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Tropical Biology in Borneo


Admission requirements

The course is targeted at students with a Bachelor in Biology or equivalent degree, although we also accept a small proportion of BSc and PhD students. Priority will be given to students who show a strong motivation and interest to study tropical ecosystems.

Contact information

Coordinator: Prof. dr. Menno Schilthuizen


The course will provide a broad overview of tropical rainforest ecology and biodiversity. During the lectures, students will learn about practical aspects of doing field research in the tropics, of the relevant and unanswered questions, and of the application in biodiversity conservation. In addition, basic taxonomic overviews for taxa that are particularly relevant in tropical ecosystems are given. The course will be held partly in Leiden, partly in the Danau Girang Field Centre in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. The field work will consist of (a) demonstrations of field methods and techniques and (b) short research projects carried out by small groups of students.
The course is an unique opportunity to get theoretical as well as practical instructions on tropical biodiversity from a broad range of experienced lecturers, in a setting that allows you to interact informally and intensively with fellow students, including Malaysian ones, as well as more experienced researchers. The course provides study credits and is also a coveted c.v.-item.

Learning goals

Course objectives:
The course aims to provide:

  • Theoretical insights into the biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics of tropical rainforests

  • A broad overview of the taxa with a high relevance for tropical ecosystems

  • Overview of major and unsolved questions related to rainforest biodiversity

  • Hands-on experience with field methods and sampling techniques in tropical rainforest.

  • First-hand experience with biodiversity conservation

Final qualifications:

  • Students will have a comprehensive understanding of tropical rainforest ecology and biodiversity.

  • Students are skilled in designing and carrying out a field study in a tropical rainforest ecosystem.

  • Students are experienced in working in a tropical rainforest and addressing relevant questions through scientific research.


week 7: lectures and self study
week 8: self study and exam
week 9: demonstrations of field methods and techniques at the Danau Girang Field Centre
week 10: short research projects and presentation of the results at the Danau Girang Field Centre

Mode of instruction

The theoretical part of the course (in Leiden) will consist of lectures and self study. The field work part (in Malaysia) will consist of demonstrations of field methods and techniques and short research projects carried out by small groups of students.

Assessment method

Students will be graded based on a written exam after the theoretical part of the course in Leiden, and on their performance and presentation of a mini-project at the Danau Girang Field Centre.


Slides of all lectures will be made available to the students on Blackboard.

Reading list

Ghazoul, J. & Sheil, D. (2010) Tropical rain forest ecology, diversity, and conservation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Prospective students should submit their CV and a short motivation letter to Mrs. Hanneke de Wolf (

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


The costs include a course fee of € 1050, plus air travel and several other expenses, as follows. Students will need to book and pay their own travel to Leiden (for weeks 7-8) and to Sandakan, Malaysia (for weeks 9-10). They also need to purchase the compulsory text book (Ghazoul & Sheil, 2010. Tropical Rain Forest Ecology. OUP). Costs for insurances and personal medication (vaccinations, malaria prophylaxes; consult your own GP or travel clinic for this) are, of course, also to be borne by the students themselves. The two weeks in the field are fully covered by the course fee of € 1050. This includes bus transport, accommodation, food and drinks, boat transfers, field assistants, T-shirt, conservation fee, partial sponsoring of the local participating students, and field equipment.