Join the team
We sometimes have research student and other opportunities available and we also welcome collaborative projects using the data we collect, please send enquiries to virpi.lummaa ( a t ) utu.fi
Principal research staff
Prof. Virpi Lummaa
Virpi is a professor at the University of Turku and the principal investigator in the Myanmar Timber Elephant Project. Her research has focused on the evolution of senescence and life histories, primarily in humans using a large historic genealogical dataset she has collated from her native Finland. She has used this experience to establish the Elephant Project at the University of Turku, Finland, funded by the EU’s Horizon2020 / ERC (European Research Council) Consolidator Grant 648766.
The long-term aim is, in collaboration with the Myanmar Timber Enterprise, to utilise the unique opportunity to establish a longitudinal study on Asian elephants employed in Myanmar timber camps to address questions ranging from demography, social behaviour, welfare and conservation, ageing and life-history patterns to veterinary topics in this endangered species.
Email: virpi.lummaa ( a t ) utu.fi
Tel: +358 50 4382 044
Dr. Khin Than Win
Dr. Khin Than Win is a veterinarian and conservation biologist from Myanmar. She has worked in the wildlife department of the Ministry of Forestry in Myanmar for more than 20 years.
Contact: khin.t.win2009 ( at ) gmail.com
Dr. Mirkka Lahdenperä
Mirkka was a Postdoctoral researcher both in the Elephant and Human Projects at the University of Turku, Finland. Her PhD focused on the benefits and conflicts of family living in humans. Her research combined this previous expertise on longevity and co-operative breeding in humans with examining the longitudinal dataset on Asian elephants from Myanmar. Asian elephants make a fascinating comparison to humans with lifespans extending to 80 years and social groups containing several generations of breeders.
Contact: mirkka.lahdenpera ( at ) utu.fi
Thuzar works in the Elephant Project as a research assistant.
Thuzar has a long history working with elephant research. She has worked for years in Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division, Forest Department in Myanmar, and worked in Smithsonian Institution, Myanmar program office for many years for the Smithsonian’s National Elephant survey. Her tasks included collecting elephant census data, interview survey data, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data from protected areas and sanctuaries.
Contact: thwin.tz ( at ) gmail.com
Postdoctoral research associates
Dr. Martin Seltmann
Martin is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Turku, Finland. For his PhD thesis, he investigated the link between life-history trade-offs, personality, stress physiology, individual quality and nest-site selection in female eiders (Somateria mollissima). He has assessed the personality structure of individual elephants via behavioural ratings done by experienced observers, usually the oozies. Martin was interested in the interplay of the elephants’ personality differences, individual quality, their social organization (especially allomothering) and ultimately their life prospects.
Contact: martin.seltmann ( at ) utu.fi
Dr. Diogo Santos
Diogo was a veterinarian working as a Post Doctoral researcher at the University of Turku, Finland. During his PhD, he investigated how several life-traits and ecological factors affected elephant health. He is very passionate about the field of animal health, physiology and conservation and aimed to understand the immunological system of the elephant and factors that affect it, specifically focusing on immunosenescence. He also investigated other factors affecting elephant health from a conservation perspective over a wide range of study areas.
Océane recently graduated from her PhD on the human-animal relationship in working animals. She is generally interested in how to investigate animal cognition and emotions and their application to animal welfare.
ORCID ID: 0000-0001-5390-8985
Contact: oceane.liehrmann ( a t ) utu.fi
Postgraduate research students
Héloïse is a doctoral student specialised in evolutionary biology and ecophysiology, working within the Lummaa lab at the University of Turku. In her PhD project, she investigates the determinants and mechanisms of ageing through the study of senescence patterns and telomere dynamics. She aims to identify the sources of inter-individual variation to bring a better understanding of why some individuals age faster than others. To this purpose, she is studying two natural populations of long-lived vertebrates, the Asian elephant and the Alpine swift.
Contact: heloise.moullec (at) utu.fi
Veera is a PhD student at the University of Turku, Finland. She is interested in human-animal interactions, social cognition and overall behaviour especially in domestic animals such as horses and cats. She is doing her PhD thesis as a part of Adjunct Professor Sonja Koski’s (University of Helsinki) research project. Her Master’s thesis project focused on the social aspect of personality in young horses, and how that affects their early training.
Hoedric is a PhD student focusing his research on the Asian elephant tusk evolution.
Contact: homeric.huguet ( at ) utu.fi
Susanna was an undergraduate student at the University of Turku, Finland. She specialized in evolutionary genetics and data analysis. Her graduate thesis focuses on the effects of seasonal variation on physiological markers of stress in the Asian elephant population from Myanmar. Susanna is currently working as a PhD student in Human Life History Group at the University of Turku.
Contact: susanna.s.ukonaho ( at ) utu.fi
A team of local veterinarians are actively involved in our projects and research by collecting data, providing updates of events in the field and administering veterinary care.
Dr. Win Htut
Dr. Win Htut is a Chief Veterinarian in Saggaing Region, MTE, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC).
Dr. Htoo Htoo Aung
Dr. Htoo Htoo Aung is a Veterinary Inspector (Vet) in Katha, MTE (MONREC).
Dr. Nay Oo Mon
Dr. Nay Oo Mon assisted the Elephant Project in parasite research. She works as a Deputy Township Veterinary Officer in Yangon, at Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department, Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Irrigation.
U San Win
U San Win works as a Veterinary Inspector (Diploma in VET) in Kawlin, MTE (MONREC).
Dr. Kyaw Nyein
Dr. Kyaw Nyein works as an Assistant Manager (Vet) in MTE, Kawlin (MONREC).
Prof. Chatchote Thitaram
Chiang Mai University, Thailand. We collaborate with Chatchote on endocrinological topics such as measuring stress and sex hormones from faecal and hair samples.
Dr. Larissa Arantes
Larissa is a biologist interested in applying genetic tools in species conservation studies. She has experience in using Next Generation Sequencing methods, developing bioinformatics tools and performing genomic data analysis for biodiversity conservation. During her PhD, she investigated the phylogeography and the hybridization between sea turtles in Brazil.
She was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Turku, Finland, working on population genetics and genetics conservation of elephants from Myanmar. Her main goals were to determine the genetic diversity and the relatedness and inbreeding level of Myanmar population and to investigate the population structure between different camps. She also aimed to perform functional and evolutionary analysis of the Asian elephant, looking for ageing and health-related candidate genes.
Dr. Carly Lynsdale
Carly was investigating the host-parasite dynamics in Asian elephants by focusing on associations between infection and host condition, measures of fitness and fecundity. She established determinants of individual variation in infection re-establishment and outline the effects of co-infection by multiple parasite fauna.
Carly finished her PhD at the University of Sheffield in December 2017 after which she continued elephant research as a postdoc researcher at the University of Turku, Finland.
Dr. John Jackson
John was a NERC ACCE DTP funded PhD student at the University of Sheffield. John developed evidence-based conservation strategies for Asian elephants in Myanmar. In order to achieve this, he investigated the variation of timber elephant population performance and demographic structure through space and time, reviewing the current management strategies for timber elephants, namely wild-capture, and elaborating on the status of wild elephants in Myanmar and their contribution to the timber elephants.
Dr. Jennie Crawley
Jennie was a PhD student studying human-elephant interactions. She studied the unique relationship between the elephants and their handlers, or oozies, how this ancient relationship fares in the modern day, and how various aspects of this relationship impact upon elephant health, behaviour and physiology. She was also interested in the trade off between life history processes, having completed her masters within the project, investigating the relationship between size and reproduction in female Asian elephants.
Jennie started her PhD studies at the University of Turku, Finland, in September 2016 and defended her PhD Thesis in Turku in December 2021. She was funded by the EU’s Horizon2020, ERC (How elephants grow old / Prof. Virpi Lummaa, 648766 ERC-2014-CoG).
Dr. Simon Chapman
Simon completed his PhD degree at the University of Turku in 2020, studying context-dependence of grandmother effects and selection on post-reproductive lifespan.
Simon did his Master’s degree at the University of Sheffield. For his project, he investigated how elephant height and weight changes with age, as well as assessing the existing methods and creating new equations for estimation of these body measurements.
Simon works currently at the Department of Sociology, University of Turku, Finland.
ORCID ID: 0000-0003-2342-3383
Contact: simon.n.chapman ( a t ) utu.fi
Dr. Hannah Mumby
Hannah is a Draper’s company junior research fellow, Pembroke college Cambridge and a Branco Weiss fellow, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge. She researches how ecology and environment affect the survival, reproduction and stress levels of elephants. She is also interested in how elephants get so big and measures how the elephants grow and what factors influence their growth and maturation. Fieldtrips to Myanmar have fuelled Hannah’s interest in protecting Myanmar’s elephants and the helping the people who live and work with them.
Dr. Adam Hayward
Adam is a research Fellow at the University of Stirling. Adam’s research aims to determine the causes and consequences of variation in life-history traits in natural populations, using a variety of study systems. He is particularly interested in the drivers of variation between individuals in defence against parasite infection and the effects on individual health and fitness and disease transmission. He is also interested in the evolutionary biology of ageing and how early-life events can impact upon later life-history.
Prof. Janine Brown
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, U.S.A. Janine is a wildlife endocrinologist and an expert in methods for measuring stress and sex hormones from faecal and hair samples.
Dr. Sophie Reichert
Sophie was a postdoc researcher at the University of Turku, Finland. Shefinished her Marie Curie postdoc fellowship at the University of Sheffield at the end of 2017, and after that, was a TCSM Research Fellow at the University of Turku in Finland, her project being funded by the Academy of Finland.
Working at the cross-road ecophysiology and evolutionary ecology, Sophie’s PhD focused on investigating the determinants of telomere dynamics and how these mechanisms are involved in key evolutionary processes. The aim of this work was also to establish telomeres as a health marker. Building on her expertise on studying the mechanisms of ageing, she now aims to examine how different ageing mechanisms interact with lifelong health risks, workload, reproductive history and endocrinological measures of stress and reproductive status in Asian elephants.
Dr. Vérane Berger
Vérane was an evolutionary ecologist working as a Post Doctoral researcher at the University of Turku, Finland. Her research aimed to understand the influence of biotic and abiotic factors in shaping senescence and the consequences on life history strategy. Senescence is a highly complex process that varies across species, population, individuals and traits and investigations are needed to identify factors and understand how they modulate senescence patterns. Do individuals that are helped or born in good year senesce later and/or slower than other individuals?
Vérane has used long-term monitoring in a wild population of Alpine marmots to investigate the influence of sociality on senescence during her PhD at the University of Lyon, France. She extended her research by searching what ecological and social factors could explain variation in senescence between cohorts, individuals and traits thanks to extensive longitudinal datasets of the Finnish population and the semi-captive population of Asian elephants in Myanmar.
Vérane was funded by the EU’s Horizon2020, ERC (How elephants grow old / Prof. Virpi Lummaa, 648766 ERC-2014-CoG).
Dr. Emily Lynch
Emily was a Post Doctoral researcher at the University of Turku, Finland. Her work focused on the influence of kinship on individual health, fertility, and behavior. Relationships with kin play an important role in the social lives of long-lived mammals, but the adaptive consequences of these interactions remain unclear. For her PhD work (Rutgers University, USA), Emily examined kin-biased social and foraging behaviors among wild olive baboons. Emily explored similar effects in Asian elephants, testing links between kin networks, hormonal stress profiles, health, and reproductive patterns. This work enhanced our understanding of how changes in demographic conditions affect population dynamics and is likely to guide conservation initiatives and captive management protocols.
Emily was funded by the Ella and Georg Ehrnrooth Foundation.
Jonathan completed his Master’s project studying the relationship between Myanmar timber elephant behaviour, stress and personality at the University of Sheffield. He is interested in research conducted on the intersection of behaviour, cognition and ecology, and was working at the University of Turku on a project investigating how taming affects elephant calf behaviour and welfare.
Mu Mu Thein
MuMu was a research assistant from Myanmar. She has worked with the elephants for many years in Myanmar. She had a key role in collecting field data from the elephants.
Contact: mumuthein95 ( a t ) gmail.com
Dr. Hnin Nandar
Dr. Hnin Nandar is a Veterinary Inspector (Vet) in MTE Headquarters, Yangon, Myanmar (MONREC).
Matleena finished her Master’s Thesis in the Elephant Project.
Laura was a Master’s student at the University of Lyon, France, where she studied ecology, evolution and statistics. She did her internship in the Elephant Project at the University of Turku, supervised by Dr. Carly Lynsdale on the association between nematode parasite infection and hormonal activity (stress and reproductive hormones) within a semi-captive population of about 300 timber elephants.
Laura was a Master’s student in Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution at the University of Aix Marseille in France. She did her internship in the Elephant Project group at the University of Turku in Finland, supervised by Dr’s Emily Lynch, Carly Lynsdale, Martin Seltmann and Prof. Virpi Lummaa. Her research project focused on the influence of the social environment on parasitic infection in the Asian elephant. What is the influence of the characteristics of the composition of a working group on parasitic infection?
Lucas was an international Master’s student in Behavioral Ecology and Wildlife Management at the University of Dijon, France. Supervised by Dr. Vérane Berger and Dr. Michael Briga, he completed his master’s research internship at the University of Turku, Finland. His research project involved the link between social factors during early-life and senescence in the Myanmar semi-captive Asian elephants population. Does growing in a rich social environment allow to delay or slower patterns of senescence?
Shérine holds a Master’s degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rouen (France), and was a Master’s student at the Sorbonne Paris-Nord University, where she studied Ethology. She did her internship in the Myanmar Timber Elephant group, supervised by Dr. Martin Seltmann, MSc Océane Liehrmann and Prof. Virpi Lummaa. Her Master’s thesis project focused on factors affecting behavioural differences in semi-captive Asian elephants during a novel object test.
Dr. Laura Galante
Laura was a postdoc researcher at the University of Turku, Finland. She graduated with a PhD in biomedical science from the Liggins Institute, University of Auckland in New Zealand in 2020 where she studied human lactation. In New Zealand Laura’s research was focused on how maternal and infant characteristics, specifically infant sex, contribute to defining specific hormonal ‘fingerprints’ in maternal milk and whether these are associated with infant growth outcomes. This research showed that mothers living in disadvantaged conditions and environments are prone to produce milk that is different for sons and daughters.
At the University of Turku Laura aimed to expand her PhD studies in the field of human lactation in order to understand the ecological and evolutionary reasons behind the production of sex-specific milk composition. With this goal Laura analysed the relationship between sex-specific breastfeeding patterns and breastmilk compositional variations across mothers and environmental/health conditions mothers face, in both human populations and in the Asian elephant. By expanding her previous biomedical research with concepts from life-history theory, ecology and evolutionary biology, Laura’s goal was to enhance our knowledge around the physiology and ecology of breastfeeding in order to provide new avenues for the support of all mothers and babies in the most delicate time of their life.
Dr. Diego de PanisDiego studied Biology at the University of Buenos Aires, defending a Licentiate thesis about coagulation physiology in pathological situations associated with particular mutations; and a PhD thesis in evolution about environmental adaptation in a model of speciation by ecological specialization. He continued to apply his evolutionary biology background and experience in high throughput sequencing with a postdoc in conservation genomics of Andean Condors.At the University of Turku, his goal was to obtain a high-quality genome of the Asian elephant to gain new insights for its conservation and management and as a necessary step for population genomic studies.