Susanna Lehvävirta

Susanna Lehvävirta
Guest professor (30%) in the Urban Vegetation Group; Docent, University researcher (70%) at the University of Helsinki. Main interests: interdisciplinary, problem-driven research in greening the cities, green infrastructure, and nature based solutions. Special focus on sustainability, biodiversity, user perspective and climate change adaptation and mitigation.


I am inspired by problems, contradictory topics, unquestioned beliefs, undefined concepts and complex systems. I am an urban ecologist that became an interdisciplinary research group leader. I mostly focus on research that can help understand potential urban futures and find win-win-win applications that support human well-being, biodiversity and ecosystem services. In my research, I try to link the relevant disciplines for the focal question and thus cooperate and publish with economists, aestheticians, environmental psychologists, law researchers, geographers and sociologists, or any other discipline that it takes to find an answer or a solution. I do this because I believe that successful solutions are based on interdisciplinary understanding of how the focal system works. For example, my study of green roofs considers biodiversity issues as well as the Life Cycle Analysis of the materials used, legal and cost-benefit analysis, and the user perspective.  


I enjoy supervising theses, which has formed the main body of my teaching. I am supervising and have supervised a number of PhD's in various fields ranging from plant and animal ecology and microbiology to environmental sociology and aesthetics. I also have a wide experience in different tasks related to teaching from curriculum building to lecturing, even though teaching has never been my main work. I have used different kinds of methods in different universities (e.g. field, web, lecturing, workshops). I enjoy teaching groups, and the interaction it involves.


My research philosophy involves a bit of pragmatism in search for knowledge: I am happy to use both quantitative and/or qualitative approaches as well as empirical field or lab work, modeling, humans as respondents, or making analytical reviews in order to gain the best possible understanding. However, when possible, I try to include strict deduction where a priori hypotheses are created to test scientific theories, and where the operationalisation and data generation are tightly bound to the hypotheses, by means of formal logic. 

I envision the scientific community as a synergistic playground, not a competition arena. I prefer this view, as I believe together we will gain more - usually it is beneficial to combine people with different backgrounds and make them work together. I like to develop new research programs that combine both experiential and scientific knowledge, and that aim simultaneously at scientific innovations and at tackling societally relevant issues. That may include developing disciplinary interaction within science as well as science-policy interphases and public-science interphases.


I am used to work with people from all over the globe and I enjoy it. I have had colleagues, employees, PhD and master students, and trainees from several countries, e.g. Brazil, China, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Spain, and USA. Currently, I participate in an EU-project ThinkNature with people from 8 countries to begin with and that targets for wider international cooperation.

My activities at the border of science and the society aim at sharing knowledge both ways: science should not be done in isolation, and while scientific knowledge should be shared continuously, scientists can also learn from the end-users of applied knowledge. An example of my current activities is being a board member of the Scandinavian Green Roof Association.



Education and degrees

Docent (Am. Adjunct Professor) of Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, 23.6.2011

PhD, University of Helsinki, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences. Major subject:  Environmental Biology. Thesis: Urban woodland ecology –methodological perspectives and empirical studies. 12.10.2005                                     

Leadership and other education: Leadership course Deep lead 2012-2013; Challenging situations in supervising 10.1.2012; Building a good work community 30.11.2009; Project management 2.10. and 10.11.2009                                                                    

Study circles in methodology and philosophy of science and humanities, 2001-2006, 2010

Previous positions

Project Manager at University of Helsinki: planning & organising a scientific congress; planning & coordinating the infrastructure, services, marketing strategy & opening of the Kumpula botanic garden for public; curriculum and teaching in science & environmental arts, 2007-2009

Researcher and leader of sub-projects focusing on urban forests, 2006

Researcher and PhD student 1998-2005. 

I have also worked as a field biologist, and as the executive director a a Youth Nature House.

Recent research funding

Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation: SOGREEN (green roof and wall technical-ecological-sociological performance) 2017-2019, together with prof. Harry Edelman from TUT, total grant 300 000 €

ThinkNature EU-project partner 2016-2019, lead by the Technical University of Crete, prof. Nikolaos Nikolaidis, total grant 2 974 000 €.

Company funding: Green roofs and walls co-design & research, 2014-2017, 112 000 €

Academy of Finland: project CO-ADAPT (assisted migration), years 2012-2016, 574 000 €

Helsinki Metropolitan Region Urban Research Program: Green infrastructure as part of a well-being, 2015-2016, 140 000 €

CIMO Fellowship, Urban forests under pressure: spatio-temporal analysis, 2014-2015, 10 800 €



In 2018, I am supervising seven PhD students, with a variety of topics ranging from urban forest use to plant-microbe interactions on green roofs.

Publikationer i urval

The 25 most recent peer reviewed ones

Korpilo, Virtanen, Saukkonen, Lehvävirta 2018. More than A to B: Understanding and managing visitor spatial behaviour in urban forests using public participation GIS.Journal of Environmental Management, 207:124-133.
Kyrö, Brenneisen, Kotze, Szallies, Gerner, Lehvävirta 2018.
Local habitat characteristics have a stronger effect than the surrounding urban landscape on beetle communities on green roofs. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 29:122–130
Korpilo, Virtanen, Lehvävirta 2017.
MyDynamicForest: citizen data on spatial patterns and motives of recreational use in Helsinki’s Central Park. Peer reviewed proceedings of AGILE 2017 – Wageningen, May 9-12, 2017. 6 pp.
Duinker, Lehvävirta, Nielsen, Toni, 2017.
Chapter 34 Urban woodlands and their management, pp. 517-531. In: Ferrini , Konijnendijk, van den Bosch, Fini (Eds.) Routledge Handbook of Urban Forestry. Print ISBN: 9781138647282
Mesimäki, Hauru, Kotze, Lehvävirta, 2017.
Neo-spaces for urban livability? Urbanites’ versatile mental images of green roofs in the Helsinki metropolitan area, Finland. Land Use Policy 61: 587-600.
Korpilo, Virtanen, Lehvävirta, 2017.
Smartphone GPS tracking - inexpensive and efficient data collection on recreational movement. Landscape and urban planning 157:608-617.

Nurmi, Perrels, Votsis, Lehvävirta 2016. Green Roof Cost Benefit Analysis: Special Emphasis on Scenic Benefits. Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis 7:488-522.
Gabrych, Kotze, Lehvävirta 2016. Substrate depth and roof age strongly affect plant abundances on sedum-moss and meadow green roofs in Helsinki, Finland. Ecological Engineering 86:95-104.
Kuoppamäki, Lehvävirta 2016. Mitigating nutrient leaching from green roofs with biochar. Landscape and Urban Planning 152:39–48.
Kuoppamäki, Hagner, Lehvävirta, Setälä 2016. Biochar amendment in the green roof substrate affects runoff quality and quantity. Ecological engineering 88:1-9.
Mesimäki, Nieminen, Lehvävirta 2015. The boundary conditions in the building process of novel green infrastructure - the case of green roofs. Yhdyskuntasuunnittelu. Online In Finnish.
Hamberg, Lehvävirta, Kotze, Heikkinen 2015. Tree species composition affects the abundance of rowan (Sorbus aucuparia L.) in urban forests in Finland. Journal of Environmental Management 151:369-377.
Bozorg-Chenani, Häkkinen, Lehvävirta 2015. Life cycle assessment of layers of green roofs. Journal of Cleaner Production 90:153-162.
Lehvävirta, Vilisics, Hamberg, Malmivaara-Lämsä, Kotze 2014. Fragmentation and recreational use affect tree regeneration in urban forests. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening 13:869–877.
Faehnle, Söderman, Schulman, Lehvävirta 2014. Scale-sensitive integration of ecosystem services in urban planning. Geojournal. DOI 10.1007/s10708-014-9560-z.
Kallio, Lehvävirta, Mesimäki 2014. The multifunctionality of green roofs and the Finnish Land Use and Building Act. Finnish environmental law review 2/2014:98-138. In Finnish.

Hauru, Koskinen, Kotze, Lehvävirta 2014. The effects of decaying logs on the aesthetic experience and acceptability of urban forests – Implications for forest management. Landscape and Urban Planning 123:114–123.
Páll-Gergely, Kyrö, Vilisics, Lehvävirta 2014. Green roofs provide habitat for the rare snail (Mollusca, Gastropoda) species Pseudotrichia rubiginosa and Succinella oblonga in Finland. Memoranda Societatis pro Fauna et Flora Fennica 90:13-15.
Ahteensuu, Aikio, Cardoso, Hyvärinen, Hällfors, Lehvävirta, Schulman, Vaara 2014. Quantitative tools and simultaneous actions needed for species conservation under climate change - Reply to Shoo et al. (2013). Climatic Change 129:1-7.
Hällfors, Vaara, Hyvärinen, Oksanen, Schulman, Siipi, Lehvävirta 2014. Coming to terms with the concept of moving species threatened by climate change – A systematic review of the terminology and definitions. PLOS one. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102979.
Ahteensuu, Lehvävirta 2014. Assisted migration, risks and scientific uncertainty, and ethics: A comment on Albrecht et al.'s review paper. Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics 27:471-477.
Kotze, O’Hara, Lehvävirta 2012. Dealing with Varying Detection Probability, Unequal Sample Sizes and Clumped Distributions in Count Data. PLOS One 7(7):1-7.
Hauru, Niemi, Lehvävirta 2012. Spatial distribution of saplings in heavily worn urban forests: Implications for regeneration and management. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 11:279-289.
Hauru, Lehvävirta, Korpela, Kotze 2012. Closure of view to the urban matrix has positive effects on perceived restorativeness in urban forests in Helsinki, Finland. Landscape and Urban Planning 107:361– 369.

Kotze, Lehvävirta, Koivula, O’Hara, Spence, 2012. Effects of habitat edges and trampling on the distribution of ground beetles (Coleoptera, Carabidae) in urban forests. Journal of Insect Conservation, DOI 10.1007/s10841-012-9475-2

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