Conservation biology is a science-based major designed to provide students broad training in biological, ecological, and related disciplines most relevant to conservation. The program emphasizes basic knowledge of natural history, whole organism biology, ecological interactions, and field biology. The major is characterized by flexibility with a broad range of opportunities allowing students to tailor the program to their interests. This major appeals to independent students capable of assembling a curriculum that takes maximum advantage of both strong background, diversity, and specialization, as well as the breadth available through an L&S major. The program has a unique appeal to students passionate about conservation biology, from the social scientist to the theoretical ecologist, and empowers students to act as informed citizens of the natural world.

Aldo Leopold, former UW professor considered the father of wildlife management, and Norman Fassett, former UW professor of Botany, first initiated this major in the 1940s to prepare individuals for careers as game wardens, ranger naturalists, and museum workers. These opportunities continue and have expanded to include work in environmental education; forest, game and park management; endangered species research and recovery efforts; work with private conservation organizations and government agencies; and many more. The major is recommended for those seeking a liberal education in the intrinsic values of natural resources and those preparing  for graduate study in the rapidly developing field of conservation biology.

Internship/Field Experience

Students in the conservation biology major are encouraged to take field courses when possible (including suitable study abroad programs) and to gain additional experience via summer jobs and paid or unpaid internships. Students who wish to obtain academic credit for such an experience should arrange in advance to take a Directed Study (e.g., BOTANY 699 Directed Study or ZOOLOGY 699 Directed Studies in Zoology course) as elective work in the major during or immediately after their internship.  A maximum of 10 credits of directed study (698, 699), senior honors thesis (681, 682), senior thesis (691,692), or internships (F&W ECOL 399 Coordinative Internship/Cooperative Education, ZOOLOGY 677 Internship in Ecology) will count toward the major.

To declare the conservation biology major, students must contact or make an appointment with the conservation biology student services coordinator.

If students are not currently in the College of Letters & Science (L&S), they must transfer into L&S before declaring. Students are welcome to meet with the conservation biology student services coordinator to discuss the major before transferring. 

University General Education Requirements

All undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are required to fulfill a minimum set of common university general education requirements to ensure that every graduate acquires the essential core of an undergraduate education. This core establishes a foundation for living a productive life, being a citizen of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a continually changing world. Various schools and colleges will have requirements in addition to the requirements listed below. Consult your advisor for assistance, as needed. For additional information, see the university Undergraduate General Education Requirements section of the Guide.

General Education
  • Breadth—Humanities/Literature/Arts: 6 credits
  • Breadth—Natural Science: 4 to 6 credits, consisting of one 4- or 5-credit course with a laboratory component; or two courses providing a total of 6 credits
  • Breadth—Social Studies: 3 credits
  • Communication Part A & Part B *
  • Ethnic Studies *
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A & Part B *

* The mortarboard symbol appears before the title of any course that fulfills one of the Communication Part A or Part B, Ethnic Studies, or Quantitative Reasoning Part A or Part B requirements.

College of Letters & Science Breadth and Degree Requirements: Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)

Students pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in the College of Letters & Science must complete all of the requirements below. The College of Letters & Science allows this major to be paired with either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science curriculum. View a comparison of the degree requirements here.

Bachelor of Arts degree requirements

Mathematics Fulfilled with completion of University General Education requirements Quantitative Reasoning a (QR A) and Quantitative Reasoning b (QR B) coursework. Please note that some majors may require students to complete additional math coursework beyond the B.A. mathematics requirement.
Foreign Language
  • Complete the fourth unit of a foreign language; OR
  • Complete the third unit of a foreign language and the second unit of an additional foreign language

Note: A unit is one year of high school work or one semester/term of college work.
L&S Breadth
  • Humanities, 12 credits: 6 of the 12 credits must be in literature
  • Social Sciences, 12 credits
  • Natural Sciences, 12 credits: must include one 3+ credit course in the biological sciences; must include one 3+ credit course in the physical sciences
Liberal Arts and Science Coursework 108 credits
Depth of Intermediate/Advanced work 60 intermediate or advanced credits
Major Declare and complete at least one (1) major
Total Credits 120 credits
UW-Madison Experience 30 credits in residence, overall
30 credits in residence after the 90th credit
Minimum GPAs 2.000 in all coursework at UW–Madison
2.000 in intermediate/advanced coursework at UW–Madison

Non–L&S students pursuing an L&S major

Non–L&S students who have permission from their school/college to pursue an additional major within L&S only need to fulfill the major requirements and do not need to complete the L&S breadth and degree requirements above.

Requirements for the Major

Conservation biology majors must take at least 50 credits in the major.  When selecting courses to meet major requirements, students are encouraged to meet with their faculty advisor or student services coordinator to discuss courses that align with their areas of academic interest.


Introductory Biology
Select one of the following options:10
Option 1 (recommended):
Introductory Biology
Introductory Biology
Option 2:
Select at least 10 credits from the following:
Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics
Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics Laboratory
Cellular Biology
Cellular Biology Laboratory
Organismal Biology
Organismal Biology Laboratory
Option 3:
Animal Biology
Animal Biology Laboratory
General Botany
Select one of the following:4-5
General Chemistry I
Chemistry in Our World
Advanced General Chemistry (for those who might take more chemistry)
Physical Environment
Select one of the following:3-5
Survey of Oceanography
Environmental Geology
Introduction to the Earth System
Physical Systems of the Environment
General Geology
Life of the Past
Introduction to Geologic Structures
Geologic Evolution of the Earth
Ecology and Evolution
Select two of the following, each from a different category (students are encouraged to take courses in all three areas):6-7
General Ecology
Evolution and Extinction
Evolutionary Biology
Extinction of Species
Select one of the following:
Introductory Applied Statistics for the Life Sciences
Introduction to Statistical Methods
Statistical Methods for Bioscience I

 Species & Field Biology

12 credits from:
Grassland Ecology
Medical Entomology
Birds of Southern Wisconsin
Bones for the Archaeologist
Primate Behavioral Ecology
Primate Conservation
Plant Systematics
Vascular Flora of Wisconsin
Field Collections and Identification
Plant Geography
The Vegetation of Wisconsin
Plant-Insect Interactions
Introduction to Entomology
Taxonomy of Mature Insects
Insect Ecology
Taxonomy and Bionomics of Immature Insects
Studies in Field Entomology
Insect Behavior
Limnology-Conservation of Aquatic Resources
Field Ecology Workshop
Ecology of Fishes
Ecology of Fishes Lab
Terrestrial Vertebrates: Life History and Ecology
Physiological Animal Ecology
Diseases of Wildlife
Animal Population Dynamics
The Age of Dinosaurs
Invertebrate Paleontology
World Vegetable Crops
Wetlands Ecology
Biology of Microorganisms
Biology of Microorganisms Laboratory
Parasitology Laboratory
Animal Behavior 1
Behavioral Ecology
Primates and Us: Insights into Human Biology and Behavior
Limnology-Conservation of Aquatic Resources
Laboratory for Limnology-Conservation of Aquatic Resources
Comparative Anatomy of Vertebrates

Students may apply both ZOOLOGY 425 Behavioral Ecology and PSYCH 449 Animal Behavior in the conservation biology program.


Social Science Electives
At least one 3 credit course from Social Science elective list:
Introduction to Agricultural and Applied Economics
The Environment and the Global Economy
Introduction to Community and Environmental Sociology
Environment, Natural Resources, and Society
Principles of Microeconomics
Government and Natural Resources
Living in the Global Environment: An Introduction to People-Environment Geography
Environmental Conservation
Environmental Law, Toxic Substances, and Conservation
Environmental Ethics
American Environmental History
The Making of the American Landscape
The American West
Australia: Environment and Society
The Humid Tropics: Ecology, Subsistence, and Development
Electives to attain 50 credits in the major
Integrated Weed Management
Ecotoxicology: The Chemical Players
Ecotoxicology: Impacts on Individuals
Ecotoxicology: Impacts on Populations, Communities and Ecosystems
Ecological Models of Behavior
Weather and Climate
Weather and Climate
Atmospheric Environment and Society
Global Change: Atmospheric Issues and Problems
Plants, Parasites, and People
Introductory Ecology
Plant Anatomy
Plant Morphology and Evolution
Midwestern Ecological Issues: A Case Study Approach
Plant-Microbe Interactions: Molecular and Ecological Aspects
Conservation Biology
People, Wildlife and Landscapes
Theoretical Ecology
Special Problems
Principles of Environmental Science
Soil: Ecosystem and Resource
Literature of the Environment: Speaking for Nature
Soils and Environmental Quality
Wetlands Ecology
An Introduction to Geographic Information Systems
Introduction to Environmental Health
Scientific Background to Global Environmental Problems
Natural Resources Policy
Culture and Environment
Assessment of Environmental Impact
Human/Animal Relationships: Biological and Philosophical Issues
Principles of Wildlife Management
Principles of Silviculture
Communities and Forests
Forest Ecology
Wildlife Management Techniques
Principles of Landscape Ecology
Statistical Methods for Bioscience I
Colloquium in Environmental Toxicology
Special Problems
Principles of Genetics
Glacial and Pleistocene Geology
LAND ARC 211 Landscape Inventory and Evaluation Methods4
General Microbiology
General Microbiology Laboratory
Hormones and Behavior
General Soil Science
Statistical Methods for Bioscience II
Ecosystem Analysis

Residence and quality of work

2.000 GPA in all major courses

2.000 GPA on 15 upper-level major credits, taken in residence 1

15 credits in the major, taken on the UW–Madison campus


 Courses in the major numbered 300 through 699 are considered upper level.

Honors in the Major

Students may declare Honors in the Conservation Biology Major in consultation with the Conservation Biology undergraduate advisor.

Honors in the Conservation Biology Major Requirements

To earn a B.A. or B.S.  with Honors in the Major in Conservation Biology students must satisfy both the requirements for the major (above) and the following additional requirements:

  • Earn a 3.300 overall university GPA
  • Complete at least 16 credits, taken for Honors, in the conservation biology major, to include a two-semester Senior Honors Thesis in an appropriate department1

 Examples include Botany, Zoology, Environmental Studies; see the Conservation Biology advisor to verify that your thesis department will be acceptable.

University Degree Requirements

Total Degree To receive a bachelor's degree from UW–Madison, students must earn a minimum of 120 degree credits. The requirements for some programs may exceed 120 degree credits. Students should consult with their college or department advisor for information on specific credit requirements.
Residency Degree candidates are required to earn a minimum of 30 credits in residence at UW–Madison. "In residence" means on the UW–Madison campus with an undergraduate degree classification. “In residence” credit also includes UW–Madison courses offered in distance or online formats and credits earned in UW–Madison Study Abroad/Study Away programs.
Quality of Work Undergraduate students must maintain the minimum grade point average specified by the school, college, or academic program to remain in good academic standing. Students whose academic performance drops below these minimum thresholds will be placed on academic probation.
  1. Students will explain the basic concepts of ecology and evolution and how they underpin and apply to the science of conservation biology.
  2. Students will understand and explain the scientific process as related to conservation biology, including the relevance of theories and how hypotheses are tested.
  3. Students will recognize species within some particular group of organisms and explain key aspects of their ecology, phylogeny, and conservation needs.
  4. Students will apply general ecological principles to assess and address conservation threats to particular species, communities, and ecosystems.
  5. Students will investigate and communicate the connections between the biological and social sciences and humanities as they affect conservation programs and activities.
  6. Students will identify, interpret, and communicate conservation ideas, needs and programs to others.


Students in the conservation biology major are assigned to a team of advisors composed of a faculty advisor and the major's student services coordinator. See the major's advising page for a list of advisors and for the student services coordinator information.

The faculty advisor provides guidance specific to the  discipline through discussions about undergraduate experiences (e.g., research, coursework, internships) that will help prepare students for graduate work or a career after graduation. The student services coordinator provides guidance specific to the discipline but helps students with major declarations, course selection, registration, DARS, L&S degree and major requirements, and tracking progress towards graduation, as well as connecting students with important resources on campus. Because the major is so broad and involves so much choice, it is important for students to meet early and regularly with their student services coordinator and faculty advisor.

Students contemplating graduate work in a biological discipline are advised to take the following:

Introductory Biology
Introductory Biology
Evolutionary Biology
General Ecology

Although not required for the major, such students are also encouraged to take the following:

General Chemistry II
Principles of Genetics
General Physics
General Physics
Calculus and Analytic Geometry 1

Committee of Advisors: Givnish (Botany), Hotchkiss (Botany/Environmental Studies), Ives (Zoology), Strier (Anthropology), Vander Zanden (Center for Limnology/Zoology), Waller (Botany, chair of major)