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Young Liveable Planet excursion to the Hortus Botanicus

Dumb island birds, invasive species dressed as cute purple flowers, and trees the size of skyscrapers. What better way to end your summer and start the new academic year than by discussing, scavenging, and observing these topics. This is exactly what the PhD candidates of Young Liveable Planet (YLP) did on 25 August during YLP’s very first excursion to the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden.

After some initial catching up on holidays, research projects, and upcoming teaching tasks, and after a couple of introductions to new YLP members, we enter the Hortus with Lizzie Roeble, our host of the day. Lizzie – PhD candidate at Naturalis – is a botanist with an endless supply of plant names in her brain to identify each and every species we pass. Once settled at the far end of the gardens, we gather around, sitting on blankets and benches, to listen to Lizzie.

Lizzie talks about the biodiversity crisis and her interesting research on island plant diversity and evolution. She explains what got her interested in studying plant diversity and the challenges that lie ahead. After her presentation and some interesting discussions on the ethics of botanical gardens and geoengineering the height of mountains, Lizzie challenges us to go on a scavenger hunt in the botanical gardens, finding species that are labelled as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. We split up and explore.

After the hunt, we reconvene with a little picknick and some discussion topics. Our PhD candidates introduce their research topics to each other and try to link it to the biodiversity crisis and everything we have just discovered and discussed. We discuss how our topics and expertise would be relevant to researching the crisis, and how our knowledge combined could help generate solutions.

Eva Sievers, PhD candidate researching transformative change at the Institute of Environmental Science reflects: “It was a good opportunity to look at the biodiversity crisis, as a broad challenge, from different perspectives. We realised quickly that it takes us some time to explain our angle properly because for other PhDs it was something completely new. We also realised that we were all looking at different levels and scales related to the biodiversity crisis. Some people looked at it from a broad perspective, addressing large scale issues, while others had a very narrow focus, targeting one specific level or sector related to the biodiversity crisis. It was a challenge for us to bring all these levels and sectors together to see how the bigger picture aligns with small scale developments that happen on the ground. But it was nice to see that in the end we managed to bring together all our research fields to come up with a joint research proposal.”

The excursion was a wonderful way to strengthen existing connections and to meet new PhDs. Shana Hepping – who is starting her PhD research on microbes and their human health and soil health impacts on 1 September at the Institute of Public Administration – appreciated the opportunity to meet fellow PhD students before even starting her own: “The afternoon presented me with a great deal of inspiration from others’ research projects, enthusiasm for my own project to come and a fun visit to the Hortus in Leiden.”

We are looking forward to more events and interesting discussions and collaborations in the upcoming academic year. If you are an early-career researcher in any field, researching sustainability topics, and are also interested in these collaborations, don’t hesitate to get in touch and sign up for YLP!


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