International Women’s Day 2022: Rita Covas

Rita Covas

For International Women’s Day 2022, we at LifeWatch ERIC are putting eight scientists in the spotlight. Each of the LifeWatch ERIC member states has proposed a figure who has broken boundaries over the course of her lifetime, and is an inspiration to younger generations looking to pursue a career in STEM.

As we explored in the podcast we recorded for The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, women are still underrepresented in various scientific fields, such as engineering, computer science and AI. Additionally, scientific research in general is not only unbalanced in terms of composition (33% female) but also in terms of hierarchy, with only 12% of national science academy members being women, who are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to promotion and grants.

The women at the centre of our campaign are very diverse, hailing from a range of countries and time periods, but they all have one thing in common: overcoming the odds in order to contribute to scientific improvement. We want to draw attention to just a fraction of the women who have defied the cultural barriers pitted against them to bring good to the world, and bring recognition where they might have been overlooked. 

A principal researcher at BIOPOLIS/CIBIO-InBIO and an Honorary Research Associate at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, Rita Covas has dedicated her career to the study of biodiversity. She focuses her research on birds and especially social behaviour, with relevant implications for our understanding of the evolutionary concepts of solidarity and cooperation. She has a passion for fieldwork and has authored or co-authored 27 scientific publications.

Covas completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Lisbon, in Portugal, which included a graduation dissertation on the biogeography of Mediterranean birds conducted at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Montpellier. After graduating, she was given a BP Conservation Award, to work on the poorly-known seabird community of São Tome and Principe in the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa. In 1998, she moved to Cape Town to start a PhD at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute studying cooperative breeding behaviour in the Sociable Weaver, and afterwards she moved to the University of Edinburgh and started work on the birds from the Gulf of Guinea islands. 

The quality of her work led her to obtain a Marie Curie fellowship to expand her research at the CEFE-CNRS in Montpellier, France. At the end of 2008, she returned to South Africa to re-launch the sociable weaver study, and in 2019 she was awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant to lead her research in the African savannah, with the goal of studying the relationships between species and the way they cooperate.

Covas’ research demonstrates the intrigue of cooperation from an evolutionary perspective; cooperation is beneficial to the group, but has costs for each individual. Despite this, cooperation is prevalent in nature, from microorganisms to human societies. Understanding what enables evolution and maintains cooperation is a fundamental issue in evolutionary biology.


The Bulgarian National Distributed Centre is represented by the  Agricultural University-Plovdiv.

To know more about how Bulgaria contributes to LifeWatch ERIC, please visit our dedicated webpage.


The Spanish National Distributed Centre is supported by the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, the Regional Government of Andalusia and the Guadalquivir River Basin Authority (Ministry for Ecological Transition-MITECO). Moreover, Spain is the hosting Member State of LifeWatch ERIC, the location of its Statutory Seat & ICT e-Infrastructure Technical Office (LifeWatch ERIC Common Facilities). 

To know more about how Spain contributes to LifeWatch ERIC, please visit our dedicated webpage.


The Slovenian National Distributed Centre is led by the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU). It focuses on the development of technological solutions in the field of biodiversity and socio-ecosystem research.

To know more about how Slovenia contributes to LifeWatch ERIC, please visit our dedicated webpage.


The Portuguese National Distributed Centre is managed by PORBIOTA, the Portuguese e-Infrastructure for Information and Research on Biodiversity. Led by BIOPOLIS/CIBIO-InBIO – Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources, PORBIOTA connects the principal Portuguese research institutions working in biodiversity.

To know more about how Portugal contributes to LifeWatch ERIC, please visit our dedicated webpage.


The Dutch National Distributed Centre is hosted by the Faculty of Science of the University of Amsterdam. Moreover, The Netherlands hosts one of the LifeWatch ERIC Common Facilities, the Virtual Laboratory and Innovation Centre.

To know more about how The Netherlands contributes to LifeWatch ERIC, please visit our dedicated webpage.


The Italian National Distributed Centre is led and managed by the Italian National Research Council (CNR) and is coordinated by a Joint Research Unit, currently comprising 35 members. Moreover, Italy hosts one of the LifeWatch ERIC Common Facilities, the Service Centre.

To know more about how Italy contributes to LifeWatch ERIC, please visit our dedicated webpage.


The Greek National Distributed Centre is funded by the Greek General Secretariat of Research and Technology and is coordinated by the Institute of Marine Biology, Biotechnology and Aquaculture of the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, in conjunction with 47 associated partner institutions.

To know more about how Greece contributes to LifeWatch ERIC, please visit our dedicated webpage.


The Belgian National Distributed Centre makes varied and complementary in-kind contributions to LifeWatch ERIC. These are implemented in the form of long-lasting projects by various research centres and universities distributed throughout the country and supported by each respective political authority.

To know more about how Belgium contributes to LifeWatch ERIC, please visit our dedicated webpage.