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17. November 2010 18:37

Professor Ilkka Hanski wins the European Latsis Prize 2010 for Biodiversity

Professor Ilkka Hanski of the University of Helsinki in Finland is awarded the European Latsis Prize for his contributions to research concerning biodiversity in general and metapopulation biology in particular.

The European Latsis Prize is valued at 100,000 Swiss francs (€74,000). The prize is funded by the Geneva-based Latsis Foundation and awarded by the European Science Foundation to an individual or a research group who, in the opinion of their peers, has made the greatest contribution to a particular field of European research. The European Latsis Prize 2010 will be awarded during the Annual Assembly of the European Science Foundation.

Ilkka Hanski is an internationally-acclaimed pioneer in ecology who has changed the way of thinking in his field. Metapopulation biology – the study of species living in networks of fragmented habitats – has been his most pressing concern for more than 20 years. The lessons from his research have shed light on the mechanisms that maintain biodiversity and have given insight to its conservation.   He is best known for his work on the Glanville fritillary butterfly on the Åland Islands in southern Finland, which has become an important model system in population biology. The latest step is to try to identify the genetic basis of traits that underpin survival in fragmented habitats.

“We have done a lot of work on the Glanville fritillary, not only to understand the biology of this particular species, but because it has several characteristics which make it a good model system to study more general questions,” says Professor Hanski. “For example, we have shed light on the processes involved in extinction at the landscape level and we now have a better understanding of the situations that allow species to survive in a fragmented environment.   Metapopulation models tell us the extinction threshold - the critical level of habitat fragmentation for a species to persist long-term.”

The criteria used in the selection procedure are scientific excellence, societal impact, and contribution to European progress.  The nominations were evaluated by a jury of eminent scientists in the field.

“The expert jury emphasised the development of his innovative ground-breaking theories as having had a major impact on the emergence of metapopulation biology as an important field of research,” said Professor Marja Makarow, European Science Foundation Chief Executive. “His work has been saluted far beyond Finland. Metapopulation research can answer vital questions about the practical management of the landscape for conservation. This has become particularly important as we confront landscapes that are increasingly fragmented and try to reconcile the needs of humans and nature.”

Previous winners of the European Latsis Prize are:

2009 “The Human Brain - The Human Mind” Chris and Uta Frith, UK/Denmark
2008 "Astrophysics", Simon White, Germany/United Kingdom
2007 "Medical Imaging", Willi Kalender, Germany
2006 "Immigration and Social Cohesion in Modern Societies", Rainer Bauböck, Austria
2005 "Nano-Engineering", Donal Bradley, United Kingdom
2004 "Bioinformatics", Amos Bairoch, Switzerland
2003 "Archaeology", Colin Renfrew, United Kingdom
2002 "Cognitive Sciences", Annette Karmiloff-Smith, United Kingdom
2001 "Climate Research", André Berger, Belgium
2000 "Molecular Structure", Kenneth Holmes, Germany/United Kingdom
1999 "Research and/or Innovation in Education", Jürgen Baumert, German

For more information about the Latsis Prize please see

Notes to editors

Professor Ilkka Hanski: biographical details

Ilkka Hanski was born on 14 February 1953 in Finland, and lives in Helsinki with his wife and three children. He is professor of ecology at the University of Helsinki where he directs the Metapopulation Research Group, which has been nominated as a Centre of Excellence by the Academy of Finland. He is a foreign member of the Royal Society of London, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the US National Academy of Sciences, along with six other science academies.

Ilkka Hanski has established himself as a pioneer in the field, and written more than 250 papers, including five of the 10 most cited publications in the field of metapopulation biology, as well as three of the four most cited papers that contain the words “metapopulation” and “conservation.” He is the only Finnish scientist to rank among the top ten in his field and in the field of ecology Hanski is the fourth most-cited scientist. His 1999 book ‘Metapopulation Ecology’ is a cornerstone for both researchers and workers in population biology, conservation biology, and landscape ecology.

Professor Hanski graduated from the University of Helsinki but began his research career while taking his doctorate at the University of Oxford in 1979, with a study of the community ecology of dung beetles. He has also studied that iconic vertebrate of the Arctic, the lemming, and confirmed that the notorious cycle of population boom and bust is driven by predators such as the weasel. He is best known for his work on the Glanville fritillary butterfly (Melitaea cinxia). The latest step is to try to identify the genetic basis of traits that underpin survival in fragmented habitats. He also runs a research project in Madagascar on the evolutionary biology of the 300 endemic species of dung beetles. These ecologically vital refuse-collectors are more than usually vulnerable to habitat loss and the changing use of landscape.

He has won numerous awards including the Balzan Prize for Ecological Science and the President’s Gold Medal of the British Ecological Society, and he has worked to make scientists, civil servants, politicians and the public more aware of the real challenges of conservation.  He feels that ecologists should make the results of their research widely known. Biodiversity is not something that can be ‘saved’ just by the creation of wilderness reserves and parks, and it extends far beyond the exotic species filmed by adventurous camera crews for television spectaculars.

Prof Hanski is available for interviews Monday 15 and Wednesday 17 November. To arrange an interview, request images or further information please contact:

Chloe Kembery, ESF press office      
ckembery[at]  Tel +33 (0) 388-762-158 Mobile: +33 (0) 643-172-382

Riitta Tirronen, Academy of Finland communications unit
riitta.tirronen[at]  Tel: +358 (9) 7748 8369 Mobile: +358 40 828 1724

The European Science Foundation (ESF) is an independent, non-governmental organisation that promotes collaboration in scientific research, funding of research and science policy across Europe. It represents 79 national funding bodies, research-performing agencies, academies and learned societies from 30 countries. Through its activities and influential membership the foundation has enabled cross-border cooperation in Europe and made major contributions to science globally.

Media contact:

Ms. Chloe KemberyE-Mail