Prof. Kari Saikkonen, Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) member

Kari Saikkonen is Professor at Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE).

His research involves three main themes:

1) climate change-driven species’ range shifts,

2) ecological and evolutionary implications of genetic, species and functional diversity of plants and associated micro-fungi and herbivores, and

3) new solutions for sustainable agricultural practices to circumvent the heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides.

These themes are topical, partly overlapping and mutually beneficial. Climate change and agriculture are amongst the most important global forces driving species range shifts and facilitating the establishment of species into new habitats. Expansion of species’ ranges may enrich biota in the new environment and provide opportunities in forestry, agriculture and landscaping.

However, accumulating evidence also suggests associated risks. For example, native species may become locally extinct within their current range, and novel species may become serious threats to ecosystem functions and services, and native biodiversity. Annually, losses due to invasion of non-indigenous species are estimated at US$ 13 and 137 billion in Europe and the United States, respectively.

Given that microbes can affect virtually every type of plant-plant, plant-pathogen, and plant-herbivore interactions, the knowledge of causes and consequences of microbial mediated interactions in terrestrial ecosystems have economic value particularly when applied to biotechnology, agricultural practices and environmental management.

In addition to recognizing the focal microbial interactions, his research aims to understand the genetic interplay between the microbes and the host plants in shaping their coevolution and ecological role both in the agricultural arena and natural grass ecosystems.