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Field Methods for Sustainability: Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity


Admission requirements

Required course(s):


Recommended course(s):

Quantitative Research Methods
Environmental Science


Ultimately, all human activities are embedded in, and constrained by, natural systems. To ensure sustained human well-being, we need a sound understanding of these systems, especially within the context of rapid environmental change. This, in turn requires the collection, analysis, interpretation and communication of field data.

This course will introduce students to a range of field methods to assess the health of forested, urban, aquatic and coastal ecosystems. The focus will be on the biotic parts of ecosystems: the organisms living in these systems. However, cross-links will be made to the abiotic environment (for example by measuring water quality), as well as social dimensions of ecosystem management.

Specifically, the course will revolve around three interrelated themes:

  1. Biodiversity
    Biological diversity is fundamental for ecosystem function, the provision of essential services and human well-being. For this reason we will start by collecting, analyzing and interpreting data related to different concepts and components of biodiversity.

  2. Environmental health and monitoring
    Building on the first theme, we explore field techniques to evaluate the condition of biotic and abiotic components of aquatic and urban ecosystems. This may e.g. include an assessment of invasive species and/or pollution by different agents, such as nutrients, plastics and light.

  3. Environmental management and conservation
    The integration of natural and social sciences research is indispensable for sound natural resource management and urban planning. In this component we will incorporate social science methods such as surveys and/or structured interviews on topics including the perception of ecosystems provided by urban green spaces, or recreational management. Depending on prior knowledge or interest students may also work with GIS or remotely sensed data.
    Work will be done around The Hague and we will organize a 3-4 day field trip to the Dutch Wadden Islands. The Islands represent an ideal case study of the coexistence between a diverse and dynamic natural environment and its human population. Located within in the Wadden Sea UNESCO World Heritage Site, the islands are directly affected by rapid environmental change, which requires the ongoing adaptation of its inhabitants and natural systems and poses unique challenges for their environmental, economic and social sustainability. The field site offers a rich array of possible study topics and research questions, ranging from biology to ecosystem services, conservation strategies and natural resource management.

Course Objectives

After completion of this course students are able to:

  • Apply different common field techniques and understand how these techniques can be used to answer research questions about current environmental issues.

  • Discuss the strengths and weaknesses associated with those field techniques

  • Set-up a small field study, collect data, analyse, interpret and communicate the results by sceintifc report writing and other means.

Examples for field techniques will include transect sampling, invertebrate sampling, camera traps, water quality assessment, GPS applications, among others. Data analysis techniques include diversity indices, descriptive and inferential statistical methods, among others.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2021-2022 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course will be co-taught by two faculty members and ideally would be limited to 15 students for logistical reasons. Instruction methods will have a strong focus on field data collection and quantitative data analysis. This course will complement the existing field course “Field Methods in Water Resource Management", as it mainly lines up with the Ecosystem Health core track within EES and offers different study systems.

During the first six weeks of the course field methods will be introduced and practiced at different sites in the vicinity of The Hague. Towards the end of the course, we will have a 3-4 day field trip to the Wadden Islands, which will combine field site visits, classes on the local context and field projects.

Assessment Method

Field exercises - written report: 25%
Independent project – presentation: 35%
Structured interviews – presentation: 25%
Participation: 15%

Reading list

Will be made available prior to the start of the class.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Achim Häger,
Dr. Thijs Bosker,


Please, note that the field trip to the Wadden Island Schiermonnikoog will take place from June 13 to June 16, in the week after the exam week of block 4.

The field trip will probably involve costs for travel and accommodations. We will try to keep expenses to a minimum, and expect that costs for students will not exceed a maximum of €200, including the ferry to the island.