Northern Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning



NorEcoFun is a research group at University of Helsinki, Finland, studying biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in Northern ecosystems – boreal forest and tundra. We focus on plants and plant communities, which form the foundation of ecosystems. This foundation is changing especially in tundra and boreal forest due to climate and land use changes. For predicting the community changes and understanding their consequences for ecosystem functioning, we investigate

1) long-term changes in natural plant communities,
2) characteristics of plant communities, which regulate their sensitivity to a change, and their impacts on ecosystem functioning,
3) how species interactions and dispersal influence plant community structure and thereby ecosystem functioning under a changing environment.

As research methods, we combine field and greenhouse experiments together with long-term observations of natural species communities and mathematical modelling. This kind of theory-driven mechanism-oriented research provides knowledge on biodiversity changes and their consequences on ecosystem functioning.

plant community tundra

Functional traits

Ecosystem functions are natural processes, such as nutrient cycling, carbon uptake and biomass production, on which our life is based on. Functioning of a system depends on abiotic environment, kinds of species and their interactions. Therefore, in our studies, we often describe diversity of communities with functional traits, which are related to performance of individuals and species. These characteristics, such as root length or seed weight, can reflect species’ responses to environment and other species, and their contribution to ecosystem functions.

Quantifying functional diversity

Meet the team

Our newly established group is growing during the coming months – could you be our new colleague?

We are an independent group within Research Centre for Ecological Change (REC) affiliated with the Organismal and Evolutionary Biology Research Programme at University of Helsinki. If we are not in the forests or mountains, we work at Biocentre 3 at Viikki Campus.

Mutual respect and inclusion are our core values. We promote a supportive and creative working environment.

Elina Kaarlejärvi

Principal Investigator, Dr., Academy Research Fellow 2022 – 2027

I am a community ecologist studying the role of biodiversity for stability of plant communities and functions they provide under a changing environment. What makes communities sensitive to change in the abiotic or biotic environment? What enforces their stability? I am curious about the role of functional traits. Are functional dominance and diversity related to stability of communities and provision of ecosystem functions? As methods, I use long-term observational data to explore large-scale patterns, and combine them with field and greenhouse experiments to test specific hypothesis of possible drivers behind the large-scale patterns.

Research profileORCIDScholar

Daniel Fernández Garcia

Doctoral Researcher

I am currently working as Doctoral Researcher in NorEcoFun exploring the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. I am interested in plant ecology, especially plant functional traits. How does community assembly processes affect tratis within communities? What impact does climate change have on theses relationships? With boreal forest and tundra communities as my research systems, my aim is to find answers to these questions.


Veera Ala-Heikkilä

Master’s student

I am a Master’s student in the Integrative Plant Sciences program at University of Helsinki. I am interested in ecology and especially interactions between different species. One of my main interests is mycorrhizal symbiosis, which I have studied from both ecological and evolutionary viewpoints. In my Master’s thesis, I study mycorrhizal function in varying plant communities.

Minea Andersson

Technical Assistant

I am a third-year student enrolled in the ecology and evolutionary biology Bachelor’s programme at the University of Helsinki. Some of my interests are biodiversity and interactions between plant species. Some of my work tasks include maintaining plants in greenhouse experiments, preparations of root samples and microscopy of mycorrhizae.

Ulpu Vuori

Technical Assistant

I’m a Bachelor’s student at the University of Helsinki, specifying in ecology and evolutionary biology. I’m fascinated by evolutionary tradeoff and ecological cause-and-effect phenomena. This summer I’m assisting in the greenhouse and with the forest experiment, hoping to learn as much as possible and get truly acquainted with being a part of a research group!

Sebastian von Freymann

Technical Assistant

I am completing B.Sc. degree at the University of Helsinki with ecology and evolutionary biology as my main subject, plant biology as the secondary one. Understanding the dimensions of biodiversity, and how to conserve it in the rapidly changing world, is something that resonates deeply with me. I’m specially interested in plant-mycorrhiza interactions. As a Research Trainee, I assisted with the greenhouse experiment. This summer I will join the tundra fieldwork in Kilpisjärvi.

This could be you!

Post-doctoral researcher

We will have an opening for a post-doctoral researcher in 2024. Prospective postdocs are encouraged to contact Elina to discuss their interests. I am also glad to discuss ideas for proposals.