Heikki Setälä


Description of research and teaching

Research areas

Description of research and teaching

I am the group leader of the Reserach Group in Urban and Natural Ecosystem Dynamics.   Our research interests cover a wide range of ecosystems and research topics in ecology and environmental sciences. Urban ecosystem ecology occupies an important part of our research activities. Our research mainly focuses on soils – their decomposer food webs and the activities carried out by them. Soil-derived ecosystem services, i.e. the processes by which the environment produces resources that humans often take for granted, such as clean water and detoxification of harmful substances, lie at the core of several research projects. Research questions dealing with both basic and applied ecology are tackled in our research group.

As for species populations, ecosystems are threatened by global environmental and climate change. Of these large-scale environmental alterations our research focuses on (i) land-use change, (ii) habitat fragmentation and, at a local scale, on  (iii) environmental pollution. We aim at getting a mechanistic understanding of the factors giving rise to the changes in community composition and ecosystem functioning. When relevant, we apply interdisciplinary (socio-economical-ecological) research methods to mitigate the often negative consequences of such alterations.

My teaching consists of lectures on general ecology, urban ecology and soil ecology. Within urban ecology a lion share goes to teaching activities related to (i) the International Master´s Degree Programme in Multidisciplinary Studies on Urban Environmental Issues (MURE) and (ii) the minor “Urban Ecosystem Ecology”.  The supervision of candidate and pro graduate theses is a crucial part of my daily activities.

I have supervised six PhD works, each more or less related to soil food webs and their linkage to primary production. Currently, I have four doctoral students with various research topics under guidance.

Curriculum vitae

I started my studies at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland in the eighties, where I completed my PHD thesis on soil ecology in 1990. After having a 2-year post doctoral period at Pacific Forest Centre in British Columbia, I returned back to Jyväskylä where I stayed before moving to the University of Helsinki (Lahti Environmental Campus) in 2001.

I have devoted most of my time to studying Soil Food Webs -- particularly in relation to ecosystem functioning (decomposition rate, nutrient mineralisation, primary production) in various ecosystems including boreal forests, grasslands and agricultural systems. Recently urban ecosystem ecology, and questions related to habitat fragmentation have been at the top of my research agenda.  

I have published ca. 80 refereed articles in international science journals and for the past 12 years, I have been a subject editor in Oikos. I regularly (10-20 papers a year) review manuscripts for various journals, including the top ecological periodicals. My research projects have been funded by a diverse set of funding agencies, mostly by the Academy of Finland and the EU.


Latest publications

  1. Monetary value of urban green space as an ecosystem service provider: A case study of urban runoff management in Finland

    Silvennoinen, S., Taka, M. K., Yli-Pelkonen, V. J., Koivusalo, H., Ollikainen, M. M. O. & Setälä, H. M. 7 Oct 2017 In : Ecosystem Services. 28, Part A, p. 17-27 11 p.

    Publication: Contribution to journalA1 Refereed journal article

  2. The matrix affects carabid beetle assemblages in linear urban ruderal habitats

    Prass, M., Vrezec, A., Setala, H. & Kotze, D. J. Oct 2017 In : Urban Ecosystems. 20, 5, p. 971-981 11 p.

    Publication: Contribution to journalA1 Refereed journal article

  3. Greenbelts do not reduce NO2 concentrations in near-road environments

    Yli-Pelkonen, V. J., Viippola, J. V., Kotze, D. J. & Setälä, H. M. 10 Aug 2017 In : Urban Climate . 21, p. 306-317 12 p.

    Publication: Contribution to journalA1 Refereed journal article

View all (117) »

Latest activities

  1. Frontiers in ecology and evolution (Journal)

    Setälä, H. (Reviewer)
    2016 → …

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditor of research journal

  2. Kiinan Tiedeakatemia, Shenyang, Kiina

    Setälä, H. (Visiting researcher)
    1 Oct 201616 Oct 2016

    Activity: Visiting an external institutionAcademic visit to other institution

  3. Tiedeakatemian valtuuskunta (External organisation)

    Setälä, H. (Board member)
    Sep 2016 → …

    Activity: MembershipMembership or other role in national/international committee, council, board

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Latest projects

  1. Global Urban Soil Ecological Education Network (GLUSEEN)

    Setälä, H., Kotze, D., Szlavecz, K., Pouyat, R., Hornung, E., Yesilonis, I., Yarwood, S. & Cilliers, S.


    Project: Research project

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Fil. toht., ympäristötiede

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