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Thematic course 2: Biodiversity and Ecosystems


Admission requirements

This course is obligatory for students of the MSc Governance of Sustainability.


In this course, students will acquire knowledge on the functioning of ecosystems, the interactions between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning as well as on the causes of biodiversity loss and the consequences for human wellbeing. Nature conservation is often the result of a collaboration between a wide variety of actors on local, national and international scale. From a governance perspective this requires insights in decision making, networks of actors and the integration thereof across multiple policy challenges. By coupling these issues, it will become possible to prepare policy documents to enhance biodiversity and the provisioning of ecosystem services. This integration will be tested and implemented by the students in a case involving the science-policy interface of biodiversity and ecosystems.

Course objectives

After completing this course, you will be able to:

  • Explain the functioning of ecosystems, biodiversity and ecosystem services as influenced by human society at different spatial scales

  • Explain the governing institutions relevant to biodiversity and ecosystems

  • Critically analyse what shapes these governing institutions, with special attention to the roles of different stakeholders

  • Critically analyse the effects of relevant governing institutions on natural environments and stakeholders

  • Apply and run Geographical Information Systems for spatial analyses

  • Design and execute research to formulate integrated policy solutions to biodiversity and ecosystems

  • Communicate and work in a project group to perform transdisciplinary research

  • Communicate the results of your research to academics and decision makers, both orally and in writing

  • Reflect on your professional attitude and participation


You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have successfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go 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

We offer a mix of instruction methods to optimally satisfy the course objectives:

Lectures (wk1- wk6)
Through two intensive seminar-style lectures per week, the students will acquire the essential terminology, concepts and approaches on the governance of biodiversity and ecosystems. The lectures will be based on literature and practical examples. Each lecture will have compulsory literature assigned, that will be assessed during the written examination.
During the course, the changing perceptions towards nature and the concomitant biological concepts will be discussed. In parallel, the connections to governance and nature and the increasing need for understanding governance networks (given changing perceptions) is taught.

Practicals and assignments (wk2-wk6)
During the course, students follow GIS practicals (week 1-4) and Governance practicals (week 5-6). Regarding the GIS practicals, two afternoons per week, the skills for spatial analysis using Geographical Information Systems and other (quantitative) methods will be taught in a series of dedicated assignments and computer practicals. The contents of the practicals are, whenever possible, connected to the lectures of the respective week. In the Governance practicals, students will build on their stakeholder analysis skills, by exploring stakeholder’s values and collaboration potential through game theory methods and a role-playing game. The contents of the practicals are, whenever possible, connected to the lectures on these topics. In-person attendance is required for all practicals.

Integrated Group Assignment (wk1-wk8)
In parallel with the lectures and practicals and throughout the entire course, students will work in small groups in a transdisciplinary setting on the governance of biodiversity and ecosystems. The acquired knowledge and understanding from the lectures and practicals will be integrated by working on a real-time challenge. Representatives of relevant institutions act as ‘problem owner’, stakeholder and jury, especially during the final presentation of the group work.

Assessment method

The course will be graded based on the following elements (including weights):

  • Written individual exam (30%). The exam will test knowledge and ability to apply this, based on the information provided in the lectures, work sessions and accompanying compulsory literature.

  • Individual practical assignments (30%). Both the final assignments of the GIS practical and the Governance practical are prepared individually, and each counts for half of the practical assignment grade. The overall grade for the practicals is the average based on grades for both practicals. This overall grade must be a 5.5 or higher, which means that a grade for one practical can compensate for the other.

  • Integrated Group Assignment (30%). Group-based infographic and pitch, as well as a factsheet.

  • Participation (10%) is assessed through the successful completion of three quizzes (pass / fail), a peer review of an IGA mid-term presentation (graded) and two self and group member evaluations (graded). The quizzes test the students on knowledge based on the lectures. Completion of each quiz will result in a pass. Participation is furthermore compulsory during practicals, guest lectures, group work sessions and presentations / seminars. Depending on the circumstances, online participation will suffice too.

The final grade is the weighted average of the four components. In addition, students must have earned a minimum grade of 5.5 for all elements to receive a final grade.
N.B: in Week 51 (the week of December 18th), there will be graded assignments for which your in-person participation is required.

The practical assignments and Integrated Group Assignment cannot be retaken or compensated. In case of extenuating circumstances, the participation grade can be compensated. The written exam can be retaken once in the same academic year. It follows the exact same form as the original written exam.

Reading list

Literature for this course primarily exists of scientific peer-reviewed papers from both mono-disciplinary and transdisciplinary scientific journals, supplemented with an occasional book chapter, report and policy document. All compulsory literature, as shared and indicated on Brightspace, must be studied for the written exam. Topics discussed in (recorded) lectures will also be tested in the written exam. Depending on the student’s background, preparatory reading is available for those wanting to gain or broaden knowledge on the governance or natural science aspects of this course.


Students can register themselves via MyStudymap for each course, exam and retake. Do this on time, before the start of the course. You can view your personal schedule in MyTimetable after logging in. Leiden University uses Brightspace as its online learning management system. After enrolment for the course in MyStudymap you will be automatically enrolled in the Brightspace environment of this course.

After registering for an exam, you must confirm your attendance via MyStudymap. Without this confirmation, you are not allowed to participate in the exam or retake of the course. Confirming your exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.

Furthermore, there are two registration periods per year:
First semester / fall semester: opens in July
Second semester / spring semester: opens in December

More information about course and exam enrolment can be found here


Course coordinator: Alexander van Oudenhoven

Dr. A.P.E. van Oudenhoven


MSc Governance of Sustainabilty students can register for the course and exam via uSis. Other students need to contact the study advisors of the programme via