Scientists & Staff

Nancy Falxa-Sonti

Nancy Falxa Sonti

Research Ecologist
Baltimore Field Station
5523 Research Park Drive
Baltimore, MD, 21228
Phone: 929-400-1700

Contact Nancy Falxa Sonti

Current Research

My current research spans the social and biological sciences in asking many questions about urban social-ecological systems.

URBAN TREE ECOPHYSIOLOGY. Every tree in an urban forest is expected to provide a multitude of benefits to the city. Because of this, municipalities invest tremendous resources in their urban trees, making the trees' growth and success even more important. The ability to quantify urban tree health and physiological function will provide added value to urban forest managers, allowing them to make proactive management decisions and plan for stress mitigation. My research includes development and application of urban tree health metrics, as well as measurements of urban tree growth, photosynthesis, respiration, sap flow, and associated physiological traits in response to urban environmental conditions.

URBAN FOREST INVENTORY & ANALYSIS. Long-term plot data associated with the Baltimore Ecosystem Study and the Urban FIA programs allow us to examine urban forest dynamics over time, including changes in species composition and net primary productivity. My work with the Urban FIA program includes integration of field data collection with the Urban National Landowner Survey, which examines the social dimensions of the urban forest, including the perspectives of private landowners who manage urban green space. Information about changes in the condition, health and growth of urban trees across public and private lands can help all urban land managers ensure sustainability of urban forests under changing environmental conditions.

USE AND MEANING OF URBAN NATURAL AREAS. Urban natural areas have the potential to provide restorative benefits to local residents and may foster feelings of environmental identity and attachment to place. However, wild urban forests can elicit positive and negative emotions, both at a community level and within an individual. These ambivalent feelings may influence the types of benefits derived from these urban green spaces, as well as local residents' desires for their future structure and function as social-ecological spaces. My research examines the ways that urban residents use and value urban natural areas, including public parkland and vacant undeveloped land, in New York City and Baltimore. The results provide context for urban natural resource managers and community organizations, as they seek to enhance access to safe and inspiring nature experiences for all urban residents.

Research Interests

My research projects have integrated the social, biological, and physical sciences in the study of urban ecosystems. I am interested in many aspects of urban ecology, including plant physiological ecology, forest health, and dynamics of urban afforestation. I am also interested in the social and psychological impacts of human interactions with urban nature across different site types and communities.

Past Research

Falxa-Raymond, Nancy; Palmer, Matthew I.; McPhearson, Timon; Griffin, Kevin L. 2014. Foliar nitrogen characteristics of four tree species planted in New York City forest restoration sites. Urban Ecosystems. 17(3): 807-824.

Sonti, Nancy Falxa; Svendsen, Erika S. 2018. Why Garden? Personal and Abiding Motivations for Community Gardening in New York City. Society & Natural Resources

Sonti, Nancy Falxa; Campbell, Lindsay; Johnson, Michelle; Daftary-Steel, S. 2016. Long-term outcomes of an urban farming internship program. Journal of Experiential Education. [19 p.].

Falxa-Raymond, Nancy; Svendsen, Erika; Campbell, Lindsay K. 2013. From job training to green jobs: a case study for a young adult employment program centered on environmental restoration in New York City, USA. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 12: 287-295.

Why This Research is Important

Given the level of investment in urban green infrastructure, it is important to make quality scientific knowledge available to the environmental stewards who care for our urban natural areas, from municipalities to local community groups. A greater understanding of plant physiological ecology in urban ecosystems will help future restoration efforts ensure the integrity of ecological processes and the preservation of biodiversity. An understanding of how plants perform in urban environments will help us plan for the future of these critical open spaces, which make cities more liveable and provide people with a much needed connection to the natural world.


  • University of Maryland - College Park, Ph.D. Plant Science, 2019
  • Columbia University, M.A. Conservation Biology, 2011
  • Stanford University, B.A. History and Biology, 2007

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

National Research Highlights

New York City skyline.

In New York City, the Value of Urban Trees Adds Up

Year: 2019

New York City’s urban forest produces cleaner air, lower energy costs, reduced ultraviolet radiation, and less storm water in the city’s sewer system. USDA Forest Service scientists and partners analyzed a sample of the city’s 7 million trees and found that they provide services with an annual value of more than $100 million.

Nancy Falxa Sonti shows students how to evaluate tree health in the Bronx as part of the Wave Hill mentoring program. Rich Hallett, USDA Forest Service

Forest Service Program Mentors New York City Students in Environmental Science

Year: 2014

An innovative research mentorship with a Forest Service scientist gets New York City teens out into the urban woods, learning how to measure forest plots and quantitatively evaluate tree health across the city. The high school students have the opportunity to spend time with a Forest Service scientist, helping to make important connections between classroom science lessons and real-world applications. The program encourages students to explore career possibilities in environmental science as they transition to college.

Last modified: Monday, December 19, 2022