Leiden University: Living Labs and ‘pavement plants’: Leiden University’s contributions to biodiversity

Through various initiatives, Leiden University is trying to make people aware of the importance of biodiversity: the cultivation of a wide variety of micro-organisms, animals and plant species. This is important because in the Netherlands biodiversity has declined from about 40 percent in 1900 to about 15 percent in 2000, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

That’s why in Leiden University’s Vision on Sustainability 2030, biodiversity is a point of attention in the teaching and research and on the campuses. Below, we highlight a number of initiatives.

Bio-research in ‘living’ labs
In Living Labs, 32 ditches at the Leiden Bio Science Park (Faculty of Science), research is done outside, in nature. The results of such research are much more reliable than inside, in a lab. Over the winter, water life from the surrounding area slowly adapted to the 32 new ditches. A team of professors, students, pupils and researchers is investigating the effect of agricultural toxins, nanoplastics and microplastics on the insects in the ditches. The team is also investigating bacteria and fungi. ‘We are now looking at whether these plastic particles affect how such a ditch functions,’ says Professor of Ecotoxicology Martina Vijver.

The importance of weeds
Alongside this underwater bio-research, the Hortus botanicus Leiden, together with the Science Communication and Society department, is engaged in national research on pavement plants (in Dutch). These weeds are important – the plants cool the city, ensure that water runs away more quickly, are good for clean air and are important for general biodiversity. They also act as routes for butterflies and bees as they move through the streets. Via the research website (in Dutch), anyone in the Netherlands can find out which plants are growing on their own doorstep and enter them into the system. These plants are then collected in a ‘pavement plant atlas’. How important is the contribution of these plants to biodiversity? If it were up to the Hortus, we would let all the pavement plants grow.

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