Biological Evolution and the Diversification of Languages

Outi Vesakoski

Outi Vesakoski (on the right hand side)

Scientific supervisor of the BEDLAN, based at the University of Turku, Department of Biology, Section of Ecology.

As a former student of the Finnish language I was interested in applying research methods derived from population biology to dialectal data and, in general, studying language change using ideas from evolutionary biology. These ideas realized eventually when I met people that became the initial members of the BEDLAN initiative. The encounter was organized by Kone Foundation that organized a workshop for reserarcher interested in applying evolutionary aspects to humanistic science. My duties in BEDLAN include supervising the PhD students with data collection, analyses and writing. I also take care of SumuraSyyni project and furher support the international and interdisiplinary connections in the research area.

I still work with purely biological questions. This side of my work includes another PhD project about evolution of personality in marine isopods Idotea balthica, and especially sexual differences therein. For this I study the same species that I used in my own doctoral thesis - marine crustacean herbivore Idotea balthica (Pallas). The work is a co-operation between PhD-student Maria Yli-Renko and Dr. Jenni Pettay. The title of my PhD thesis was “Local and sexual divergence in host-use traits and anti-predator adaptations in the marine herbivore Idotea balthica”. The study questions included population divergence in physiological, morphological and behavioural traits and evolution of three-trophic level interactions (host-herbivore-predator) in this spatially diverged species. This work was supervised by doctors Veijo Jormalainen, Sami Merilaita and Tuija Ramsay.

With a master thesis project of Tiia Forsström and in co-operation with Dr. Amy Fowler, I have also initiated studies on the ecology and evolutionary ecology of marine invasive species with focus on the American white fingered mud crab (Rhitropanopeus harrissii). This work has recentely expanded into PhD project of Tiia, supervised by Prof. Veijo Jormalainen and Academy Researcher Anti Vasemägi. Finally, to my great pleasure, my hobby is now part of my job as I’m involved to a project collecting baseline information about phenotypic variation in the growth factors and morphology of the Archipelago Sheep. The goal is to maintain genetic diversity in this breed while breeding it towards faster growth or better quality of the fur. This is a freshly finalized master thesis project of Iida Nikkilä, supervised jointly with Dr Jenni Pettay.

Happened so far

  • 2014-2016 Researcher at BEDLAN-initiative with SumuraSyyni funding (UTU)
  • 2013-2014 (Sep-Aug) EU adviser at MTT Agrifood research Finland (at Jokioinen)
  • 2011-2013 (Jan-July, 2,5 years) University lecturer in (aquatic) ecology at Department of Biology, University of Turku)
  • Nov 2010→ Post doc at BEDLAN
  • 2010
    • a) Part time post doc at BEDLAN and
    • b) Part time planner at the South-West Finland Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (former LOS) as a marine biologist in the NANNUT project
  • 2009 Post roc research in a project financed by Kone Foundation: Herbivore adaptations to local selective environment: Variation in gut microbial activity, predator avoidance and behavior in Idotea balthica
  • 2009 PhD finally defended
  • 2007-2009 All together 9 mo at the South-West Finland Regional Environmental Centre (LOS); Preparing an EU-project called NANNUT to study the underwater biodiversity of the Baltic Sea and applying the data to environmental governance
  • 2003-2009 PhD studies at the University of Turku, Department of Biology, Section of Ecology
  • 2001 MSc about the effects of acidification to fluctuating asymmetry of perch (Perca fluviatilis). The degree included also studies of Finnish and Estonian language.

List of publications

  • Lehtinen, J., Honkola, T, Korhonen, K., Syrjänen, K., Wahlberg, N. & Vesakoski, O. Behind family trees: Secondary connections in Uralic language networks. Language Dynamics and Change (accepted ms).
  • Vesakoski, O. & Jormalainen V. 2013. Ignored patterns in studies of local adaptations: When the grass is greener on the allopatric site. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution 6:32-36.
  • Syrjänen, K. Honkola, T., Korhonen, K., Lehtinen, J, Vesakoski, O & Wahlberg, N. 2013. Shedding more light on language classification using basic vocabularies and phylogenetic methods: A case study of Uralic. Diachronica 30:3, 323-352.
  • Fowler, A., Forsström, T., von Numers, M., Vesakoski, O. 2013. The North American mud crab Rhithropanopeus harrisii (Gould 1841) in newly colonised Northern Baltic Sea: distribution and population demography. Aquatic Invasions, 8: 89–96.
  • Honkola, T., Vesakoski, O., Korhonen, K., Lehtinen, J., Syrjänen, K., Wahlberg, N. 2013. Cultural and climatic changes shape the evolutionary history of the Uralic languages. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 26: 1244-1253.
  • Vesakoski, O., Rautanen, J., Jormalainen, V. & Honkanen, T. 2009: Divergence in host use ability of a marine herbivore from two habitat types. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 22:1545-1555.
  • Vesakoski, O., Boström, C., Jormalainen, V. & Honkanen, T. 2008: Sexual and local divergence in host exploitation in the marine herbivore Idotea baltica (Isopoda). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 367:118-126.
  • Vesakoski, O., Merilaita, S. & Jormalainen, V. 2008. Reckless males, rational females: Dynamic trade-off between food and shelter in the marine isopod Idotea balthica. Behavioural Processes. 79:175-181.
  • Jormalainen, V., Honkanen, T. & Vesakoski, O. 2008: Geographical divergence in host use ability of a marine herbivore in alga-grazer interaction. Evolutionary Ecology 22: 545-559.
  • Korpinen, S., Honkanen, T., Vesakoski, O., Hemmi, A.,  Koivikko, R., Loponen, J. & Jormalainen, V. (2007): Macroalgal communities face the challenge of changing biotic interactions - Review with focus on the Baltic Sea. AMBIO 36: 203-211.
  • Jormalainen, V., Honkanen, T., Vesakoski, O. & Koivikko, R. 2005: Polar extracts of the brown alga Fucus vesiculosus (L.) reduce assimilation efficiency but do not deter the herbivorous isopod Idotea baltica (Pallas). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 317:143-157.
  • Jormalainen, V., Honkanen, T., Mäkinen, A., Hemmi, A. & Vesakoski, O. 2001. Why does herbivory sex matter? Sexual differences in utilization of Fucus vesiculosus by the isopod Idotea baltica. Oikos 93: 77-86.

Contact Information

Email: outi.vesakoski(at)

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