveness of conservation actions. He has currently three years post-doctoral research funding provided by the Academy of Finland. Andrea completed his PhD in 2013, followed by a post doc on conservation strategies in the group led by Atte Moilanen at Helsinki University. Vultures are his favourite group of birds and he has an additional Vulture project in Namibia! 

Publications in Tuhat-database

Twitter: @and_san_vult


Post-doc Päivi Sirkiä started as a research coordinator in the group in 2014. The first three years she has working in her own research project funded by the Academy of Finland. In the project she studied the role of environmental conditions on the maintenance of phenotypic variation in free-living populations using Pied and Collared Flycatcher as model species. Päivi defended her thesis in the University of Turku in 2011, since then she has been working as a researcher in the Universities of Turku and Uppsala.

Publications and activities in Tuhat-database

Twitter: @PMSirkia

Master student Ari Turula is investigating community changes of wintering birds using long time-series of Finnish winter bird counts. Turula did his BSc studies in University of East Finland in Joensuu. He has also conducted various nature inventories including flying squirrel monitoring. He’s free time activities include birding, nature and parkour. 



Migrated but not forgotten

Sara Fraixedas Nuñez did her PhD in the group during 2013-2017. Read more about Sara's research.


Master student Petteri Hauta-aho finished his MSc thesis in the group in 2018. He investigates the dispersal distances of bird species.

Edward Kluen worked as a post-doc in the group especially with the nest card data. Read more about Ed's work.


Juuli Paananen finished her MSc thesis in the group in 2017. The thesis dealt about spatial variation in changes in population sizes of forest birds in Finland.


Miia Pietiläinen finished her MSc thesis in HelLO in 2017. Her thesis show how cyclic vole abundance influence autumn migration behaviour of ows in Finland. 

Post-doc Kaisa Välimäki worked in the group 2013-2015. She studied factors affecting species-specific variation in density shifts in birds and mammals.

Publications and activities in TUHAT database

Juan Gallego did his BSc thesis in Helsinki during one-year Erasmus exchange from autumn 2014 till spring 2015. In the thesis he investigated does the weather conditions explain the spatial and temporal synchrony in crop size of trees and how this is connected with berry eating bird species. The thesis was supervised by Aleksi Lehikoinen. Read the article about crop sizes.




Kalle Meller defended his PhD about climate change and birds in the group in 2016.

Publications and activities in TUHAT database


Post-doc Diego Pavón Jordán finished his PhD project entitled 'Waterbirds in a changing world: effect of climate, habitat and conservation policy on European waterbirds'  in the group in 2017. He continued as a post-doc in HelLO till the end of 2018.

Publications and activities in TUHAT database

Twitter: @DPavonJordan

Dominique Potvin worked as a post-doc in HelLO during January - September 2015. She investigated range shifts in wintering grounds across numerous migratory species using historical bird-ringing data.

Publications and activities in ResearchGate

Master student Aapo Salmela finished his master thesis in the group in 2018. He is investigating are the changes in Finnish bird communities linked with climatic fluctuations.



Jarkko Santaharju did his MSc thesis on sex-specific differences in timing of autumn passerine migration using ringing data of the Hanko Bird Observatory. He has studied nature surveyor’s specialist qualification and done several bird censuses as well as worked with other taxa including ants, dragonflies and polypore. Jarkko is an active bird ringer and photographer, but enjoys all kinds of birding from rubbish dumps to counting arctic migration.

Publications in Tuhat-database

Master student Maria Tiusanen finished her MSc thesis in the group in 2018. The thesis concentrates on the effects of climate change on bird communities within protected areas during the last few decades.

Person in charge of the page: 
Aleksi Lehikoinen