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.
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|| |
* 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 Science (B.S.)
Students pursuing a bachelor of science 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 Science DEGREE REQUIREMENTS
|Mathematics||Two (2) 3+ credits of intermediate/advanced level MATH, COMP SCI, STAT |
Limit one each: COMP SCI, STAT
|Foreign Language||Complete the third unit of a foreign language |
Note: A unit is one year of high school work or one semester/term of college work.
|L&S Breadth|| |
|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. Please note that the following special degree programs are not considered majors so are not available to non-L&S-degree-seeking candidates:
- Applied Mathematics, Engineering and Physics (Bachelor of Science–Applied Mathematics, Engineering and Physics)
- Journalism (Bachelor of Arts–Journalism; Bachelor of Science–Journalism)
- Music (Bachelor of Music)
- Social Work (Bachelor of Social Work)
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.
|Select one of the following options:||10|
|Animal Biology Laboratory|
Select at least 10 credits from the following:
|Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics|
|Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics Laboratory|
|Cellular Biology Laboratory|
|Organismal Biology Laboratory|
|Select one of the following:||4-5|
|General Chemistry I|
|Chemistry in Our World|
|Advanced General Chemistry (for those who might take more chemistry)|
|Select one of the following:||3-5|
|Survey of Oceanography|
|Introduction to the Earth System|
|Physical Systems of the Environment|
|Introductory Geology: How the Earth Works|
|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|
|Evolution and Extinction|
|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:|
|Birds of Southern Wisconsin|
|Bones for the Archaeologist|
|Primate Behavioral Ecology|
|Vascular Flora of Wisconsin|
|Field Collections and Identification|
|The Vegetation of Wisconsin|
|Introduction to Entomology|
|Taxonomy of Mature Insects|
|Taxonomy and Bionomics of Immature Insects|
|Studies in Field Entomology|
|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|
|World Vegetable Crops|
|Biology of Microorganisms|
|Biology of Microorganisms Laboratory|
|Animal Behavior 1|
or ZOOLOGY 425
|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|
|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 Law, Toxic Substances, and Conservation|
|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|
|Plant Morphology and Evolution|
|Midwestern Ecological Issues: A Case Study Approach|
|Plant-Microbe Interactions: Molecular and Ecological Aspects|
|People, Wildlife and Landscapes|
|Principles of Environmental Science|
|Soil: Ecosystem and Resource|
|Literature of the Environment: Speaking for Nature|
|Soils and Environmental Quality|
|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|
|Wildlife Management Techniques|
|Principles of Landscape Ecology|
|Statistical Methods for Bioscience I|
|Colloquium in Environmental Toxicology|
|Principles of Genetics|
|Glacial and Pleistocene Geology|
|Landscape Inventory and Evaluation Methods|
|General Microbiology Laboratory|
|Hormones and Behavior|
|General Soil Science|
|Statistical Methods for Bioscience II|
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 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, with a grade of B or better, 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. Explain the basic concepts of ecology and evolution and how they underpin and apply to the science of conservation biology.
2. Understand and explain the scientific process as related to conservation biology, including the relevance of theories and how hypotheses are tested.
3. Recognize species within some particular group of organisms and explain key aspects of their ecology, phylogeny, and conservation needs.
4. Apply general ecological principles to assess and address conservation threats to particular species, communities, and ecosystems.
5. Investigate and communicate the connections between the biological and social sciences and humanities as they affect conservation programs and activities.
6. 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:
Although not required for the major, such students are also encouraged to take the following:
|General Chemistry II|
|Principles of Genetics|
|Calculus and Analytic Geometry 1|
The Personal Statement Requirement, completed during your final year, gives you an opportunity to work with your faculty advisor on this writing requirement that connects your UW–Madison experiences to your future. Through your writing and conversations, you will be evaluated on three learning goals.
How Does It Work?
- Set up an appointment with your faculty advisor in your final year and indicate the meeting is regarding the personal statement requirement.
- Send to your faculty advisor, in advance of the meeting, your choice of a cover letter for a job or internship position of interest, a personal plan for graduate school, or your own two-page personal statement that reviews your educational and professional history, while also looking toward career goals.
- Bring along a hard copy of this evaluation form to be completed and signed by your faculty advisor and then submit evaluation to the Conservation Biology Student Services Coordinator, 141 Birge Hall.
L&S career resources
SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science helps students leverage the academic skills learned in their major, certificates, and liberal arts degree; explore and try out different career paths; participate in internships; prepare for the job search and/or graduate school applications; and network with professionals in the field (alumni and employers).
SuccessWorks can also assist students in career advising, résumé and cover letter writing, networking opportunities, and interview skills, as well as course offerings for undergraduates to begin their career exploration early in their undergraduate career.
- Set up a career advising appointment
- INTER-LS 210 L&S Career Development: Taking Initiative (1 credit, targeted to first- and second-year students)—for more information, see Inter-LS 210: Career Development, Taking Initiative
- Learn how we’re transforming career preparation: L&S Career Initiative
Committee of Advisors: Professors Givnish (Botany), Hotchkiss (Botany/Environmental Studies), Ives (Zoology), Strier (Anthropology), Townsend (Forest & Wildlife Ecology), Vander Zanden (Center for Limnology/Zoology), Waller (Botany, chair of major), Zuckerberg (Forest and Wildlife Ecology)
ROLAND H. & MAUDE M. BECKER SCHOLARSHIP
Established by Barbara B. Glass in 1988 in memory of her parents, the Roland & Maude Becker scholarship provides financial assistance to students with a major in conservation biology. The scholarship is a one-time award to help support a conservation experience related to the major. A conservation experience may include an undergraduate research experience, internship experience, study abroad program, etc. Awards will be in the amount of $500 and up to two awards will be awarded per academic year.
L&S Career Services Summer Internship Scholarship
This scholarship provides amounts ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 each to help students take advantage of and enable them to participate in a first time internship opportunity that is unpaid or provides a limited stipend.
HILLDALE UNDERGRADUATE/FACULTY RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP
The Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowships support undergraduate research done in collaboration with UW–Madison faculty or research/instructional academic staff. Approximately 97–100 Hilldale awards are available each year. The student researcher receives $3,000, and faculty/staff research advisor receives $1,000 to help offset research costs (e.g., supplies, faculty or student travel related to the project).
Holstrom Environmental Scholarships
The Holstrom Environmental Scholarships support undergraduate research done in collaboration with UW–Madison faculty or research/instructional academic staff. Research proposals must have an environmental focus, and applicants must have at least a junior standing at time of application. Apply spring semester to fund work on the project during the summer or following academic year.
The annual Undergraduate Symposium showcases undergraduate creativity, achievement, research, service-learning and community-based research from all areas of study at UW–Madison including the humanities, fine arts, biological sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences. This past year nearly 700 students presented, displayed or performed their work for members of the university, the surrounding community, family and friends.
Wisconsin Idea Fellowships
Wisconsin Idea Fellowships are awarded annually to undergraduate student projects working towards solving a challenge identified along with local or global community partner. Fellowships are awarded to semester-long or year-long projects designed by an undergraduate student (or group of students) in collaboration with a community organization and a UW–Madison faculty or academic staff member.