Conservation Ecology


Conservation has roots that trace back centuries; however, the discipline was formalized in 1985 at the University of Michigan when Michael Soule, co-founder of the Society of Conservation Biology, wrote:

For the record, the Society for Conservation Biology originated about 5 PM on May 8, 1985, in Ann Arbor, Michigan [USA] at the conclusion of the Second Conference on Conservation Biology.

The School of Natural Resources and Environment has long-been at the forefront of conservation, and it continues to maintain one of the best conservation ecology programs in the world focused on the application of high quality science to real world problems and management of Earth's natural resources.  We bring together top faculty who are leading researchers and practitioners in conservation, with highly motivated students to address some of the world's most pressing environmental problems.

The need for a new generation of highly-trained conservation ecologists has never been greater.  The world is in a period of unprecedented environmental change.  As the human population grows from 7 to perhaps 9 billion people over the next century, and consumption continues to grow, pressure on our planet's limited water, food, land, and biological diversity is increasing exponentially.  Learning how to live sustainably on this planet is going to require that humanity learns how to utilize and manage our natural resources more effectively.  Conservation will play a critical role in society's transition to sustainability by (1) quantifying how natural and managed ecosystems influence human prosperity and well-being through the provision of goods and services, (2) defining and prioritizing Earth's biological diversity so as to maximize the benefits and effectiveness of conservation efforts, and (3) developing the management tools and techniques needed to minimize the human footprint on our remaining natural habitats.

The goal of the Conservation Ecology program is to provide students with the scientific principles, tools, and conceptual foundations needed to understand and manage changes in the composition, structure, and function of natural as well as human-dominated landscapes.   We combine classroom with field-based instruction to ensure students get the 'tools' needed to become practitioners in conservation.  The interdisciplinary focus that is the hallmark of education and research at SNRE is key strength of our program, as it prepares students to analyze and deal with environmental problems from a variety of perspectives.  This broad training reflects the complexities and scales of most modern environmental problems where natural science must be combined with social sciences, economics, and engineering to make real change.

What you will study

In the Conservation Ecology program, you will learn the fundamental physical, chemical, and biological concepts needed to understand the composition, structure and function of ecosystems. You will also learn the techniques used to manage natural as well as human-impacted ecosystems, and to enhance the sustainable use of ecosystem goods and services.   You will explore a variety of complementary topics such as ecological restoration, fisheries and wildlife management, ecosystem services, forest ecosystem management, climate change, environmental risk assessment, bioremediation, sustainable agriculture and aquaculture, and more. 

The Conservation Ecology curriculum allows flexibility to design a program that best meets your needs and career goals.   For example, some students choose to specialize in aquatic ecology.  More than two-thirds of the Earth's surface is covered with water, and our aquatics courses are designed to train students in the sustainable management of the planet's oceans, lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands that are increasingly focal points for concerns about usage, pollution and depletion. Other students choose to specialize in terrestrial ecology.  Terrestrial ecosystems harbor the vast majority of the world's biological diversity, and provide humanity with irreplaceable goods and services such as wood and food production, carbon-storage, and climate regulation.  Yet, human development, deforestation, and modern agriculture are leading to rapid loss or alteration of most terrestrial habitats.

Through a combination of classes, labs and field assignments, students will work on local, regional, national and international environmental issues ranging from urban settings to wilderness areas.  Reviewing the course offerings and talking to your advisor about career paths will help optimize your course of study.

Launching your career

Students who complete an M.S. in Conservation Ecology will have the knowledge and skills needed to work for a variety of federal agencies (United States Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and NOAA), state agencies (Departments of Natural Resources, Natural History Surveys), non-profit organizations (The Nature Conservancy), or private organizations and consulting firms (Biohabitats Inc, botanical gardens) that specialize in research, management, restoration, consulting and education.  Many of our M.S. students also later pursue Ph.D. degrees and careers in research and academia.  Examples of specific professional positions include fisheries biologist, wildlife ecologist, spatial data analyst, wetlands mitigation specialist, environmental consultant, or natural resource manager.   

For more information on the Conservation Ecology field of study, please visit the ConEco track careers page or contact  We also invite you to explore our faculty profiles and contact individual faculty members.