The bachelor's degree program in wildlife ecology provides fundamental knowledge of wildlife components such as plants, biology and animal welfare, while the graduate degree programs emphasize research in specialty areas.
Many wildlife ecologists can find employment with a bachelor's degree, but greater opportunities are available for those with a master's or doctoral degree. Research and undergraduate teaching opportunities are often included in the wildlife ecology graduate programs.
Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology
Bachelor's degree programs provide students with the scientific and analytical skills needed to make responsible choices regarding the welfare and management of wildlife. Many schools either have land-grants where students may complete field work or are located in areas that offer unique habitats for hands-on study. At least one school offers a focus which prepares the student for The Wildlife Society's wildlife biologist certificate exam.
A high school diploma or equivalent is a prerequisite for entering the program. An internship may also be required. Courses cover wildlife, wilderness habitats and research foundation tools such as biology and statistical mathematics. Classes focus on subject matter that includes:
- Comparative wildlife physiology
- Wildlife dynamics and population management
- Ornithology field studies
- Wilderness plant ecophysiology
- Nature economic value
Master of Science in Wildlife Ecology
Independent research is stressed at the master's level and some schools require students to teach a seminar related to his or her thesis as part of the curriculum. Some programs allow students to choose an emphasis such as tropical conservation. Programs are available in both thesis and non-thesis formats.
Student teaching is also available. A bachelor's degree, preferably in wildlife ecology, is required. Much of the coursework requires field study and analytical tools used to process research. Classes cover subjects such as:
- Ecotoxicology and the environment
- Ecology metapopulation models
- Disease effects on forest environments
- Animal and plant interactions
- Agricultural effects on wildlife ecology
Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology
A doctoral degree program requires students to have in-depth knowledge of wildlife ecology. A master's degree in a related field, prior independent research or work experience is required. Some schools may have a connection with local government agencies or conservation organizations allowing for specialized research possibilities. Courses are designed to prepare students for advanced research and postsecondary teaching careers. Some of the classes focus on topics that include:
- Wildlife ecology teaching practicum
- Sustained development and conservation in China
- Ecosystem remote sensing
- Practical research method design
- Human interaction with earth systems
Many students entering the workforce directly from the bachelor's program find work with state and federal agencies or for private conservation groups. Some of the options for those with this degree include:
- Wildlife biologist
- Conservation scientist
- Wildlife biology researcher
There are a variety of teaching positions available to those with a master's degree at secondary education levels and within government forestry and conservation agencies. Other possible jobs for graduates include:
- Refuge program specialist
- Stewardship manager
- Supervisory wildlife manager
Many federal, state and private agencies require employees to be certified wildlife biologists. The Wilderness Society offers this certification which must be renewed every five years. The certification requires applicants to demonstrate both educational and field experience. The society has a program in place which may waive fees for members who need to retain their certification but who can demonstrate financial hardship.
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), wildlife biologists and zoologists are predicted to see a 5% employment increase between 2018 and 2028 (www.bls.gov). The majority of these professionals work for state and federal agencies. The BLS reported that zoologists and wildlife biologists earned median annual wages of $63,420 in May 2018.
In summary, individuals can find wildlife ecology degree programs at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels. Students who complete wildlife ecology programs may find work in various wildlife management positions or academia, and some positions require certification.