nl en

Tropical Biodiversity and Field Methods (South East Asia)


Note: In 2019-2020 the course will be given in Borneo. All information below relates to the Borneo version of the course. The next course in the Caribbean is expected to take place in the study year 2020-2021.

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

Coordinators: Dr. V.S.F.T. Merckx Email:


The course will provide a broad overview of tropical ecology, flora and fauna, with a focus on Southeast Asia and Borneo. Students will learn about practical aspects of doing field research in tropical ecosystems, experimental design, data analysis methods, theory of biodiversity data, and the application of biodiversity data in conservation. In addition, students will receive basic taxonomic overviews for taxa that are particularly relevant in tropical ecosystems, and practice their identification based on reference collections and own collections to be made during fieldwork.
The course will be held partly in Leiden, partly at the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) in Sabah, Malaysia.
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 a 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 Caribbean ones, as well as more experienced researchers and field biologists. The course is an excellent preparation for fieldwork in the tropics and can be easily extended by an research project. 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 ecosystems

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

  • Overview of major and unsolved questions related to tropical biodiversity

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

  • First-hand experience with biodiversity conservation and uses of biodiversity.

Final qualifications:

  • Students will have a comprehensive understanding of tropical ecosystem ecology, biodiversity patterns, and biodiversity data analysis.

  • Students will have basic taxonomic knowledge of important groups of tropical organisms.

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

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


From 24 February 2019 – 20 March 2020

  • week 1 and 2 (Leiden): lectures, self-study

  • week 3 and 4 (Borneo): practicals, demonstrations, short field research projects and active involvement in data collections, presentation of the results at DGFC

Mode of instruction

The theoretical part of the course (in Leiden) will consist of lectures and self-study. The field work part (in Borneo) 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 (i) an exam about the lectures in Leiden (46%), (ii) their performance during fieldwork in Borneo (54%).


Lectures and practical information will be available on Borneo course

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 Dr. V. Merckx Deadline for application is 1 October 2019. Students will receive extra information, including possibilities for applying for funding.

Register in Usis and enroll on Blackboard

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 € 1250, plus other expenses, as follows: Students will need to book and pay their own travel to (and, if necessary, accommodation in) Leiden and to Kota Kinabalu (Malaysia). They also need to purchase the compulsory text book (Ghazoul & Sheil, 2010. Tropical Rain Forest Ecology. OUP). Costs for insurances and personal medication (vaccinations, consult your own GP or travel clinic for this) are also to be borne by the students themselves. The course fee of € 1250 covers all costs at the DGFC (bus transport from and to Kota Kinabalu, accommodation, food and drinks, boat transfers, field assistants, T-shirt, conservation fee, partial sponsoring of the local participating students, and field equipment.).

Minimum 10 students, maximum 20 students.