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You are here: FRIAS Fellows Fellows 2023/24 Dr. Rita Sousa Silva

Dr. Rita Sousa Silva

Leiden University
Urban Ecology and Urban Forestry

YAS Fellow
October 2021 - September 2023
Member of the Young Academy for Sustainability Research
October 2021 - September 2024


My research interests are focused on the relationships between urban green spaces and human health and well-being, as well as the role of tree species diversity for the functioning of forest ecosystems, from natural forests to urban environments.

Recently, I have been focusing on how the abundance and diversity of urban trees may be related to the increased prevalence of pollen allergies in cities, and how we can use this knowledge to plan and manage green spaces for multiple services and benefits. I am particularly interested in producing evidence that can be translated into opportunities and effective policy solutions to help transform cities into more sustainable, resilient, healthy, and equitable places to live.

My research is intrinsically interdisciplinary and reflects both my academic (BSc in biology, MSc in ecology, PhD in forest sciences) and postdoctoral training (biodiversity and resilience of urban forests, and their role in respiratory health). It addresses the environmental risks that come with rapid urbanization and climate change, and it has significant implications for the sustainability of cities and for tackling important societal challenges, such as our responsibility to achieve more equity and inclusiveness in our cities and urban societies. Previous work includes studies on the assessment and conservation of threatened species, species distribution modelling, and social perceptions on forest management adaptation to climate change.

Full CV available here.

Selected Publications

  • Sousa-Silva R, Duflos M†, Ordóñez Barona C, Paquette A. (2023). Keys to better planning and integrating urban tree planting initiatives. Landscape and Urban Planning, 231: 104649. IF: 8.119 † student advisee
  • Messier C, Bauhus J, Sousa‐Silva R, Auge H, Baeten L, Barsoum N, ... & Zemp DC. (2021). For the sake of resilience and multifunctionality, let's diversify planted forests!. Conservation Letters
  • Sousa-Silva R, Cameron E, Paquette A. (2021). Prioritizing Street Tree Planting Locations to Increase Benefits for All Citizens: Experience From Joliette, Canada. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 9. IF: 4.493
  • Sousa-Silva R, Smargiassi A, Kneeshaw D, Dupras J, Zinszer K, Paquette A. (2021) Strong variations in urban allergenicity riskscapes due to poor knowledge of tree pollen allergenic potentialScientific Reports 
  • Paquette A, Sousa-Silva R, Maure F, Cameron E, Belluau M, Messier C. (2021). Praise for diversity: A functional approach to reduce risks in urban forests. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 
  • Sousa-Silva R, Smargiassi A, Paquette A, Kaiser D, Kneeshaw D. (2020). Exactly what do we know about tree pollen allergenicity?. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine 
  • Sousa-Silva R, Verheyen K, Ponette Q, Bay E, Sioen G, Titeux H, Van de Peer T, Van Meerbeek K, Muys B. (2018). Tree diversity mitigates defoliation after a drought-induced tipping pointGlobal Change Biology

FRIAS Research Project

Growing a sustainable future – increasing the adaptation and resilience of socio-ecological systems through green infrastructure

In a world increasingly urbanized, we find ourselves increasingly separate from nature. For the first time in history, more people are now living in urban areas than in rural settings, and projections show that this will be two-thirds by 2050. There can be no doubt that cities will grow, but how can we make sure that they grow sustainably and equitably?

Solutions are at hand, however. Integrating green infrastructure, especially trees, into urban planning and management can help transform cities into more sustainable, resilient and healthy places to live.

In this project, I will explore two key, interrelated questions, which are central to developing a more holistic understanding of the social and ecological processes that hinder or support the establishment and conservation of urban forests, and how such processes can be leveraged for advancing urban resiliency in the face of unrelenting global environmental change: How to improve the planning, protection, and establishment of urban forests for their many benefits and uses? and How to maximize the contribution of urban forests to create healthier, more equitable, and resilient cities?

These questions are by nature interdisciplinary and I will seek to collaborate and integrate perspectives from ecological, environmental, social, and economic disciplines, as well as involving citizens and stakeholders, to ensure the relevance of the research project and increase the chances of its results being implemented.


  • Exploring greenspace as an extreme heat adaption strategy: the role of context, perceptions, and behaviors among German urban residents (with Chad Zanocco)