Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme - case study

CASE STUDY – HANNA KOKKO

Hanna Kokko, a professor of animal ecology at the University of Helskinki, was one of 15 researchers awarded a prestigious Australian Laureate Fellowship in 2010. The Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme, funded by the Australian Research Council, supports and encourages researchers of international repute to conduct research of significant national economic, environmental, cultural and social benefit for up to five years.
    
International collaboration is one of the keys to a satisfying career according to Professor Kokko. She has pursued these research collaborations over the last ten years with the universities of Helsinki and Jyväskylä in Finland and the Australian National University (ANU), Macquarie and Monash universities and the universities of New South Wales and Queensland in Australia. Many of these relationships have been supported by the Academy of Finland. Professor Kokko says, “One advantage enjoyed by Finnish researchers is that the government of this small country is very award of the need to avoid isolation … (and) really encourages international collaboration.”

In 2001, Professor Kokko made her first visit to Australia and since then has travelled each year at least to ANU. This led, in 2009, to a year-long sabbatical in the Research School of Biology at the ANU in Canberra. She used some of this time to write her application for the Australian Laureate Fellowship.

Professor Kokko says of her work with ANU, “It’s a fantastic collaboration. It has been so easy to click with the people; they are very open-minded.” There is a professional appeal too. Australia, being in the southern hemisphere, offers alternate viewpoints. “Sometimes you have set ideas, for example, about a bird’s behaviour, and then you are in the Southern hemisphere you realise it doesn’t follow.” By leaving home, “you realise there are many different ways of looking at things”.

Professor Kokko and her team aim to build a theory of the speed and direction of evolution and to explain why populations adapt or fail to adapt to novel situations and to predict when interventions are beneficial. The research will bring further benefits to Australia with the transfer of innovative mathematical modelling techniques that enable the integration of genetic processes with their evolutionary and ecological consequences.

In recognition of her important contributions to the science of ecology, Professor Kokko has been awarded the Outstanding New Researchers Award from the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, the Founder’s Prize from the British Ecological Society and the Per Brinck Oikos Award.