If money and time was no object, what research idea would you investigate?
If it’s dark outside, why doesn’t the image get any brighter if you keep both of your eyes open instead of just one? With two eyes and binocular vision, double the number of photons should hit the total area that you’re using to form an idea of what’s happening around you — so why not? I can see that you don’t want to get it too bright when you’re in bright daylight, but why don’t we use all there is when we’re light limited?
There’s many others too. How to answer ‘why’ questions when it’s about ‘why did something NOT evolve’ – can we distinguish between ‘it never occurred to any of them in evolutionary history’ and ‘they tried and it proved a bad idea because of X’. For example, why don’t birds help their young hatch?
But really, if money & time was no object, I’d spend a year visiting biological stations around the world, say 2 weeks in each, and would write a book about all the stories & experiences.
Who was your PhD supervisor and what was the best thing you learned from them?
Esa Ranta, a Finnish ecologist. This may sound weird, but I was initially too much of a perfectionist, which is a terrible curse, and he cured me of that. Also, he always maintained that there should be humour in science, something I really appreciate!
Which paper of yours do you think should be more well known/cited?
I wouldn’t want to whinge about them, I think people know my work… but sometimes a species is so quirky that the very general messages it conveys can get a bit lost, so I’d say Kokko & Heubel 2011 (Oikos) on the many philosophical issues that the craziness of Amazon mollies bring to one’s mind.
What is the worst review you’ve ever had?
Once I considered factors A and B in the evolution of phenomenon C. Journal X rejected it, based on insufficient interest or something lame like that. I then published it in journal Y (much less well known). A year or so later journal X (!) published a paper where some other authors considered the evolution of C but looked at the effect of A only, ending up promoting what I think of as a biased view on the subject. Oh how annoying… but then, Henry Kissinger once said that academic fights are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.
Which other evolutionary biologist’s work do you most admire and why?
One is supposed to mention some great senior person here, but I really do admire young students who go and find out something really cool, without any job security and all that… most recently I met Valentina Zizzari who told me about a totally fantastic springtail system where females choose spermatophores not males (males leave them here and there on the ground), and it really does seem to matter which one they sit on. She also has some cool followup results which I hope to see in print soon. I asked her if the adults ever bump into each other and what happens then. Apparently they run away from each other, probably doing the arthropod equivalent of blushing. I felt ashamed I hadn’t seen her story about it in Animal Behaviour not many other people seem to have noticed it either. We should always read more!
Dawkins or Gould?
Dawkins is the only one of these two who has slapped me on my cheek. (He claimed there was a mosquito.)
As someone who likes the odd dinner party, who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
Am I allowed to invite a chef from Noma, and make him/her cook? I hope so.
What is your earliest memory?
We tended to spend Xmas in the countryside and one time the neighbour kindly offered us a sleigh ride (the horse later had to be put down because it developed an allergy to hay, which is a bit unfortunate for a horse). My uncle, perched last on the sleigh, fell off. I remember seeing him on his back in the soft snow, with legs up in the air, and all the rest of us leaving him fast behind… I was too astonished to say anything —and nobody else seemed to have noticed.
What was the last music that you bought?
I usually bring back something from the Helsinki jazz scene whenever I get a chance to travel back. This time I failed (too busy x-country skiing), even though I had a plan to familiarize myself with Timo Lassy’s recent stuff.
Who would win a fight between a kiwi and an echidna?
I wish I had covered that in my latest book chapter (on the theory of dyadic fights, in the Animal Contests book) but I didn’t! Massive regret.
Which do you prefer – cheese or chocolate?
Cheese of course. But if it has to be chocolate, Belgians know a thing or two about it.
Tell us a secret that your colleagues don’t know about you
Mikäs salaisuus se semmoinen olisi jos siitä tällä foorumilla rupeaisi hölöttämään.
Hanna Kokko is an ARC Laureate Professor of Evolutionary Ecology at Australian National University in Canberra. Her work covers a huge variety of topics usually applying mathematical theoretical models to an extraordinary range of real world biological systems and questions. She has also authored practical and popular science books in both English, Finnish and Swedish including Modelling for Field Biologists (and Other Interesting People). Click here for more about Hanna, her research, and to complain about her logos for food societies.