Introducing Salla Hannunen, PhD, Senior Researcher in the Risk Assessment Research Unit at Evira

Plant health risk assessment helps fight pests

Since 2012, Evira's Risk Assessment Research Unit has had a team dedicated to plant health risk assessment. The team's objective is to help authorities and other stakeholders in their work to prevent invasions of major pests.

Salla Hannunen, Senior Researcher, PhD, is a specialist in plant health risk assessment.

"Before joining the risk assessment unit, I spent about five years working in the planning of plant health controls. Having practical experience in control work is crucial for my current research work. This allows us to identify projects that are of real relevance. I have now worked for ten years in plant health," says Salla Hannunen.

Plant pests that spread in the wake of international trade present a risk to food security, forestry and natural environments. Furthermore, pest control usually requires increasing the use of pesticides, which may in turn compromise food and environmental safety.

The purpose of risk assessment is to determine which pests are dangerous enough to warrant official control measures. Risk assessment also provides analyses on the most efficient methods available to prevent the spread of pests.

"Our job is to make sure that public funds can be spent in a way that gives the best possible return", Hannunen explains.

Currently, the plant health risk assessment team is working on a project investigating which areas in Finland are the best target for surveys carried out by the plant health authorities. A study on the cost-effectiveness of the official surveys is also underway: Cost-benefit analysis of risk management measures and assessment of the areal risk to plant health

Salla Hannunen completed her doctoral dissertation at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in the field of agricultural entomology in 2003.

Her dissertation Trivial movements and redistribution of polyphagous insect herbivores in heterogenous vegetation discussed the impact of environmental conditions on the movement behaviour of insects and the impact of the behaviour on the distribution of the populations in heterogeneous environments.

"I find work that aims to secure favourable conditions for plant production highly motivating. It is about food security, forest resources and environmental protection – I don't have to think whether or not my work has any meaning. Our work is carried out mainly on the basis of external funding, in collaboration with other research institutes and universities", says Hannunen.