Urban Ecology Degree Program Summaries

Urban ecology is an interdisciplinary field concerned with environmental sustainability and urban development. Students can pursue bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in this discipline to prepare for a variety of research and consulting careers.

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Essential Information

Students in a 4-year urban ecology bachelor's degree program get foundational knowledge in resource management and the needs of plants and animals in a developed area. They look at public policy as it relates to environmental issues. Courses in research and statistics give students experience in analyzing scientific data. A high school diploma or equivalent is required before enrolling in a bachelor's degree program.

Master's degrees require 18-24 months to complete and include thesis requirements. Programs offer instruction and research opportunities in topics such as watershed studies and environmental engineering. Applicants to master's degree programs in ecology and environmental studies are expected to have earned an undergraduate degree in biology or a relevant field in the life or environmental sciences.

At the doctoral (Ph.D.) level, students take classes and perform research in fields such as quantitative ecology and invasive plant ecology. The Ph.D. takes 2-4 years to earn, including work on a final comprehensive research paper. Admission requires a bachelor's or master's degree; some programs may also require prerequisite coursework.

Courses and programs in urban ecology are not typically offered online.

Bachelor's Degree in Urban Ecology

Tracks in urban ecology programs teach similar topics to an ecology and conservation biology program, with a focus on ecological responses to pollution, urban environments and human interactions with nature. One example of human impact on urban environments is industrial melanism, where pollution gives a protective advantage to darker animals and lighter colored animals get eaten in higher numbers.

Students in urban ecology programs learn to restore damaged ecosystems, teach urban dwellers to respect the nature around them and to protect areas from invasive species. Coursework includes:

  • Botany
  • Conservation biology
  • Genetics
  • Organic chemistry
  • Statistics
  • Urban habitats

Master's Degree in Ecology and Environmental Science

Students in graduate-level ecology and environmental science programs study environmental restoration, policy and biodiversity as well as various species' needs within ecosystems. According to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), as of 2008, developed nations had an average 74% of their population defined as urban (www.prb.org). Because of the rapidly urbanizing world, many schools have centers dedicated to researching urban ecology and the development of socially responsible urban areas.

Graduate programs teach students to look at human interaction with the environment as only one in a series of factors that play a role in natural processes. Students learn about a variety of interconnected disciplines, such as:

  • Environmental engineering
  • Geography
  • Pollution
  • Public policy
  • Watershed studies

Doctoral Degree in Ecology and Environmental Science

Doctoral students in ecology and environmental science learn how biochemistry, botany, environmental science, geology and statistics interact and create unique environmental conditions. Prospective students without a proper background in biology, chemistry, math or physics will need to take background courses, in addition to the Ph.D. program requirements.

Doctoral students look at the planet Earth as a holistic unit, studying everything from geology to range animals, to understand how one element affects all others, in an ecosystem. Common coursework includes:

  • Environmental biogeochemistry
  • Hydrology
  • Invasive plant, land restoration and quantitative ecology
  • Microbiology
  • Process modeling
  • Remote sensing

Popular Career Options

According to the BLS in 2008, federal, state and local governments were the largest employers of urban ecologists. At the federal level, scientists worked for departments like the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the National Institutes of Health. Other jobs were found in pharmaceutical manufacturing and teaching as well as research and testing labs.

  • Aquatic ecologist
  • Botanist
  • Environmental consultant
  • Invasive species consultant
  • Landscape ecology specialist

A Ph.D. in Ecology and Environmental Science prepares students for employment in research labs, universities and with government agencies. For example, many ecological scientists work for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Positions include:

  • Community ecologist
  • Conservation biologist
  • Environmental engineering specialist
  • Environmental policy consultant
  • Fish and wildlife manager
  • Professor

Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates an increase of 8% in jobs for biochemists and biophysicists and a 7% job growth for conservation scientists between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). This projection places job growth for both professions at a rate as fast as the national average. The field of biological sciences includes biochemists, biophysicists, general biological scientists, microbiologists, wildlife biologists and zoologists. BLS statistics showed that non-specified biological scientists earned a median annual wage of $75,150 as of May 2015.

Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs in urban ecology incorporate topics in biology, chemistry, ecology and public policy to prepare students for careers ranging from botanist to environmental consultant.

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