Wildlife Biology Degree Program Information

In a wildlife biology degree program students are instructed in the behavior, origin and habitats of animals and other wildlife. Individuals pursuing careers as wildlife biologists may enter wildlife biology degree programs at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral level.

Essential Information

Wildlife and fisheries biologists are trained to study the behavior of animals, monitor their populations and manage their habitats. Degrees in wildlife biology are available at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. In bachelor's programs, students complete both didactic and hands-on lab courses. Field research and specialized study tracks may be available.

Students in master's programs can choose between thesis and non-thesis formats, with the latter format less focused on research. 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.

  • Program Levels in Wildlife Biology: Bachelor's degree, master's degree, doctoral degree
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma; bachelor's degree
  • Other Requirements: Field research; thesis; dissertation

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, the programs often have similar course requirements with concentrations diverging later on. Most programs divide the student's time between lecture courses, 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 a college preparatory track that includes 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:

  • Ecology
  • Fisheries science
  • Forestry
  • Freshwater ecosystems
  • Mammalogy
  • Ornithology

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 non-thesis program students typically pursue professions that do not require an emphasis on research. Students develop an expanded understanding of wildlife with regard to 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
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Ichthyology
  • 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 rigorous programs of research and study. In addition to coursework, 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
  • Statistics
  • 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 20,100 jobs in 2012 (www.bls.gov). 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 5% from 2012-2022. The BLS also reported that wildlife biologists had a mean annual salary of $58,270 in May 2014.

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