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Human Impacts on Biodiversity


Admission requirements

You must be an MSc student.


According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) and the Global IPBES assessment (2019), the global loss of biodiversity is mainly due to five causes related to human activities: Habitat change, Climate change, Invasive species, Overexploitation and Pollution.

After a general introduction on the loss and the present state of biodiversity, each of these five causes of biodiversity loss will be presented and discussed during the first three weeks of the course. The first week will focus on the theoretical background of these five causes. During the second week, case studies and results of laboratory/model-based research, related to these five causes, will be presented and discussed. This week includes also excursions to see experiments where human impacts on biodiversity are studied. The third week will focus on the five causes and introduces further more practical case studies and results of field-based research as well as examples of efforts to mitigate the negative effects (i.e. restoration efforts). Plenty of time will be scheduled to work on the course assignments either individually or in groups. During the last week of the course, time is scheduled for the finalization of the assignment, the assignment presentations and the preparation for the exam.

Since all human activities are imbedded in social-economic developments, discussing them will include some social-economic aspects. However, the main focus will be on the ecological and physiological mechanisms involved.

The main assignment of the course involves writing in groups a NWO-style research proposal for a PhD study focused on one of the five causes of biodiversity loss in a selected ecosystem. The proposal should have a strong background embedded in ecological research theory (week 1) and should combine laboratory and field research (weeks 2 and 3, respectively) including robust, statistically sound set-up. This proposal will be presented by the group during the last week of the course. There will be two other smaller assignments related to theory regarding human impacts (week 1) and to experimental design and analyses of experimental data (week 2).

Course objectives

After completion of the course, students are able to: 

  • Identify the key concepts and processes related to the 5 major human impacts on biodiversity (overexploitation, climate change, land use change, pollution and invasive species).

  •  Explain the key concepts and processes related to the 5 major human impacts   on biodiversity.

  • Summarize key literature on the effects of human impacts on biodiversity. 

  • Analyse existing biodiversity data in a comprehensive way and present it  to a broader audience. 

  • Identify and report new research directions related to human impact. 

  • Propose a combination of laboratory and field-based research to answer  proposed research questions. 

  • Develop a scientifically sound and statistically adequate research plan to test  novel hypotheses through lab and field research. 

  • Present the key concepts and methods of a research proposal to a broad audience.   

  • Write a research proposal.


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For more information, watch the video or go the the 'help-page' in MyTimetable. Please note: Joint Degree students Leiden/Delft have to merge their two different timetables into one. This video explains how to do this.

Mode of instruction

Lectures, assignments, presentations, excursions, and working groups.

Assessment method

An assignment which consists of a written research proposal and a presentation about this proposal (making up together 50% of the grade) and a final exam (50% of the grade) are used to evaluate the knowledge and skills of the students.

Reading list

Literature will be made available on Brightspace


From the academic year 2022-2023 on every student has to register for courses with the new enrollment tool MyStudyMap. There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to both preregister and confirm your participation for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam of the course. Confirming your exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.


Contact: Dr. Emilia Hannula


This course is a prime opportunity to learn about the causes of biodiversity loss and a knowledge base for restoring natural environments and ecosystem services.

In the mornings (with few exceptions), the human impacts on biodiversity and related topics are discussed based on presentations by internal and external experts, and selected literature. The afternoons are generally scheduled for working on the assignments or preparing for exams. There will be excursions to see ongoing experiments and restoration efforts during especially the second week of the course. A combination of different education techniques will be used.