PhD in Wildlife Ecology

Doctoral programs in wildlife ecology explore advanced topics in the fields of ecology and biology to help prepare students for careers in research and academia. Find out more about some common courses for this degree and career options. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

How to Earn a PhD in Wildlife Ecology

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Wildlife Ecology or Wildlife Ecology and Management usually takes 3 to 5 years to complete and commonly requires students to pass qualifying and comprehensive exams and complete a dissertation. Students applying to these programs may only be accepted based on the availability of graduate assistantships and/or other research funding and are usually required to have at least an undergraduate degree in wildlife ecology, biology, or another related field. While coursework at the doctoral level varies greatly based on a student's particular research interests and career goals, some common courses for a PhD in Wildlife Ecology are discussed below in more detail.


PhD in Wildlife Ecology students will likely take multiple courses in the field of ecology that may explore various aspects of the broad subject. For example, students may take courses in ecology that cover topics in forest ecology, wildlife ecology, marine ecology, and landscape ecology. In general, these ecology courses explore how organisms interact with their physical environment. Students may explore these interactions from the perspective of an individual organism, community, or population all the way up the scale of an entire biosphere.

Conservation/Wildlife Management

The topics of conservation and wildlife management are also prevalent through various courses, such as seminars exploring special topics or courses in forest and wildlife management. Some of these courses may begin with the basics of wildlife management, such as methods for conservation and management of endangered species, while others explore current issues with the management of natural resources. Most of these courses explore conservation and management at a local level, but some may also include the exploration of international issues.

Organismal Biology

Courses in organismal biology may provide an overview of the animal ecology of different animal groups or be broken into individual courses that explore different orders of animals separately. For example, students may take a broader course on physiological animal ecology or choose from courses that may explore topics like coral reefs, fungi biology, or vegetation. These courses may discuss the history of various organisms in their environment and/or how these organisms have adapted and changed based on interactions with their environments.


Any PhD student typically needs to take at least one course in advanced statistics to explore statistical research methods. In the case of wildlife ecology students, some students may take a general statistics course or may take one that is more focused on bioscience. In the case of courses focused on the environmental sciences or biosciences, students are likely to learn about and practice statistical methods like ANOVA, regression, sampling, and multivariate statistics.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)/Remote Sensing

Due to the hands-on nature of research in the field of wildlife ecology, most students are required to take a technical course in GIS and remote sensing data. Students in these courses learn how to use this technology and read information from maps, aerial photography, and satellite imagery. Students then apply these skills to tasks like forest monitoring, wildlife habitat analysis, and other assessments.

Career Options for PhD in Wildlife Ecology

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers typically need to have a PhD in the area in which they wish to teach and are responsible for creating lessons, assignments, and assessments for each course that they teach. These educators may also help advise students through their coursework, serve on additional departmental or school committees, and may be required to conduct research for the institution in their area of expertise. Those with a background in wildlife ecology may be qualified to teach a wide range of undergraduate and/or graduate courses in the diverse field of biology.

Wildlife Biologists

A PhD in Wildlife Ecology would qualify a wildlife biologist for independent research positions or university research positions where these scientists can study an array of wildlife and/or various ecosystems. Wildlife biologists may study different characteristics of animals, explore the interactions and effects of humans on ecosystems, and work to monitor and/or help conserve a variety of animal populations in a given ecosystem. Typically, these scientists compile their findings into papers and/or presentations that can be used to inform the scientific community and the public to further aid in conservation and education efforts.

Conservation Scientists

While a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for conservation scientists, a PhD in Wildlife Ecology or another related area can qualify conservation scientists for research and/or teaching positions. Conservation scientists supervise the forestry and conservation efforts of parks, forests, rangelands, or other ecosystems with the aim of managing and improving the natural resources of these areas for wildlife, species diversity, or other factors. This may require monitoring data on forest and soil quality, ensuring compliance with habitat protection plans, collaborating with landowners to protect the environment, and determining the impact of fires and other natural occurrences.

Job TitleMedian Salary (2018)*Job Growth (2018-2028)*
Postsecondary Teachers$82,550 (Biological science teachers)12% (Biological science teachers)
Wildlife Biologists$63,420 (Zoologists and wildlife biologists)5% (Zoologists and wildlife biologists)
Conservation Scientists$61,310 (Conservation scientists)4% (Conservation scientists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

A PhD in Wildlife Ecology typically requires an undergraduate degree and may take 3 to 5 years to complete. Graduates with the degree may pursue research-based careers as a wildlife biologist or conservation scientist.

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Popular Schools

  • Stony Brook University

    Campus Locations:

    • New York: Stony Brook
  • Old Dominion University

    Campus Locations:

    • Virginia: Norfolk
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Campus Locations:

    • North Carolina: Chapel Hill
  • University of Chicago

    Campus Locations:

    • Illinois: Chicago
  • University at Buffalo

    Campus Locations:

    • New York: Buffalo
  • Princeton University

    Campus Locations:

    • New Jersey: Princeton
  • Kent State University at Kent

    Campus Locations:

    • Ohio: Kent
  • Columbia University in the City of New York

    Campus Locations:

    • New York: New York
  • Stanford University

    Campus Locations:

    • California: Stanford
  • Harvard University

    Campus Locations:

    • Massachusetts: Cambridge