Susanne Åkesson

Susanne Åkesson


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Personal profile


Early years

I studied animal ecology at Uppsala University and thereafter moved to Lund University where I did my PhD on ecology of songbird orientation, which I obtained in 1995. After my PhD I moved to the lab of Prof. R. Wehner at Zürich University to study landmark navigation in desert ants. I found it most inspiring to gain insights from a new research field and became interested in animal navigation. Returning to Lund University I established my own research lab in 1998, where I started to work on long-distance navigation in birds and seaturtles, using large scale field experiments, as well as tracking technology to study the migrations and homing behavior of individuals in the field. Insect migration also became a part of my research program. In 1998 I started the willow warbler project with Staffan Bensch, in which I study the migration phenotype, orientation and genetics of migration in different subspecies of willow warblers (Phylloscopus trochilus).

Animal migration and movement

In 1999 I developed and organized the first international PhD student course on “Ecology of Animal Migration” which is still given at Lund University, and in 2008 I became the director of the Center for Animal Movement Research (CAnMove) at Lund University, which I have coordinated since then.

In my current research I study movement ecology of birds and other animals, and especially the phenotypic characteristics of endogenous migration programs and how animals have adapted to cope with long migrations. Part of this project is dedicated to study the migration phenotype of young birds, and especially the variation and functional characteristics of the endogenous migration program guiding solo-migrating birds on their first migration. 

Connecting biology and physics

I also have a strong interest in research questions connecting biology and physics, more precisely in sensory ecology, leading to several studies on Viking navigation, evolution of zebra coat coloration and animal navigation using skylight polarization and the earth’s magnetic field.

I find swifts and their mobile lifestyle most fascinating. In 2009 I started a continental-wide tracking project on common swifts (Apus apus), where I track the migration strategies, route choices and movement adaptations, including the 10-month non-stop flights, of common swifts from different parts of the European and Asian breeding range. 


Communicating popular science

I have a keen interest in popular science communication and have written several books with photographer Brutus Östling of which two has been nominated to the August Prize for best popular science book in 2006 (Penguins, Collins; Sv. Pingvinliv, Norstedts) and in 2009 (winner: Att Överleva Dagen, Symposion). Since 2002 I serve as one of three members of the expert panel for the Radio Program “Naturmorgon” in Swedish National Radio (P1). I currently pursue an E-book project including exhibitions with the photographer Aron Hejdström, covering the research at CAnMove by young scientists and PhD students. The idea is to show different ways to become a scientist (they are many!) and what young PhD students and scientists do. I received the Silver medal for excellence in research and communication from the Swedish Ornithological Society (BirdLife Sweden) in 2009.

Artistic work

Art and nature

I love art, photography, music and dancing and I spend some of my free time drawing and painting watercolour (I wish it was more) and document nature and my garden by camera. In more recent years I have started to play an ancient Swedish instrument (Nyckelharpa), which was preserved by some enthusiasts in the province where I was born (Norduppland, in the northern part of Roslagen). The most recent speculations suggest the first Nyckelharpa was built by people in this province who got the inspiration in eastern Germany in early 1600. Today the tradition to play the string instrument by keys and a bow, is spreading world-wide. I just love the tone of it, and the challenge to learn to play late in life.

I love to be outdoors and to watch birds. In fact this was my true interest at a very young age when I decided on my path in life – to become a scientist studying birds. In my free time I love to spend time with my family. I also love gardening and to construct things to be used in the garden, like a conservatory and raised beds for growing vegetables. I am interested in history and love to follow my ancestors back in time. I enjoy the connections and background this understanding form, giving me a richer inner life and a deeper understanding of who I am.


Teaching and fellowship

I teach undergraduate courses in Evolutionary Animal Ecology and Ornithology.

I am a Fellow of the Royal Institute for Navigation in London (2006), a Fellow of the Royal Physiographic Society in Lund (2010) and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm (2016).

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land


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