Behavioral Ecology Graduate Programs

Apr 03, 2018

Students wishing to study behavioral ecology may do so through graduate degree programs in ecology, evolution and behavior. Learn more about these degree programs, some common coursework and common admissions requirements.

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Specific study in behavioral ecology is typically only offered as a research group/focus, but as a degree this field of study is offered as a broader master's or doctoral degree in ecology, evolution and behavior. These degree programs are available as Master of Arts and Master of Science degree programs that offer a thesis and non-thesis track, as well as PhD programs that require a dissertation. Here we discuss these programs and their requirements more in depth.

Information for Graduate Degree Programs in Behavioral Ecology

Typically offered on-campus through a school's biology department, master's and doctoral degree programs in ecology, evolution and behavior commonly include lectures, laboratory work and seminars. Coursework for these programs vary greatly based on a student's research interests, but below you can explore some of the common courses for these programs.

Animal Behavior

Courses in animal behavior typically examine the subject from the biological, ethological and evolutionary perspectives. Students usually explore social and adaptive behavior of various animal species, with limited discussion of human behavior. Most of these courses include a lab and/or field work component in addition to a lecture.


Ecology courses are usually lecture-based courses that explore a variety of ecological principles and concepts. Often these courses include a global perspective as students study biospheric connections, climate change and global dynamics. Other topics include habitat destruction, biodiversity, global bacteria, exotic organisms, disease and more.


Courses in ornithology focus on the study of birds and may be offered as a lecture course with field trips or a field methods course. Lecture courses may include demonstrations as students explore the morphology, behavior, physiology and other characteristics of different species of birds. Field methods courses provide students with hands-on experience identifying, netting and handling birds as they learn about bird breeding, song analysis, nest depredation and more.

Primate Ecology

Students in primate ecology courses explore the evolutionary ecology of primates and how that relates to human/animal behavior. These courses cover topics in behavioral ecology, the genetics of mating systems, social bonds and culture/intelligence. Courses in primate ecology may also explore specific behaviors, such as altruistic or aggressive behaviors, and the conservation of primates.

Foundations in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior

Foundation courses in ecology, evolution and behavior generally equip graduate students with the research skills needed for the field. Students study foundational concepts in ecology, evolution and behavior and interact with faculty members in the field. This course is typically taken very early in the graduate program prior to qualifying exams.

Common Entrance Requirements

Most graduate degree programs in ecology, evolution and behavior require applicants to fill out the appropriate application and submit official transcripts, GRE scores and letters of recommendation. Some of these programs may also request a personal statement and/or a resume/CV. Admission to these programs is usually competitive and applicants may be expected to have a bachelor's degree in biology or a related field, research experience and/or have prior coursework in biology, chemistry, calculus, genetics and/or physics. Applicants are usually encouraged to contact faculty members who have similar research interests and may be able to assist them with their thesis or dissertation.

Although programs specifically in behavioral ecology are usually unavailable, students may pursue a master's or doctoral degree in ecology, evolution and behavior. These programs cover a wide range of topics and allow students to tailor their coursework and research to their own interests.

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