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Keeping the planet liveable

Research

Combining different disciplines, Leiden University researchers work together to formulate innovative solutions to societal problems. Below is an example from the field of fundamental sciences.

Overview research dossiers

Insights and solutions for now and the future

How can we organise society so as to keep our planet habitable for us and for all other life forms around us? To answer this question, Leiden researchers collaborate across disciplines, from biology to data science, and from environmental economy to archaeology.

A habitable world may refer to any number of things: clean water, healthy food, rich biodiversity, fresh air or a stable climate. But also: freedom, relaxation and the guarantee that there will still be products in the shops in 50 years’ time.

With our growing world population and increasing welfare, it is becoming difficult to safeguard all of this. We have so many examples of how not to do it, from pollution to endangered species. ‘But in recent decades, we have also made a lot of progress,’ says Peter van Bodegom, Professor of Environmental Biology, ‘thanks to discoveries and developments in the natural, social and environmental sciences.’

This combination of scientific disciplines can lay the foundation for positive change. Researchers offer the knowledge and technology required to take concrete steps towards a more sustainable world.


Advanced technology
Leiden is currently setting up an Advanced Research Centre on Sustainability, explains Geert de Snoo, Professor of Conservation Biology and Dean of the Faculty of Science. ‘Our aim with this centre is to link biodiversity, concern for our living environment and sustainable economy with the most up-to-date technologies,’ he says. ‘Advanced laboratory technologies can now be used in field research. In Leiden we have experts in all the disciplines we need to make this possible, from biology and environmental sciences to mathematics and computer science.’

Leiden researchers develop many of these technologies themselves – some at global, others at molecular level. They work on satellite technology to measure the surface and composition of forests from space, techniques to display the DNA of animals in water, and equipment to measure water quality.


Collaboration
Leiden University has always had a close relationship with the Naturalis Biodiversity Center. Many researchers work for both institutions. With its 42 million preserved plants and animals, fossils and stones, Naturalis has a world-class collection that is essential not only for its museum role, but also for scientific research on biodiversity. How this research can contribute to a more sustainable world was described by Naturalis and Leiden University in Nature4Life, a national sustainability knowledge agenda for researchers and policy makers.
‘We are constantly seeking collaboration both within and outside the University,’ says Herman Spaink, Professor of Molecular Cell Biology, ‘including with the business sector. Companies are becoming increasingly aware of how useful it is to invest in sustainability, because such steps always pay off in the end.’ A good example is the Green Circles project, in which Heineken collaborates with Naturalis and other partners to create a climate-neutral brewery and production chain.
Challenges

‘If we want things to change at political level,’ Spaink continues, ‘we as researchers have to demonstrate the added value of a sustainable society. We have to put precise figures on the value of protecting nature and biodiversity, and show how a green circular economy can work.’
These are not simple models, Peter van Bodegom remarks. ‘We have to move towards a systematic, integral approach that integrates the most important facets, from water quality and biodiversity to land usage and sustainable economy.’ Leiden is well-equipped for this, according to Van Bodegom, thanks to our global database of raw materials, Naturalis’s extensive collection, and the University’s combined expertise in the field of data science.

Nature and wild animals in Africa and Indonesia

Leiden University investigates biodiversity not only in the Netherlands, but also abroad, with the goal of improving global nature conservation. We do so in collaboration with local universities. Education is also high on our agenda.


Large predators
In many places people share their habitat with large predators, which can sometimes cause problems. Not that there are many attacks on humans, but their livestock are targeted. ‘In Leiden we do a lot of research on this type of human-wildlife conflict,’ explains De Snoo. ‘We try to discover what factors influence it – both biological and socio-economic ones.’ Such research results in clues on how to avoid this type of conflict. In this context Leiden carries out studies of wolves in Ethiopia, tigers in Nepal and lions in Africa; the research on lions in particular has been going on for many years.

In Kenya, lions leave Nairobi National Park at night and break through the fences put up by cattle breeders. They kill more cattle than they eat. As a result, many lions are killed out of revenge. ‘One of the things we’re investigating is ways of scaring lions off,’ explains

Francis Lesilau, a Leiden PhD student from Kenya. ‘Flashing lights seem to be quite effective. As a result, lions only dare hunt cattle during the day. And then they are much less likely to be successful, especially when a shepherd is guarding the herds.’ His project has a strong social component. ‘There are all kinds of challenges,’ he explains. ‘The flashbulbs are expensive, and they tend to work only when they’re used by all farmers. This means that we need support from local organisations.’ And guarding herds during the day is difficult. Traditionally, it has been a job for children, but they go to school nowadays. Lesilau: ‘We need a new social system, with older people guarding the animals. And people have to learn to value lions again. Information and education are key.’

The south side of Nairobi National Park is unfenced. This was never a problem because there was a vast savanna between the park and the city outskirts. Due to the enormous  population growth, houses and industry are encroaching on the park, so that lions leaving the park are almost  immediately among the houses and farms.

The south side of Nairobi National Park is unfenced. This was never a problem because there was a vast savanna between the park and the city outskirts. Due to the enormous population growth, houses and industry are encroaching on the park, so that lions leaving the park are almost immediately among the houses and farms.

 

The basis of this research was laid by the then 13-year-old Richard Turere who observed that flashlights deterred lions from attacking his family's cattle. View his inspiring TED talk:


Research project 'Human-lion conflict around Nairobi National Park'

 

Indonesia
Leiden University has always maintained close relations with a number of universities in Indonesia. We conduct joint research and supervise one another’s PhD students, in particular in the field of biosciences and sustainability. For example, an Indonesian biologist recently completed his dissertation in Leiden on the restoration of areas of sea grass along the coast. And a Leiden legal expert worked on improving the enforcement of Indonesian environmental regulations in Djakarta.

‘This collaboration is valuable for all parties,’ explains Geert de Snoo, Professor of Conservation Biology, who has been closely involved in establishing the Leiden-Indonesia partnership. ‘Combining expertise generates a lot of knowledge that is immediately applicable in nature management.’ As an example, he mentions the research on forest elephants on Kalimantan that sometimes damage palm oil plantations. ‘You can only prevent it by understanding how and where forest elephants live, how many there are and what factors determine their choice of food,’ De Snoo explains.


Sustainable forest management
Together with an Indonesian university, Leiden researchers are investigating the effect of sustainable forest management on Kalimantan. Does the system of sustainably produced wood, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) quality label, work in practice? What aspects are effective and where do the challenges lie? ‘There has been a lot of criticism of certification schemes,’ De Snoo says, ‘but their effect on biodiversity has hardly been studied at all. And this is precisely what our biologists are doing. It seems that areas with more sustainable forest management really do promote biodiversity, in particular of plants and birds.’ Together with local organisations, the researchers are developing ways to improve forest management.


Winter school
In 2017 Leiden and Indonesian students jointly followed a winter school programme on Java. This course formed part of the Leiden University interdisciplinary minor on Sustainable Development. Through lectures

and field work, students were introduced to tropical biodiversity in Indonesia and the principles of sustainable development. ‘We are now working on a follow-up together with Naturalis, this time in the marine area,’ says Peter van Bodegom, Professor of Environmental Biology and coordinator of the winter school. ‘This time we’re focusing on topics such as mangroves and corals.’ This kind of joint winter school not only teaches students a lot in terms of content, he emphasises, but also culturally. ‘It’s an experience for life.’

At the winter school 12 Leiden and 12 Indonesian students work together on a research project.

At the winter school 12 Leiden and 12 Indonesian students work together on a research project.


Dutch ambassador in Indonesia Rob Swartbol about the winter school.

Measuring water life

Human activity, such as pollution, may disturb the balance of living water systems, which has consequences for biodiversity, but also for other functions such as water purification. Leiden University maps living water systems using the most advanced technologies.


Living lab
In late 2016 a unique project was launched in Leiden. In the Bio Science Park, a bulldozer set the first steps towards a Living Lab, a system of 38 newly dug ditches. In this experimental location researchers investigate the effect of human activity on local biodiversity. ‘For the first time, we can look precisely at the interaction between all living organisms, their environment, and human activity,’ explains ecotoxicologist Martina Vijver. To date researchers were only able to study 

a few species and one stress factor at a time, and only in a lab environment. Vijver: ‘The Living Lab allows us for the first time to study the bigger picture, in a natural environment.’

One of the areas that Vijver investigates is the effect of toxic substances, such as pesticides and microplastics, but also nutrients, water balance and natural stress factors such as ‘eat or be eaten’. ‘It’s a complex puzzle,’ she says, ‘in which we also work on new analysis techniques and data processing methods.’ The ultimate goal is the sustainable management of natural water systems. ‘The Living Lab is a breeding ground for good ideas.’

Before they start their investigations, the researchers allow the ditches to become naturally colonised by water life by connecting them to the adjacent pond.

Before they start their investigations, the researchers allow the ditches to become naturally colonised by water life by connecting them to the adjacent pond.


Water scan
Researcher Berry van der Hoorn from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center is one of the researchers working in the Living Lab. ‘We develop new methods for mapping biodiversity on the basis of DNA in water,’ he explains. Traditionally, this involved a strainer net and a microscope, but that is relatively expensive, time-consuming and error-prone: you always miss some species. In routine work, in particular, such as monitoring aquatic creatures as an indicator of water quality, this is a real challenge.

DNA research can change that. What if you could just press a button to analyse the DNA floating in a drop of water - and then be able to deduce water quality from the result? Van der Hoorn believes that such technology will become available in the near future. Naturalis is already working on creating such a ‘DNA Water Scan’. ‘But it does still require a lot of research,’ he says. ‘Chemical research: How does DNA behave in water? Biological research: Which species leave which DNA traces? And environmental biological research: How does human activity impact a species’ profile?’


Nanopore
DNA technology has really gained momentum in recent years. ‘This has been very fruitful, but the equipment is big and expensive, and only suitable for the lab,’ explains bioinformatician Christiaan Henkel. ‘What would really help us move forward is a device that you can easily carry with you and just stick in the water to produce instant measurements.’

This is no science fiction; in fact, this kind of technology is already available on the market. Henkel shows an 

example: the MinION -  a device the size of a pencil case. ‘One day it will be an attachment on your mobile telephone,’ he predicts. ‘Not that I developed this myself. What we do is investigate how we can best use this technology.’

It can, for instance, be used for monitoring, as a ‘futuristic fishing net’, but also in more fundamental research on nature protection. For instance to investigate under what circumstances eels, a seriously threatened species, can be bred in captivity.

Advanced technologies such as the MinION make field research easier and more accurate. Photograph: Oxford Nanopore

Advanced technologies such as the MinION make field research easier and more accurate. Photograph: Oxford Nanopore

Nature in farmland

The Netherlands is not particularly rich in ‘wild nature’. Comparatively, what we have is a lot of intensively used agricultural land. This means that from nature’s perspective there much to be gained by combining the ‘nature’ and ‘agriculture’ functions. Not an easy task in such a densely populated country as the Netherlands.

 

'Leiden has a long tradition of research on agricultural nature management,’ says Geert de Snoo, Professor of Conservation Biology. ‘Our research focuses not only on biodiversity,’ he explains, ‘but also for example on ecotoxicology, environmental policy and how people view nature. It’s highly multidisciplinary.’

 

​Small-scale landscape
‘Dutch agriculture is super intensive,’ continues De Snoo. ‘Variety has disappeared from our landscape, and with it much of the biodiversity.’ Leiden research reveals the advantages of a different approach, with more attention being paid to landscape elements such as flower-filled field margins, natural ditch banks and wooded slopes. ‘These have a positive effect on biodiversity,’ says De Snoo, ‘as well as on water management, farmland productivity, and the beauty of the landscape. Everyone benefits.’
 

Wild flowers such as rapeseed along the edges of ditches attract insects and other animals.

Wild flowers such as rapeseed along the edges of ditches attract insects and other animals.


Integrated nature
The Netherlands is the world’s second agricultural export country, after the United States. ‘It’s actually incredible, for such a small country,’ says De Snoo. In order to maintain this high level of production, farmers use a lot of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The result is a high level of environmental pressure. ‘We investigate alternative approaches that have less impact on biodiversity. For example creating more room for nature on farms, and investing in a healthy soil life on the fields.’

Together, Leiden biologists, environmental scientists and social scientists develop strategies for so-called nature-inclusive land use: agriculture that incorporates nature, but also more nature in cities and villages. De Snoo: ‘Our research shows under what circumstances this creates added value, and what’s required to make it possible.’ This approach is already paying off: areas where more land area is devoted to natural elements, such as field margins, harbour more diverse species of butterflies and birds.


The value of biodiversity
Despite research and protection measures, biodiversity on Dutch farmland continues to drop. ‘Nature protection is not only a biological or environmental issue,’ De Snoo emphasises, ‘It also has many social, psychological, administrative and economic aspects.’

Leiden research has shown, for instance, that farmers have to be intrinsically motivated to protect nature. They have to be convinced of the importance of diversity in what grows on their land. You cannot convince them with money alone. ‘They have to be proud of what is happening on their land,’ says De Snoo. ‘A flowery field border, a brooding black-tailed godwit. Especially if they are given positive feedback.’

And how do you make sure that ‘green thinking’ also permeates into policy? ‘Certainly not by continuously pitting nature and agriculture against one another,’

answers De Snoo, ‘but instead by showing how you can work with nature, our ecological capital. Indeed, by promoting nature-inclusive thinking.’ And researchers and nature conservationists have to keep drawing attention to nature’s right to exist. The significance of nature and biodiversity is gradually shifting towards ‘value’ alone, notes De Snoo. ‘This has become apparent in a recent large-scale analysis of European policy documents. As an approach, it is too one-sided. If you want to get through to farmers, the general public and policy makers, you need knowledge based on sound research.’

The black-tailed godwit is a typical Dutch farmland bird that likes to build its nest in farmland.

The black-tailed godwit is a typical Dutch farmland bird that likes to build its nest in farmland.

A smarter approach to energy and raw materials

Over the past century, the world population has grown exponentially, as has our need for energy and raw materials. If we wish to continue to live prosperously in the future, we have to radically restructure our economy and consumption. Scientific research shows us how to do this.


‘When you hear “sustainable use of raw materials”, many people think of recycling,’ says Arnold Tukker, Professor of Industrial Ecology. ‘But we need something much more radical. We have to completely rethink our approach to supply and demand, production and consumption, stocks and waste.’ He mentions a few examples: ‘Make materials less complex. Make sure that components can be reused. Create a society built on “elements of hope” - materials such as sand, iron and aluminium that are so common that scarcity is not likely to be a problem any time soon.’

Tukker is Scientific Director of the Leiden Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) as well as Director of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Sustainability, a partnership across three universities and different academic disciplines. From chemists to engineers and computer scientists, from psychologists to economists and public administration experts: all perspectives are represented. ‘They have to be, because we are facing a massive challenge.’

Each of the universities has its strong points, explains Tukker. ‘Delft is good in new technologies and design,’ he says. ‘Rotterdam in business and policy. And we in Leiden investigate the ‘metabolism of society’: how do physical flows of raw materials move across the world? How important are they? What are they influenced by?’


Raw material flows
Leiden maintains the world’s largest database in the field of raw material flows, including gas and coal. ‘The database covers the entire economy of the 44 largest countries,’ says Tukker, ‘and the import and production of 180 product groups over the past fifteen years, including emission and waste streams.’

René Kleijn, senior university lecturer and Scientific Director of the Industrial Ecology department, also works on the raw materials database. ‘We use it for large-scale analysis projects,’ he explains. ‘For example on aquaculture, recycling of concrete and other 

construction materials, and materials needed to produce sustainable energy.’

The current generation of windmills, for example, still contains materials that are finite. The demand for clean energy means that already we have to increase the production of raw materials such as copper in order to meet the demand in fifteen years’ time. The challenge is to look ahead, says Kleijn. ‘You can also make windmills without scarce metals – they may be slightly less efficient, but a more future-proof source of energy. You can only make these kinds of considerations if you have a clear view of the material flows, which is precisely what our database provides.’

One of the consequences of upscaling wind energy is that the earth metal neodymium, which is used in the wind turbine generators, is becoming scarcer.

One of the consequences of upscaling wind energy is that the earth metal neodymium, which is used in the wind turbine generators, is becoming scarcer.


Circular economy
A frequently heard concept in this context is the ‘circular economy’: an economy where energy and materials are constantly reused, and there’s no waste. ‘The economy is not likely to become fully circular any time soon,’ says Kleijn. ‘There will always be raw materials that are too expensive, too energy-consuming or too polluting to recycle. In these cases you shouldn’t do it– recycling should never be a goal in and of itself.’

But we still have large supplies of raw materials in unexpected places. As an example, Tukker mentions the PUMA project: Prospecting the Urban Mine in Amsterdam, being carried out by CML researchers. This project maps precisely where metals, such as steel 

and copper, can be found in Amsterdam. ‘For example in ships and in buildings. The next step is to design an infrastructure to exploit this “mine”.’

Leiden is also strong in so-called life cycle analysis, or LCA: a method to map the origin and destination of raw materials, including the energy required. The best-knwn example is: Is it better to wash your coffee cup or use a plastic disposable cup? ‘The answer is: it depends,’ laughs Tukker. ‘What we do is map the factors this depends on for the most important product groups.’

In a city like Amsterdam there are a lot of reusable materials. The PUMA project aims to exploit this ‘urban mine’.

In a city like Amsterdam there are a lot of reusable materials. The PUMA project aims to exploit this ‘urban mine’.

Learning from the past

Leiden archaeologists investigate how people in the past impacted their environment. Together with scientists, environmental scientists, and humanities experts, they use this information to draw conclusions about the present – and show what we can learn from it for the future.


As far back as 20,000 to 30,000 years ago, towards the end of the last ice age, European people were already leaving their mark on the landscape. ‘Hunters impacted the landscape on a large scale by using fire, which probably even at that time had important consequences for vegetation, fauna and climate,’ explains Jan 

Kolen, Professor of Landscape Archaeology and Cultural Heritage. ‘We think that they even burned down forests on purpose to create a more varied landscape, with more game species, herbs and fruit-bearing plants.’

Kolen believes that this may have been a first step towards a significant human impact on the environment and ecosystem. This influence in any case began with the rise of agriculture, which set in motion the large-scale deforestation of Europe between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago.

Reconstruction of a fire in a semi-open landscape in the Ice Age.

Reconstruction of a fire in a semi-open landscape in the Ice Age.


New technologies
Leiden researchers collaborate in this field with researchers from other universities such as Delft, Rotterdam and Lausanne. The researchers use archaeological findings – from careful excavation of human occupation sites and objects – supplemented with modern technologies. For example, they separate microparticles of charcoal from the soil, which allows them to date and where possible name the wood. They extract DNA from ancient animal skulls to investigate domestication. And they use satellite images to trace back historical land usage.

Their goal is to recognise and uncover underlying patterns. ‘This goes beyond historical interest alone,’ Kolen stresses. ‘We use this knowledge to understand the present and formulate solutions for the future.’ To achieve this goal Kolen seeks collaboration with fellow researchers from very different disciplines, such as the humanities and governance. ‘How do people see their role in the landscape, and how can you communicate about this with the general public and policy makers. These are typically questions that can be answered from a variety of perspectives,’ he says.


Insidious effect
Interventions in the landscape, as noted by Kolen and his colleagues, often happen insidiously over time – until the system suddenly reaches a tipping point. Nobody at the time can predict the consequences. ‘By linking present and past you can show such effects more clearly,’ says Kolen. This makes it possible to learn to estimate this impact – and therefore prevent it.

As an example he mentions the gradual erosion in hilly loess landscapes like those in Zuid-Limburg. This erosion began in the Roman era, with deforestation. Then in the thirteenth century, the loess plateaus

were exploited on a large scale for agriculture. ‘After World War II things quickly degenerated,’ explains Kolen. ‘Small-scale terraces with different types of grain made way for large fields that were no longer planted along the contour lines of the landscape, but downhill with row crops such as corn.’ This led to a tipping point. Now there is no more leeway. With every rain shower, soil flows down the hill, and heavy rain causes mudslides. All this has led to a strong decrease in fertility and biodiversity in this type of landscape. Kolen: ‘And the effect is irreversible.’

These mini-terraces can still be seen in South Limburg, particularly in meadow land areas. Trees and bushes like hazel and brambles grow on the terraces. Image: Els Diederen at li.wikipedia

These mini-terraces can still be seen in South Limburg, particularly in meadow land areas. Trees and bushes like hazel and brambles grow on the terraces. Image: Els Diederen at li.wikipedia

 

Restoration
But what can we do with this knowledge now? ‘Prevent it from happening again,’ he says. ‘Not immediately agree to risky, large-scale interventions in the landscape and ecosystems, without first doing the research, giving it serious thought and looking ahead.’ What we need to do, according to Kolen, is to plough and sow parallel to the contours of the hillsides, and restore historical terraces and elevations. And make sure that biodiversity is preserved, even when introducing changes and modifications. ‘More biodiversity, with smaller-scale human use of land and historically based “rewilding” and nature development, makes a landscape more resilient.’

In some cases, Kolen argues for restoring historical agricultural elements. Elements such as terraces, floodplains, forgotten irrigation systems, and upstream water meadows are all close-knit systems created to retain water for as long as possible. ‘We have found traces of these on satellite images,’ says Kolen. ‘And in the archives we’ve found information on how they work. You can revitalise these systems to increase the holding capacity of upstream river systems. This way archaeology, historical geography and historical ecology suddenly become very relevant.’


ARVE Research Group – University of Lausanne
Leiden-Delft-Erasmus-Centre for Global Heritage and Development
News item 'Ice Age hunters destroyed forests throughout Europe'

Invaluable bees and nature’s other services

We depend on nature for so many things: from clean water, wood and food to carbon absorption, water purification and coastal protection, as well as for relaxation, inspiration and identity. Nevertheless, our modern world putting increasing pressure on these ecosystem services.

 

Leiden researchers investigate ecosystem services, their interrelations and underlying mechanisms. They do so using the most advanced technologies at the interface between disciplines, from natural sciences to humanities and social sciences.


Bees
Pollination is a well-known example of an ecosystem service. Bees pollinate an estimated 70% of our agricultural crops, including apples, strawberries, coffee and tomatoes. However, both wild bees and honey bees are threatened by pesticides, changes in land use and disease. ‘We actually still know very little about bees,’ says Koos Biesmeijer, Professor of Natural

Capital and Scientific Director of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center. ‘Apart from the familiar honey bee, there are approximately 25,000 species of bees, of which 360 are found in the Netherlands. To protect them effectively, we have to know where and how they live, and what factors impact their survival.’ This research makes use of ‘old-fashioned’ observation and experiments, as well as computer models and molecular technologies. For example, satellites and models are used to predict when crops will blossom and where and when bees are needed for pollination.

Together with wild pollinators, the honey bee contributes more than €1 billion per year to the Dutch economy.

Together with wild pollinators, the honey bee contributes more than €1 billion per year to the Dutch economy.


Green circles
How can we create products with closed water and energy cycles, the efficient use of raw materials and concern for a pleasant living environment? This is the question that the Green Circles experimental project aims to answer. ‘Heineken in Zoeterwoude is developing a climate-neutral, environmentally friendly brewery,’ says Biesmeijer. ‘It’s a model project, in collaboration with the Province of Zuid-Holland, the Rijnland water authority, Naturalis and Wageningen University.’

This brewery, the largest in Europe, will be powered by heat from the harbour of Rotterdam, and it will recycle its waste water using a reed swamp. ‘Nature as a partner, that’s the idea,’ says Biesmeijer. ‘Nature, economy and society can no longer be viewed as separate entities. Everything we learn here we want to also apply elsewhere.’


Counting on/Quantifying nature
The IPCC, the UN climate panel, is by now well-known. What is less known is that for a few years now the UN has also had a platform looking at the link between nature and human well-being: IPBES, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. This panel collects data for policy makers. Koos Biesmeijer acts as an expert for the panel, as does Alexander van Oudenhoven,  is a specialist in quantifying ecosystem services. For example, which factors do you include, and how much weight do you give them? ‘One of my case studies here in the Netherlands is the Sand Engine,’ he explains, ‘a large peninsula of deposited sand off the Zuid-Holland coast near Kijkduin. It is intended for coastal protection, but also serves nature and recreation.’

Twelve PhD students from various universities are investigating various aspects of the Sand Engine, from chemistry to policy, and from ecology to soil morphology. Van Oudenhoven brings all these data together. ‘At times there can be conflicts of interest,’ he says. ‘Our goal is to quantify these considerations and opportunities.’ Policy makers can then use this information to make better decisions; they can see how a decision in one field has consequences elsewhere. This applies not only to the Sand Engine, but to the entire world.

The Sand Engine is essentially an experiment in coast protection: it studies whether sand deposited close to the coast will naturally spread to gradually expand the beach area. But researchers also investigate what other services the sand peninsula provides, for instance in the field of nature and recreation. Photography: Rijkswaterstaat / Jurriaan Brobbel

The Sand Engine is essentially an experiment in coast protection: it studies whether sand deposited close to the coast will naturally spread to gradually expand the beach area. But researchers also investigate what other services the sand peninsula provides, for instance in the field of nature and recreation. Photography: Rijkswaterstaat / Jurriaan Brobbel

  • Peter van Bodegom
  • Geert de Snoo
  • Arnold Tukker
  • Martina Vijver
  • Nadia Soudzilovskaia
  • Alexander van Oudenhoven
  • Jeroen Guinee
  • René Kleijn
  • Ester van der Voet
  • Hans Slabbekoorn
  • Christiaan Henkel
  • Berry van der Hoorn
  • Jan Kolen
  • Peter Klinkhamer
  • Martijn Bezemer
  • Klaas Vrieling
  • Jesús Aguirre Gutierréz
  • Marco Roos
  • Vincent Merckx
  • Han de Winde
  • Herman Spaink
  • Koos Biesmeijer

Peter van BodegomProfessor of Environmental biology

Topics: Biogeography, ecosystem functioning, ecosystem services, global vegetation modelling, plant soil interactions, trait based approaches

+31 (0)71 527 7486

Geert de SnooProfessor of Conservation biology/ Dean of the Faculty of Science

Topics: Biodiversity, conservation biology, ecology, ecotoxicology, sustainability

+31 (0)71 527 4763

Arnold TukkerProfessor of Industrial ecology/ Scientific director /

Topics: Circular economy, Environmental Input-Output Analysis, Industrial ecology

+31 (0)71 527 5632

Martina VijverAssociate professor

Topics: Ecotoxicology, metals, microplastics, nanoecotoxicology, pesticides

+31 (0)71 527 1487

Nadia SoudzilovskaiaAssistant professor

Topics: Biogeochemical cycling, biogeography, ecosystem services, plant ecology, plant soil interactions, trait based approaches

+31 (0)71 527 7485

Alexander van OudenhovenPostdoc

Topics: Ecosystem services, indicators, ecosystem-based management, coastal ecosystems, social-ecological systems, human wellbeing

+31 (0)71 527 7473

Jeroen GuineeAssociate professor

Topics: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA), Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA), Substance Flow Analysis (SFA)

+31 (0)71 527 7432

René Kleijn Associate professor/ Director of education

Topics: Circular economy, critical materials, industrial ecology, life cycle assessment, master industrial ecology, material flow accounting, resilent supply chains, resources, substance flow analysis

+31 (0)71 527 1498

Ester van der VoetAssociate professor

Topics: Biodiversity, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Material Flow Accounting (MFA), Substance Flow Analysis (SFA), Sustainability Indicators

+31 71 527 7480

Hans SlabbekoornAssociate professor

Topics: Animal behaviour, anthropogenic noise, birdsong, fish, noise impact, perception, stress, zebrafish

+31 (0)71 527 5049

Christiaan HenkelAssistant professor

Topics: Bioinformatics, genomics, next generation sequencing, nanopore sequencing

+31 (0)71 527 4759

Berry van der HoornGroup leader - Biodiversity Discovery at Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Topics: DNA barcoding, functional traits, bio-indicators, DNA waterscan, identification keys

+31 (0)6 19 95 31 25

Jan KolenProfessor in Landscape Archaeology and Cultural Heritage

+31 (0)71 527 1284

Peter KlinkhamerProfessor of Evolutionary plant ecology

+31 (0)71 527 5158

Martijn BezemerProfessor Ecology of Plants-Microbe-Insects Interaction

Topics: Plant-soil feedback, Plant-insect interactions, Biodiversity, Ecology, Grasslands, Biological control, Foodwebs

+31 (0)71 527 2727

Klaas VrielingAssistant professor

+31 (0)71 527 5136

Jesús Aguirre GutierrézPostdoctoral Researcher at Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Topics: landscape ecology, biogeography, climate change, remote sensing, pollinators, species distribution models and species traits

+31 (0)71 751 9268

Marco RoosAssistant professor

Topics: Tree of life, urban biodiversity, floristics, coastal landscapes, coastal and anthropocenic landscapes

+31 (0)71 527 2727

Vincent MerckxPostdoc

Topics: biogeography, mycoheterotrophy, diversification, mycorrhizas, molecular clock dating, mutualism, parasitism, angiosperms, glomeromycota

+31 71 527 3570

Han de WindeVice-dean / professor of Industrial biotechnology

Topics: Biotechnology, management, molceular biology

+31 (0)71 527 6993

Herman SpainkProfessor of Molecular cell biology/ Scientific director

Topics: Defence mechanisms, embryo, history o, infectious disease models, innate immune system, intracellular communication, microbes, molecular cell biology, zebrafish

+31 (0)71 527 5055

Koos BiesmeijerProfessor of Natural Capital

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Education

Sustainability and a healthy living environment is very wide field, encompassing hard science and social studies, law and administration. You can specialise in this domain from a variety of disciplines. Students of all Leiden bachelor’s programmes can, for instance, follow the transdisciplinary minor in Sustainable Development. Some of the students who follow this minor carry out a regional study in Indonesia or the Philippines, where they conduct  field research with local students.

In the master’s phase you can follow a study programme in Biology with a specialisation in Biodiversity and Sustainability. Or you can opt for a master’s programme in Industrial Ecology, a partnership between Leiden, Delft and Rotterdam where you can take a systematic approach to sustainability issues based on technical, natural science and social science principles. The general public can learn about the expertise of Leiden University and its partners via the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the Circular Economy.

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