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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 stems mainly from five causes related to human activities: Habitat change, Climate change, Invasive species, Overexploitation and Pollution.

After a general introduction on the loss and the current state of biodiversity, each of these five causes of biodiversity loss will be addressed 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, we will present and discuss case studies and results of laboratory/model-based research, related to these five causes to introduce a variety of biodiversity research methods. This week includes also excursions to experiments in which human impacts on biodiversity are studied. The third week will focus on introducing mitigation and restoration approaches to curb the biodiversity loss. Plenty of time will be scheduled to work on the course assignments in groups. During the last week of the course, time is scheduled for the finalization of the main 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 focus will be on the ecological and physiological mechanisms involved.

This course includes three assignments and a final exam. The first assignment is an individual reflection on an assigned serious game to deepen the understanding of the interplay between evolution, selection and diversity. The second assignment is a group assignment in which real-world biodiversity data is analysed using suitable statistical approaches and the results presented in a simple manner to broad audience. There will be a preparatory data-analysis workshop in the second week of the course. The third assignment of the course involves writing in groups an 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/or field research (weeks 2 and 3, respectively) including a robust, statistically sound set-up. This proposal will be presented in groups to the class during the course's last week.

Course objectives

After completion of the course, students can:

  • 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.

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

  • Identify and report new research directions related to human impacts on biodiversity.

  • 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.   

  • Collaboratively write and present a research proposal.


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 sucessfully 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 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

The course makes use of (interactive) lectures, workshops, serious games, individual and group assignments, peer-review, assigned readings, presentations, excursions, and working groups.

Assessment method

Alltogether, the below assignments are used to evaluate the knowledge and knowledge integration skills of the students.

The assignments:

  • individual reflection (pass/fail)

  • statistical analyses and presentation of the existing biodiversity data (15% of the grade)

  • written research proposal and a presentation about this proposal (making up together 35% of the grade)

  • final exam (50% of the grade)

Minimum grade:
Courses require a minimum, unrounded 5.5 grade to complete.

If a course has 2 or more written partial exams, the minimum grade only applies to the weighted average of the exams.
For partial grades from components other than exams (e.g. practicals, seminars, writing assignments), the bottom grade does apply to the individual components.

Please refer to the Student Charter for an overview of regulations.

Reading list

Literature will be made available on Brightspace


All students have 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 register 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. Enrolling is possible until ten days before the exam.
Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for more information on how to apply.


Contact: Dr. Emilia Hannula
Dr. Alena Gsell


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 afternoons (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 mornings are generally scheduled for working on assignments or preparing for exams. There will be excursions to ongoing experiments and restoration efforts, mostly during the second week of the course. A combination of different educational techniques will be used.