Dr Virpi Lummaa

Dr Virpi Lummaa

Tel: +44 (0)114 222 0051

Email: v.lummaa@sheffield.ac.uk

Human project homepage: www.huli.group.shef.ac.uk/index.html
Elephant project homepage: myanmar-timber-elephant.group.shef.ac.uk


2012-2016 Reader in Evolutionary Biology, Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, UK
2011-2012 Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study), Germany
2003-2013 Royal Society University Research Fellow, University of Sheffield, UK
2002-2004 Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Clare Hall College, Cambridge, UK
2001-2003 Marie Curie Post-doctoral Research Fellow, University of Cambridge, UK
2000-2001 Academy of Finland Post-doctoral Research Fellow, University of Cambridge, UK
1997-1999 PhD in Zoology, Dept. of Biology, University of Turku, Finland
1993-1997 Degree & MSc in Ecology, Dept. of Biology, University of Turku, Finland

Maternity leave 2007 and 2010

Main Awards

  •  Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour Award for Outstanding Young Investigator 2005
  •  Finnish Academy of Science Award for the Best PhD thesis is Science and Medicine in 2000
  •  Fellowships: Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, University Research Fellowship of the Royal Society of London, Marie Curie, Clare Hall College (Cambridge, UK), Academy of Finland (x2), Emil Aaltonen Foundation (x3)
  •  Grants as PI: European Research Council (ERC) consolidator grant 2015-2020, The Leverhulme Trust standard research grant 2013-2016, NERC Innovation, Impact and Knowledge Exchange Collaborative R&D Award 2014-2015, ERC starter grant 2008-2013, NERC standard research grant 2009-2012, The Leverhulme Trust Standard Research Grant 2013-2016, Nando Peretti Foundation Grant for Conservation 2010-2012, Academy of Finland Research Grants 2001-2004 & 2004-2008

Key Research Interests

Human Behavioural Ecology

images of people

I investigate the ecological causes and evolutionary consequences of variation in reproductive success, longevity and life-history strategies within and between different human populations (see link at top). The majority of this work builds on my individual-based genealogical dataset from Finland, which contains all births, deaths, marriages and inter-parish movements for >15 generations in 8 different regions (80,000 individuals) from 1700 to 2000. This is combined with data for annual variation in climate, harvest success, etc. I am keen to compare my findings with patterns seen in current developing countries and contemporary western populations. I have begun collaborations on similar datasets collected from historical Canada, US, contemporary Europe, Mongolia, Gambia and Senegal.

Projects at the moment involve:

  • Investigating senescence patterns in humans and how these are modified by local ecology and genetic architecture of the traits
  • Examining the causes and consequences of family-living in humans
  • Studying the effects of early environmental conditions on reproductive performance and survival
  • Linking reproductive success to personality differences and their underlying hormonal basis

Evolutionary Ecology of Asian Elephants

Myanmar Asian elephants

I have recently received funding to study the ecological causes of senescence and its hormonal associates in another exceptionally long-lived mammal, the Asian elephant. This study utilizes a unique (>10,000 individuals from 5 generations) demographic dataset collected on a semi-captive Asian elephant population from Myanmar involved in logging industry. We have built an individual-based dataset covering the full life-history of succeeding generations of captive timber elephants born or captured 1942-2013 in Myanmar, by using the elephant log books and annual extraction reports archived and maintained by the Myanmar Timber Enterprise. The project also involves collection of hormonal, DNA, weight, body condition, behavioural and parasite count data in the field.

Myanmar has the largest captive Asian elephant population in the world, but low rates of survival and reproduction necessitate capture of wild elephants to maintain the working population. The health of the captive population is therefore tightly linked to the endangered wild population. Our research aims to determine factors affecting health, fertility and mortality rates in the captive population and devising strategies to improve them. (See link at top.)

Current Research Group

Postdoctoral Research Associates

Dr Khyne Mar

Dr Hannah Mumby

PhD Students

John Jackson (co-supervised with Dr D Childs)

Carly Lynsdale (co-supervised with Professor A Fleming and Professor M Burrell)

Diogo Santos

I welcome applications from students and postdocs sharing whose research interests and the passion for science are similar to my own.

Examples of Plenary talks

Virpi Lummaa at ESEB 2013

  • Congress of the German Society for Anthropology, Munich, Germany (2015)
  • Evolutionary Genetics & Genomics Symposium (EGGS), University of Cambridge, UK (2014)
  • Mammalogy Conference of Finland, Lammi, Finland (2014)
  • Rufford Grantees' Conference on Environmental Awareness and Conservation, Myanmar (2014)
  • Congress of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB), Portugal (2013)
  • 11th International Mammalogical Congress, Northern Ireland (2013)
  • EGI Conference, Edward Grey Institute for Ornithology, University of Oxford (2012)
  • University of Helsinki Spring Symposium, Finland (2010)
  • Benelux Congress of Zoology, Holland (2009)
  • French Society of Human Ecology Meeting on Transmissions between Generations, France (2009)
  • Annual European Meeting of PhD students in Evolutionary Biology, Holland (2009)
  • Meeting of Human Behaviour and Evolution Society, USA (2009)
  • European Congress of Biogerontology - Ageing and individual life history, Holland (2008)
  • European Human Behaviour and Evolution Conference (EHBEA), France (2008)
  • Annual European Meeting of PhD students in Evolutionary Biology, Scotland (2006)
  • Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB) Easter Meeting, UK (2006)

Examples of talks at broad-audience events

  • Science Days organised by the Finnish Academy of Science, Helsinki, Finland, 2015
  • Biosynteesi Symposium organised by the University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland, 2015
  • Science Days organised by the Research Council of Norway, Oslo, 2014
  • ERC-organised session at EuroScience Open Forum, Dublin, Ireland, 2012
  • Science Forum organised by the Finnish Ministry of Education and the Academy of Finland, Helsinki, Finland, 2010
  • Talk to Finnish European Parliament member assistants, organised by the Academy of Finland, Brussels, Belgium, 2012


I currently supervise level 3 undergraduate research projects (APS330) and level 4 projects (APS402 & APS406) close to my research interests. Recent topics include studying causes and consequences of personality variation in Asian elephants; trade-offs between age at first reproduction and growth in Asian elephants; and effects of early disease exposure and other environmental conditions on the later life survival and reproductive success in humans. I also supervise dissertations (APS331) over a broad range of topics in ecology, evolution and conservation, including human behavioural ecology. I contribute level 1 lectures to APS126 on the evolution of behaviour in humans and other animals. I also lecture at level 3 for APS351 on Human Evolutionary Genetics.

My level 1 and level 2 tutorials cover a variety of themes relating to evolutionary biology and human behavioural ecology, usually tailored to individual student interests and needs. I emphasize the need to think critically about science and science communication, develop understanding of the best approaches to designing, collecting and analysing data, and I encourage and train students to communicate science to various audiences in different formats.

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