Mia Valtonen

Ph.D., Post-doctoral Researcher

mia.m.valtonen -at- helsinki.fi

I am a postdoctoral researcher in the Saimaa Ringed Seal Genome Project led by Jukka Jernvall and Petri Auvinen. The Saimaa ringed seal is a critically endangered subspecies of the ringed seal, which has remained isolated in Lake Saimaa in southeastern Finland since the last glacial period, i.e., for nearly 10,000 years. The small population of some 300 seals is currently threatened by anthropogenic factors, such as high by-catch mortality and climate change. In my PhD thesis, which I completed in the autumn of 2014 at the University of Eastern Finland, I studied neutral genetic variation in the Saimaa ringed seal. The results showed that the genetic diversity of this subspecies is extremely low and that the population is divided into even smaller subpopulations.

My current research focuses on using genomic data to enhance the conservation of the Saimaa ringed seal. The main aims are to address the level of adaptive variation and possible negative effects of inbreeding in the population. Genomic methods will also enable studying many still-unknown aspects of the subspecies’ ecology and behavior, such as mating patterns and the reproductive success of individuals.