Along with climate change, biodiversity loss is one of the most pressing environmental issues facing the world today. Up to one million animal and plant species will be on the brink of extinction over the next few decades. These losses endanger lakes, forests and many other ecosystems and, in the long run, threaten the very foundation of human existence.
A thorough understanding of ecological and evolutionary processes is therefore necessary if we are to mitigate negative environmental effects. “In our new study program, students learn about the latest concepts in ecology, evolutionary and behavioral biology and environmental science,” explains Florian Altermatt, professor of aquatic ecology and co-director of the new study program.
Students gain an in-depth understanding of biodiversity and discover the scientific tools needed to independently explore relevant processes and functions. The new degree program, which was recently approved by the University’s Board of Trustees, will be available from the fall 2023 semester and will culminate in a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Meeting a social need
“With the new biodiversity study program, UZH responds to current social needs and offers a unique and tailor-made study program. It establishes a link between the loss of species and the climatic changes occurring on the surface of the Earth,” says Michael Schaepman, president of the UZH. The university thus makes use of its considerable expertise in ecology, evolutionary biology and environmental sciences; UZH conducts world-class experimental research in this area, and its two URPPs Evolution in Action: From Genomes to Ecosystems and Global Change and Biodiversity are international in scope. UZH’s extensive research and teaching activities in relevant fields have been brought together to create a rich and varied academic program.
The idea for the new degree program can be attributed to the reform of the minor subject in environmental sciences, which began in 2017. Analyzes of existing programs and a review of student feedback revealed that it there was demand and potential for a stand-alone biodiversity-focused curriculum. In the spring of 2021, the leadership of the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies (IEU) decided to accelerate its planning. In-depth discussions among faculty followed and workshops were held.
In addition to the IEU, four other UZH departments of the Faculty of Sciences (MNF) are concerned. The program coordinators, led by Florian Altermatt and population ecology professor Arpat Ozgul, began working out the details with Claudia Hegglin and Karin Isler, and they developed the unique new study program in a large-scale process. ladder. “The degree course is unique in the field of biodiversity in the German-speaking world,” says Florian Altermatt.
Diversity of career prospects
The first two years of the program focus on basic natural science knowledge and provide insight into organic biodiversity. In the third year, students are required to complete a professional internship and present a license thesis. The program can be taken as a single major or combined with a minor subject, for example in the fields of political science, business and economics or communication studies. This wide range of possible combinations offers students a broad and interdisciplinary education in line with their interests. Students with a bachelor’s degree in biodiversity can continue their biodiversity studies at the master’s level.
The new curriculum enables students to take on professional roles in academia as well as other areas of society, including administration, nature conservation, the private sector or politics. Future biodiversity graduates can also pursue an upper secondary education diploma in biology. The new curriculum generated a lot of interest during information days for prospective students in September 2021, program officials said. They expect about 80 students in the first cohort, starting next fall.