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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 protect and enhance biodiversity and its multiple values to people. 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 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.

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. Selected monodisciplinary items will also be taught, thus making optimally use of the differences in background knowledge in the student population. The sessions will be preceded by a combination of literature, pre-recorded lectures and other media.
During the course, the changing perceptions towards nature and the concomitant biological concepts will be discussed. In parallel, the need for collaboration among different types of stakeholders is taught. In addition, the tools and concepts to analyse networks are treated..

Practicals and assignments (wk2-wk6)
During two double sessions 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, where possible, connected to the lectures of the respective week, and the practicals will take place until week 3 of the course, ending with an assignment.

Weeks 5 and 6 will feature more hands-on practicals / work sessions that help students apply concepts discussed in the governance lectures.

Integrated Group Assignment (wk1-wk8)
In parallel with the lectures and practicals and throughout the entire course, students will work in small groups in an interdisciplinary 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. Each group will represent a different UN member state and will focus on the national implications of findings by the Intergovernmental science-policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), complemented by further research. Furthermore, they will propose policy responses, what stakeholders to engage to fulfil the policy-making goals, and what type of network and governance will be used. The specific topic of the IGA will be introduced by the instructors in the second week, during a recorded video and a Q&A. Each group has the opportunity to meet with its tutor(s) on a weekly basis.

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 presentation and discussion thereof, as well as a factsheet. For this group assignment, individual grade adjustments are possible in extreme cases. This decision will be based on the logbook as well as peer evaluations.

  • 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 four elements to receive a final grade.
N.B: in Week 51 (the week of December 16th), 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. The exam takes place in the digital Ans environment, in which students can read question-specific feedback. Therefore, no further feedback sessions are organised for the 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.


Every student of all years must enroll via MyStudyMap.

In this short video, you will see step by step how to enroll in courses in MyStudyMap. Note that your enrollment is only completed when you submit your course planning in the 'Ready for enrollment' tab by clicking 'submit'.

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 for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam. Keep in mind that there are enrollment deadlines, see this page for more information.

Extensive FAQ on MyStudymap can be found here.


Course coordinator: Alexander 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