By Joern Fischer
This blog post comes to you from the Finnish town of Jyväskylä (you-what?!), where I was invited to be the opponent for a freshly submitted PhD thesis by Kaisa J. Raatikainen. I had such a nice experience with this that I felt inspired to write this little reflection here. Kaisa’s thesis is very much worth reading: it’s available for download here.
Before we move to more personal matters, let’s start with some science. Kaisa’s thesis focuses on what she calls “traditional rural biotopes”, namely wood pastures and meadows, in Finland. In a situation somewhat analogous to other parts of Europe (including Transylvania, where my own research group did a fair bit of work), traditional land use practices had maintained high levels of biodiversity; and were also tied to cultural heritage. And — again, analogous to many other parts of the world — as such practices are no longer economically profitable, they are being lost, and with them, the biodiversity that they support is declining.
Kaisa’s work is an addition to a growing body of thought on how we might deal with this. There are no simple solutions. But still, Kaisa’s thesis is worth taking a look at for a number of reasons. First, it covers a very impressive range of methods and different approaches. There are two chapters that are essentially empirical field ecology; one that uses a reserve selection algorithm; and one that looks at stakeholder perceptions via the q-method. Moreover, there is a very nice synthesis section, which few people will ever see, unless Kaisa manages to somehow publish bits from this, too … I hope she will! The synthesis includes four plausible future scenarios, one of which I reproduced above in the form of Kaisa’s painting.
What I like about this thesis is that it combines the ecological and social sciences, at a level where both are of a nice quality. As many readers of this blog know, this is also what my research group tries to do. But still — when you look around the world, there really are very few “real” (i.e. field experienced) ecologists who also manage to competently navigate at least some social science methods and ways of thinking. This is a great shame because there is so much to learn by shifting between different perspectives!
On a more personal note, I would like to share with the world that the unpronounceable city of Jyväskylä has a number of very nice people living in it, some of whom I got to meet at the defense and subsequent party yesterday. Thanks, Panu (Halme), for inviting me! This is also where the next European Congress of Conservation Biology will be held — that’s in June … — meaning you still have time to learn how to pronounce this impossible place. I learned yesterday they’ll have sauna boats for discussion sessions, in case that floats your boat (ha).
It’s nice when good people get to meet. I arrived in Jyväskylä, not knowing how to pronounce it, and not knowing a single person here. I’m leaving with very good impressions, thanks to the many nice people I got to meet. Cheers to Kaisa!