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Ecology and Conservation

Ecologists study the interactions and relationships that living organisms have with each other and their environment.  They develop expertise in understanding the composition, distribution, and dynamic processes of the world’s ecosystems and the organisms that live there.  Understanding ecology strongly complements conservation biology, or the study of our planet’s biodiversity for the sake of protecting species, habitats, and ecosystems.  Ecologists and conservationists learn about behavior, biodiversity (from botany to zoology), climate, genetics, evolution, nutrient cycles, natural resources, and more.  Careers in this specialization are often with non-profit environmental groups or governmental agencies aiming to protect and serve the environment and our planet’s biodiversity. 

Biology Specializations - Ecology and Conservation (PDF)

Recommended Courses

Students interested in this specialization should prioritize completing ecology (BIOL 312) and evolution (BIOL 315) within the biology core curriculum.

For advanced biology coursework, take at least nine credits from the lists below, ideally spread across the three topical areas presented below (lab courses are denoted by • ):

Ecological Processes
Course # Course Name Credits
A ECL 415 • Ecology of Freshwater Invertebrates, Plants, and Algae 3
A ECL 418 • Stream Ecology 3
BIOL 371 • Ecological Methods 3
BIOL 381  Environmental Systems I 3
BIOL 382 • Environmental Systems II  3
BIOL 472 Community Ecology 3
BIOL 474 Plant Ecology 3
BIOL 476 Functional Ecology 3
BIOL 483 Environmental Biogeochemistry 3
BIOL 484 Ecosystem Ecology 3
BIOL 486 & L • Aquatic Ecology & Lab 4
BIOL 487 Microbial Ecology 3
BIOL 489 • Population Ecology 3
EEOB 564 Wetland Ecology 3
EEOB 569 Biogeography 3
EEOB 576 Functional Ecology 3
EEOB 577 Concepts in Ecology and Evolution 1
ENT 471 • Insect Ecology 3
NREM 301 • Natural Resource Ecology and Soils 4
Conservation and Restoration
Course # Course Name Credits
AGRON 317 Principles of Weed Science 3
AGRON 354 & L • Soils and Plant Growth & Lab 4
BIOL 462 Evolutionary Genetics 3
BIOL 471 Introductory Conservation Biology 3
EEOB 531 Conservation Biology 3
EEOB 535 • Restoration Ecology 3
FOR 302 • Silviculture 3
HORT 322 • Plant Propagation 3
NREM 345 • Natural Resource Photogrammetry and GIS 3
NREM 390 Fire Ecology and Management 3
NREM 407 • Watershed Management 4
NREM 446 • Integrating GPS and GIS for Natural Resource Managment 3
NREM 452 • Ecosystem Management 3
PL P 416 & L • Forest Insects and Diseases & Lab 4
PL P 494 Seed Pathology 2
Organismal Biology & Biodiversity
Course # Course Name Credits
A ECL 321 • Fish Biology 3
A ECL 366 • Natural History of Iowa Vertebrates 3
ANTHR 438 Primate Evolutionary Ecology and Behavior 3
BIOL 336 Ecological and Evolutionary Animal Physiology 3
BIOL 351 • Comparative Chordate Anatomy 5
BIOL 354 & L • Animal Behavior & Lab 4
BIOL 355 Plants and People 3
BIOL 356 • Dendrology 4
BIOL 357 Biology of Plants 3
BIOL 364 Invertebrate Biology 3 to 4
BIOL 365 • Vertebrate Biology 4
BIOL 366 • Plant Systematics 4
BIOL 430 Principles of Plant Physiology 3
BIOL 451 Plant Evolution and Phylogeny 4
BIOL 454•  Plant Anatomy 4
BIOL 455 • Bryophyte and Lichen Biodiversity 3
BIOL 456 • Principles of Mycology 3
BIOL 457 & L • Herpetology & Lab 3
BIOL 458 & L • Ornithology & Lab 3
BIOL 459 & L • Mammalogy & Lab 3
BIOL 462 Evolutionary Genetics 3
BIOL 488 • Identification of Aquatic Organisms 1
EEOB 507 Advanced Animal Behavior 3
ENT 370 • Insect Biology 3
ENT 425 • Aquatic Insects 3
HORT 330 • Herbaceous Ornamental Plants 3
HORT 341 Woody Plant Cultivars 2
NREM 357 • Midwestern Prairie Plants 1
NREM 358 • Forest Herbaceous Layer 1

Those planning to work in the field are encouraged to take a course in GPS and GIS, as these tools are often used in field work.  Participating in experiential learning, such as an independent study course, related internship experience, and especially lab/field research is also advised. Many students specializing in this area pursue further education with a Masters or Ph.D.

Suggested Supporting Science Courses

For most students interested in ecology and conservation, taking the minimum course sequences for supporting science requirements (one semester of general chemistry, one semester of organic chemistry, one semester of biochemistry, and one semester of physics) is sufficient. More extensive coursework in chemistry will be useful for ecologists and conservationists wishing to focus on abiotic aspects of the environment. Both introductory statistics and intermediate statistics are recommended; calculus is not typically used in this specialization.

Student Spotlight

Alejandro Medina Valencia

Hometown: Waterloo, Iowa
Major: Biology
Next Steps: PhD in Ecology at Penn State

Opportunities at ISU

Biological Sciences Club (BSC)

The departmental club for Biology majors and anyone else interested in life science, the Biological Sciences Club features regular faculty speakers on a diverse range of life science topics. 

Undergraduate Research Experience

Students in the Biology Program can engage in life science research and earn academic credit for the experience.  Students will learn how to seek out these opportunities during orientation and they are also welcome to discuss this with their academic advisor.  

Conservation Club

The Conservation Club promotes constructive use of our natural resources through land, water, wildlife, and energy management practices to collectively help balance our ecosystem.

Environmental Science Club

Through the Environmental Science departmental club students can collaborate with others, to achieve more understanding of the natural world and develop their passion for the environment.  

Fisheries and Wildlife Biology Club

Iowa State FWB is the student chapter of The Wildlife Society, providing hands-on experiences with wildlife and conservation.

Forestry Club

Members of the Forestry Club have the opportunity to participate in professional development in forestry related fields, sound ecological management, and networking with natural resource professionals.