2. Natural functions and services

Below you find the available BSc and/or MSc projects available in the category "Natural functions and services".

The economics of biodiversity; putting the price on scientific collections (BSc/MSc)

Supervisor(s): Edwin Pos
Project type: writing assignment

Starting period: flexible
Duration: flexible

Botanic Gardens around the world store an incredible amount of biodiversity. Simultaneously we see a global decline in biodiversity and large-scale efforts to remedy this decline, to preserve what is still there and restore what has been lost. These efforts, however, are often costly and face the different interests of the various stakeholders involved. Collections of Botanic Gardens provide a prime example of a way to safeguard biodiversity and make it available for restoration efforts; this, however is also not free of charge. But how can we value these collections? Does it depend on the rarity? The success of preservation? How to value biodiversity in itself? Although previous attempts have been made to describe the value of botanic collections, this is already over twenty years old. This project entails the search for evaluating the economics of biodiversity anew, specifically for plant collections of Botanic Gardens. 


  • Affinity with biodiversity and an appreciation of botanical collections is advised.

Selected literature:

  • Mann, David G. "The economics of botanical collections." The value and valuation of natural science collections. London: The Geological Society (1997): 279.

Analyzing the flora and vegetation of Suriname with the Teunissen dataset (BSc/MSc)

Supervisor(s): Gijs Steur

    Lookup tables for trees, undergrowth and swamps

    Original notes by Teunissen. Photo: Gijs Steur.

    Suriname has one of the highest covers of intact tropical vegetation but its flora and vegetation remain poorly known. Much headway was made in the last century up to the nineties, with botanical inventories led by the Utrecht Herbarium and projects such as the Flora of Suriname and its successor, the Flora of the Guianas. However, progress on discovering and mapping the flora and vegetation has come slow due to the closure of the Utrecht Herbarium, the lack of newly trained taxonomist and tropical botanists and budget cuts in general. Yet in the meantime the advent of the personal computer and powerful analytical and statistical software has made it possible to analyze large amounts of previously gathered data and systematically test past ideas and suggestions. For example the previously undigitized Teunissen dataset of vegetation plots in Northern Suriname.

    The aim of this project is to assess, update and unlock what has been discovered previously and to start to add to the standing knowledge on the flora an vegetation of Suriname. Questions include, but are not limited to: ‘how do the forests or savannas across Suriname differ in their floristic composition’, ‘where do certain species or vegetations occur and why’ and ‘how has the flora and vegetation of Suriname changed since across time.

    The Teunissen dataset (1978) includes over 274 vegetation surveys of 0.04 ha taken from Northern Suriname (See Steur, 2020, including Appendix A, for more information). In most of the surveys all plant growth forms have been counted, including herbs, shrubs, palms, trees and sometimes epiphytes and lianas. For most trees the diameter has been measured. Currently, only a part of this dataset has been digitized.

    In this Bachelor research project, the student will help to digitize a part of the Teunissen dataset and use this and previously digitized parts to answer the above research questions or others related to my research focus.


    • Must: UU Course Taxonomy and Identification or similar
    • Nice-to-have: UU Course Introduction in to the Dutch Flora or similar
    • Nice-to-have: LU Course Plant Families of the Tropics or similar

    Selected literature:

    • Lindeman, J.C. and Molenaar, S.P. (1959) Preliminary survey of the vegetation types of northern Suriname. Drukkerij en uitgevers-maatschappij v/h Kemink en Zoon N.V., Utrecht.
    • Teunissen (1980) Overzicht van Surinaamse laagland ecosystemen - Toelichting Vegetatietabellen. Paramaribo, Dienst 's Landsbosbeheer (L.B.B.) en Stichting Natuurbehoud Suriname (STINASU).
    • Funk, V. et al. (2007). Checklist of the plants of the Guiana Shield. Contributions from the United States National Herbarium, volume 55.
    • Flora of the Guianas (https://portal.cybertaxonomy.org/flora-guianas/node/1)

    Mapping the vegetation and ecosystem services of the Peperpot Nature Park, Suriname (MSc)

    Supervisor(s): Gijs Steur

    Peperpot Nature Park is a voluntary park consisting of five old plantations in Suriname that has been slowly regenerating back towards primary forest (second growth forest). Peperpot Nature Park is managed by the Peperpot Nature Forest Foundation, which aims to protect the cultural legacy of the plantations as well as the natural biodiversity of the area. To this aim, a vegetation map of the area is being created that will features both natural vegetation types as well as the old remnants of the plantation vegetation. With such a map, the remnants of the plantation vegetation can be preserved while also identifying and protecting the areas with high biodiversity and ecosystem service values. Methods include keeping a list of all plant species that have been found in the Park: The Peperpot Checklist, developing a local Flora (Key to all Vascular plant species in the park), as well as establishing permanent plots to monitor the natural succession. This is carried out in different phases. First, the focus is on creating the vegetation map, and when this complete permanent plots will be established that will be regularly resampled. The activities are carried out in close collaboration with the National Herbarium of Suriname, which collects, verifies and stores the encountered plant species in their collection. In the future, multi-taxa surveys, for example including birds and large mammals, will be linked to the map as well.

    In this Master student project, each year around February two Masters students of Utrecht University visit the park to plot a piece of the vegetation, which is then added to the Vegetation Map. Activities include walking transects, adding to the Flora (key) of the area and censuring temporary ha plots to quantify the vegetation types. Outcomes include a improved vegetation map of the area, a improved Flora (key) of the area, and contributions to the Checklist. In addition, MSc students are asked to write a scientific report that will answer a scientific question related to the plant diversity and ecosystem services in the park. Where possible, the two MSc students work together with students of the Anton de Kom-University in order to facilitate knowledge and experience sharing. In addition, Naturalis Biodiversity Centre will supervise additional students that will feature a taxonomic revision of a plant group (e.g. a relatively small genus) of which individuals can also be found in or around the Peperpot Nature Park. These students will also help with the field work that is needed for the project.

    Peperpot Nature Park lies next to the Suriname-river, opposite of Paramaribo. It is around 820 ha and consists of the old plantations Mobetino, Peperpot, La Liberte, Bittenburg and ‘t Eiland. The plantations Mobetino and Pepeperpot have collectively have been most recently in use, where coffee and cacao was grown until 1997. Since 1998 all plantation activities have been stopped, and in 2009 the ‘Peperpot Nature Forest Foundation’ was founded that created the Peperpot Nature Park. The first MSc students visited the park and started to work on the vegetation map in 2023.


    • Must: UU Course Taxonomy and Identification or similar
    • Must: LU Course Plant Families of the Tropics (can be followed during) or similar

    Selected References:

    • Heilbron, T. (2012) Botanical Relics of the Plantations of Suriname. MSc Thesis Leiden University.
    • Schuttler S. et al. (2021) Can mammals thrive near urban areas in the Neotropics? Characterizing the community of a reclaimed tropical forest. Tropical Ecology 62:174-185.
    • Funk, V. et al. (2007). Checklist of the plants of the Guiana Shield. Contributions from the United States National Herbarium, volume 55.