Team SpecIAnt

Jonna Kulmuni

Principal Investigator

In broad terms I am interested how different evolutionary processes shape genes and genomes, generate diversity and lead to adaptation and speciation. The main focus in my group is to understand the mystery of speciation. At the same time, understanding how hybrid genomes evolve and are shaped by natural selection, is an exciting question.

After defending my PhD in 2013, I was working in the University of Sheffield, UK, together with Professor Roger Butlin as HFSP long term fellow (2014-2016). Now I am a Marie Curie fellow and a Principal Investigator at the University of Helsinki.

In the past I have also been interested in…

Genetic basis of chemical communication in ants

Insects are adapted to a world of smells and chemosensation has an essential role in chemical recognition of mates, predators and food resources. Social insects add yet another dimension to the study of chemosensory genomics, as the key components of their social life rely on chemical communication.

I have studied the evolution of chemosensory protein genes (CSP) in ants, and found that the number of functional CSP genes has increased in all the seven ant species studied. Those CSPs that are specific to ants evolve under positive natural selection, suggesting different CSP copies have adapted to slightly different tasks. Interestingly, positive selection has targeted the surface rather than the binding pocket, and natural selection seems to drive variation in CSP surface charge. Variable surface charge likely has functional importance for example by affecting ligand binding, interaction between CSPs and odorant receptors, or is connected to the cellular environment of CSP expression.

Science communication

On a completely different field of science communication, I have studied the public understanding of evolution. In my master’s thesis I studied the common misconceptions of evolution and whether there is a conflict between religious beliefs and evolutionary theory.

Jack Beresford

PhD student


At the time of writing I am ploughing ahead into my second year of PhD studies. My thesis is concerned with investigating the causes and consequences of hybridization in the curious European Red Wood ants that are abound here in Finland. Though I have varied research interests, I’m particularly fascinated by the genetics of speciation; that fundamental process that gives rise to all novel biodiversity. While speciation is broadly understood, the genetic mechanisms at it’s heart remain elusive, and that’s where I hope to delve.

Beyond my research, I am enthusiastic organizer of extracurricular activities like the Spring Symposium for Biology PhD’s here in Helsinki. I have also taken part in the Helsinki Science Slam (and won!) with two of my brilliant peers, where we delivered a performance about our work through poetry.

Pierre Nouhaud

Post doctoral researcher
I am an evolutionary geneticist with a long-standing interest in questions pertaining to adaptation and speciation. During my PhD, I have identified loci involved in host plant adaptation in the pea aphid complex, a model in ecological speciation. As a postdoc I have then worked on Evolve & Resequence approaches to question the genomic architecture of thermal adaptation in Drosophila. In the meantime, I have dived into the delights of genome assembly and annotation using long read sequencing.
In the team SpecIAnt, I will question whether the same genomic regions are involved in reproductive isolation over multiple, independent hybridization events within the Formica rufa group using whole-genome sequencing and resequencing data.

Ina Satokangas

PhD student


My current focus is on analyzing genomic regions that are hypothesized to underlie the sex-related differences in hybridization of the Formica species.

I am interested in evolutionary processes in general. My background is in ecology and evolutionary biology, and I wrote my MSc thesis combining a systems-level neuroscience topic with an evolutionary approach. At the moment my special interest is on developing my skills in bioinformatics  especially in programming and statistical analyses. Alternating with the researchrelated activities, I teach biology and geography at a secondary level.

Elisa Nygård

MSc student


I’m a third year biology student, focusing on ecology and evolutionary biology. I’ve been a genuine nature lover since a kid and fascinated about all organisms, but mostly insects and birds. Nowadays my main interests are figuring out how various environmental conditions affect different species and linking them with conservational issues. I’m doing my Master’s thesis with hybrid ants and trying to solve whether they have differences in temperature tolerance compared to the parental species. On my freetime I’m an active student organization member and engaging in numerous events.

Raphael Martin-roy

MSc student
I am 22 years old French student from the university of Poitiers currently doing Master’s project in the Team SpecIAnt. My work here consist of looking at hybrid populations of ants to see if their survival is correlated with temperature using data collected over a period of 15 years. To do so, I will be looking at allele frequency as a proxy for survival. For the future, my goal is to do a PhD and study speciation and evolution mechanisms using diverse genetic tools.


Past students

2018 Janina Schönberger, Research Intern (DAAD Rise)

2018 Monika Bhalke, research intern (University of Helsinki)

2018 Bendik Ferkingstad, research intern/ assistant

2017 Ann-Kristin Dicke, research intern (RISE)

2017 Lucy Pluckrose, research assistant (University of Helsinki)

2015 Lucy Pluckrose, research intern, University of Sheffield (SURE student, Sheffield University Research Experience),

2015 Sam Morris, University of Sheffield (OnCampUs Placement project)

2014 Katri Ketola, University of Helsinki (MSc)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s