Wildlife biology undergraduate and graduate programs prepare students for careers studying the behavior of animals, monitoring their populations and managing their habitats. In bachelor's-level programs, students complete both didactic and hands-on lab courses. Field research and specialized study tracks may be available.
A master's degree is the common requirement for upper-level positions in wildlife biology, though bachelor's programs can lead to entry-level work in the field. Doctoral programs are research-intensive and include field experiences. Concentrations like wildlife toxicology may be available, and programs usually include dissertation and teaching requirements.
Bachelor's Degree in Wildlife Biology
Bachelor's degree programs in wildlife biology usually offer concentrations in either wildlife or fisheries biology. During the first two years, programs often have similar course requirements with concentrations diverging later. Most programs divide students' time between lectures, laboratory work and field experience. It is common for programs to devote significant time to the study of ecology and environmental conservation. Some bachelor's programs enable students to obtain certification from the Wildlife Society or the American Fisheries Society.
Applicants to bachelor's degree programs in wildlife biology must have a high school diploma and meet entrance exam or class standing requirements. Applicants should have completed courses in biology, chemistry, laboratory procedures, English, mathematics and social studies. Students take a series of general biology courses along with courses in chemistry, physics and math. Courses specific to wildlife and fisheries biology include:
- Fisheries science
- Freshwater ecosystems
Master's Degree in Wildlife Biology
Master's degree programs in wildlife and fisheries biology may be offered as thesis and non-thesis programs. Students desiring research careers or doctoral degrees typically pursue the thesis option while students pursuing other professions may choose the non-thesis track. Students develop an expanded understanding of resource management, environmental preservation, population biology, habitat analysis and other areas. Programs often combine classroom study, laboratory work and field research.
Applicants to master's degree programs in wildlife biology must possess a bachelor's degree. A high grade point average may be required. Other requirements may include graduate entrance exam scores, letters of recommendation, a resume and a statement of purpose. Examples of courses taken by students seeking a master's degree in wildlife and fisheries biology include:
- Conservation biology and genetics
- Wildlife management
- Wildlife population measurement
Ph.D. in Wildlife Biology
A Ph.D. in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology prepares students to be leaders and researchers in public agencies or to be university faculty members. These programs are primarily research-based and include extensive time in the field. Students typically work under the guidance of a professor or advisory committee. Many programs focus on wildlife, fisheries and resource management biology. Other concentrations may include biodiversity, conservation biology, wildlife toxicology and behavioral ecology.
Ph.D. programs in wildlife and fisheries biology usually require a master's degree and prior education or experience in a related field. Most programs require a qualifying examination. Students seeking doctoral degrees in wildlife and fisheries biology should expect a rigorous program of research and study. In addition, program requirements may include a research dissertation, a research paper, residency, teaching and a final exam. Possible topics of study include:
- Conservation genetics
- Habitat analysis
- Population dynamics
- Research methodology
- Wetland ecology
Popular Career Options
Though many individuals seeking a career in wildlife management pursue a master's degree, employment opportunities for those with a bachelor's degree include:
- Game warden
- Conservation enforcement officer
- Avian conservationist
- Fisheries biologist
- Wildlife consultant
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), wildlife biologists and zoologists held approximately 21,300 jobs in 2014. State and federal governments accounted for the highest levels of employment. Research and development services, consulting services and local government also provided significant employment opportunities. The number of available positions was expected to grow 4% from 2014-2024. The BLS also reported that wildlife biologists and zoologists had a median annual salary of $59,680 in May 2015.
Students interested in study wildlife biology will have opportunity at the undergraduate and graduate level. Bachelor's degree programs often allow students to get hands-on experience in areas of ecology, forestry and environmental conservation while master's and doctoral programs may focus more on research and allow students to choose an area of specialization.