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Ecosystem Services


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

  • Environmental Science

The Earth System Sciences is recommended.

A basic understanding of earth processes, as introduced in parts of Earth System Sciences is desirable. In addition, considering the complexity, interdisciplinarity and abstract nature of the ecosystem services concept, we recommend third years rather than second years to register for the course.


Environmental problems are complex and occur at the interface of biodiversity/ecosystem functioning and societal demands. Ecosystem services comprise a concept and framework that allow for analyzing, quantifying and optimizing this interface by expressing the multitude of ways through which ecosystems provide benefits to humankind. This course will provide students with a theoretical and applied approach to ecosystem services.

The first part of the course will focus on basic principles of ecosystem services and their classification. The pros and cons of using ecosystem services as a concept will be debated, in light of historical and contemporary aspects. Next, their relation with and dependence on ecosystem functioning and biodiversity will be discussed. This part will include key concepts needed to understand and quantify ecosystem functioning, the role of organisms in general and biodiversity in particular therein as well as the impacts of trade-offs and feedbacks on ecosystem processes. The impacts of ecosystem functioning, including its trade-offs and feedbacks on ecosystem services is discussed.

The second part of the course will focus on the societal dimension of ecosystem services. Methods, indicators and instruments available to assess the interactions with human society are discussed. The different ways of calculating the benefits and values of provided ecosystem services are discussed. Methods for mapping ecosystem services and the impacts of flows of ecosystem services will be quantified. Tools to manage and optimize ecosystem services as dependent on local societal demands are discussed and examples of successful and failed applications of the ecosystem services concepts for ecosystem management are evaluated.

As part of the course, students will conduct a group research project, within which the ecosystem services of a particular case study will be analyzed. Each group will work with a different social-ecological system to find a solution for a major challenge faced within the case study. Within the project, special attention is paid to the interests and perceptions of the involved stakeholders and the interactions among them. Students will discuss ecosystem services for their case study from different perspectives, analyze the potential impacts thereof on ecosystem management and discuss how different ecosystem types lead to a different balance in services provision.

Course Objectives

Upon completion of the course, students are expected to be able to:

  1. define and discuss important principles, characteristics and instruments related to the provision of ecosystem services;
  2. characterize the relationships between ecosystem functioning, ecosystem services and societal demands;
  3. describe and discuss different methods used to quantify, model and value ecosystem services
  4. evaluate the impacts of trade-offs, feedbacks, spatiotemporal arrangements and stakeholders’ preferences for perceived ecosystem services;

Upon completion of the course, students are expected to be able to:

  1. work with ecosystem services concepts within a multidisciplinary setting;
  2. understand different viewpoints within the biodiversity conservation vs. ecosystem services debate and reflect on them;
  3. critically evaluate approaches to manage ecosystems and to optimize resources availability in light of ecosystem services concepts;
  4. critically discuss, debate in a constructive way, and report on issues involved in the concept of and provision of ecosystem services from multiple points of view.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2022-2023 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The main mode of instruction will revolve around seminar-style, dynamic lectures and include pre-recorded lectures, exercises, quizzes, scientific literature and examples for real-life situations that will be discussed during the lectures. In addition, pitches and discussions are organized, aiming at a full engagement of all students. This requires students to be prepared prior to the lecture, so that they can constructively participate in structured and ad-hoc discussions. Preparations for the lectures is done on an individual basis. Attendance is compulsory for students.

In addition, students are required to complete a group assignment. To facilitate completion of these assignments, there will be some time set aside partly during lectures (e.g. exercises), but mostly outside of the lectures to discuss progress on the group assignment. An online platform will also be created for optimal interaction around the group work. The remainder of the work is conducted outside class hours.

Assessment Method

Assessment will occur through one exam, a group assignment and participation. The performance within the group assignment is assessed at two moments (once through a report and once through an oral presentation and defense). In addition, participation in class will determine part of the final grade.

  • Final Exam: 35% (Week 8). Learning objectives: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6

  • Mid-term report of the Group Assignment: 25% (Week 4). Learning objectives: 5, 6, 7

  • Oral presentation of the Group Assignment: 25% (Week 7). Learning objectives: 5,6, 7

  • Class participation: 15% (ongoing). Learning objectives: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7

Class participation: Apart from attendance and active participation during lectures, the assessment for participation will include grades for six quizzes, reflection on a topic of choice during a short pitch in class, a debate, and participation in (online) discussions. The dates for pitches will be announced in Week 1.

Group assignment: By the end of Week 4, each group has to deliver a written assignment on the group progress up to and including Week 4. In Week 7, the final results of the group assignment are presented in a plenary session during which each group presents their work through a 3-minutes elevator pitch by one of the members of the group and supported by a poster. The assignment will be evaluated as a group effort.

Final Exam: The exam will consist of a combination of short-answer and essay questions, which will test the students’ ability to apply the obtained knowledge.

Reading list

On-line reading materials will be distributed via Brightspace. These will consist of two to three scientific papers per lecture, at times combined with pre-recorded lectures, as well as additional optional reading. A basic set of scientific papers is available for each group as well for their group assignment, in order to start off the group work with equal knowledge.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Alexander van Oudenhoven,
Prof.Dr. Peter van Bodegom,