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.


Curriculum Vitae

I am an urban ecosystem ecologist. Most of my research interests relate to the ecosystem services provided by urban greenspaces. Here the importance of urban parks and other urban green infrastructure in affecting stormwater generation, urban air quality, and carbon and nitrogen sequestration is under focus.   

Latest publications

  1. The impact of urban trees on concentrations of PAHs and other gaseous air pollutants in Yanji, northeast China

    Yli-Pelkonen, V., Viippola, V., Rantalainen, A-L., Zheng, J. & Setälä, H., 4 Sep 2018, In : Atmospheric Environment. 192, p. 151-159 9 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

  2. Release of Carbon in Different Molecule Size Fractions from Decomposing Boreal Mor and Peat as Affected by Enchytraeid Worms

    Lappalainen, M., Palviainen, M., Kukkonen, J. V. K., Setälä, H., Piirainen, S., Sarjala, T., Koivusalo, H., Finer, L., Launiainen, S. & Lauren, A., Jul 2018, In : Water, Air and Soil Pollution. 229, 7, 16 p., 240.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

  3. Soil biota in boreal urban greenspace: Responses to plant type and age

    Francini, G., Hui, N., Jumpponen, A., Kotze, D. J., Romantschuk, M., Allen, J. A. & Setala, H., Mar 2018, In : Soil Biology & Biochemistry. 118, p. 145-155 11 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

View all (122) »

Latest activities

  1. Chinese Academy of Sciences

    Heikki Setälä (Visiting researcher)
    4 Oct 201721 Oct 2017

    Activity: Visiting an external institution typesAcademic visit to other institution

  2. Ecological Society of America, Annual meeting

    Heikki Setälä (Participant)
    9 Aug 2017

    Activity: Other activity typesTypes for other activities - Other

  3. Urban greenspase and ecosystem services

    Heikki Setälä (Speaker)
    9 Aug 2017

    Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation

View all (60) »

Latest projects

  1. Global Urban Soil Ecological Education Network (GLUSEEN)

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


    Project: Research project

View all (13) »

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