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 make an appointment with the program's Academic Advising Manager.

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 Academic Advising Manager 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 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 the Bachelor of Arts or the Bachelor of Science degree requirements.


Mathematics Complete two courses of 3+ credits at the Intermediate or Advanced level in MATH, COMP SCI, or STAT subjects. A maximum of one course in each of COMP SCI and STAT subjects counts toward this requirement.
Foreign Language Complete the third unit of a foreign language.
L&S Breadth Complete:
• 12 credits of Humanities, which must include at least 6 credits of Literature; and
• 12 credits of Social Science; and
• 12 credits of Natural Science, which must include 6 credits of Biological Science and 6 credits of Physical Science.
Liberal Arts and Science Coursework Complete at least 108 credits.
Depth of Intermediate/Advanced Coursework Complete at least 60 credits at the Intermediate or Advanced level.
Major Declare and complete at least one major.
Total Credits Complete at least 120 credits.
UW-Madison Experience Complete both:
• 30 credits in residence, overall, and
• 30 credits in residence after the 86th credit.
Quality of Work • 2.000 in all coursework at UW–Madison
• 2.000 in Intermediate/Advanced level coursework at UW–Madison


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. They do not need to complete the L&S 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 Academic Advising Manager to discuss courses that align with their areas of academic interest.


Introductory Biology10
Complete one of the following options:
Option 1:
Animal Biology
Animal Biology Laboratory
General Botany
Option 2:
Introductory Biology
Introductory Biology
Option 3:
Complete at least 10 credits from the following:
Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics
Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics Laboratory
Cellular Biology
Cellular Biology Laboratory
Principles of Physiology
Principles of Physiology Laboratory
Complete one of the following:
General Chemistry I
Chemistry in Our World
Advanced General Chemistry (for those who might take more chemistry)
Physical Environment 3-5
Complete one of the following:
Survey of Oceanography
Environmental Geology
Introduction to the Earth System
Physical Systems of the Environment
Introductory Geology: How the Earth Works
Ecology and Evolution6-7
Complete two of the following, each from a different category (students are encouraged to take courses in all three areas):
General Ecology
Evolution and Extinction
Evolutionary Biology
Extinction of Species
Complete one of the following:
Data Science Modeling I
Introduction to Statistical Methods
Introductory Applied Statistics for the Life Sciences

 Species & Field Biology

Complete 12 credits from:
Grassland Ecology
Medical Entomology
Birds of Southern Wisconsin
Bones for the Archaeologist
Introduction to Primatological Research
Primate Behavioral Ecology
Primate Conservation
Plant Systematics
Vascular Flora of Wisconsin
Dendrology: Woody Plant Identification and Ecology
Plant Geography
The Vegetation of Wisconsin
Plant-Insect Interactions
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
Invertebrate Paleontology
Wetlands Ecology
Prescribed Fire: Ecology and Implementation
Biology of Microorganisms
Biology of Microorganisms Laboratory
Animal Behavior 1
Behavioral Ecology
Primate Psychology: Insights into Human Behavior
Marine Biology
Limnology-Conservation of Aquatic Resources
Laboratory for Limnology-Conservation of Aquatic Resources
Comparative Anatomy of Vertebrates


Social Science Electives
Complete at least one 3 credit course from Social Science elective list:
Introduction to Agricultural and Applied Economics
The Environment and the Global Economy
Critical Indigenous Ecological Knowledges
Introduction to Community and Environmental Sociology
Environment, Natural Resources, and Society
Principles of Microeconomics
Government and Natural Resources
Global Environmental Issues
Indigenous Peoples and the Environment
Environmental Conservation
Environmental Ethics
American Environmental History
The Making of the American Landscape
Changing Landscapes of the American West
Australia: Environment and Society
The Humid Tropics: Ecology, Subsistence, and Development
Earth Partnership: Restoration Education for Equity and Resilience
Electives to attain 50 credits in the major
Tropical Horticultural Systems
Introduction to Museum Studies in Anthropology
Weather and Climate
Weather and Climate
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
Insects and Human Culture-a Survey Course in Entomology
Theoretical Ecology
Special Problems
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
Natural Resources Policy
Culture and Environment
Assessment of Environmental Impact
Human/Animal Relationships: Biological and Philosophical Issues
Special Topics (Freshwater Conservation)
Principles of Silviculture
Wildlife Management Techniques
Principles of Landscape Ecology
Special Problems
Principles of Genetics
General Genetics 1
Glacial and Pleistocene Geology
Shaping the Built Environment
General Microbiology
General Microbiology Laboratory
Introduction to Plant Pathology
Plant Microbiomes
General Soil Science
Introduction to Museum Studies in the Natural Sciences

Residence and Quality of Work

  • 2.000 GPA in all major courses
  • 2.000 GPA on 15 upper-level major credits, taken in residence 2
  • 15 credits in the major, taken on the UW–Madison campus

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 department 3



Students may NOT apply both ZOOLOGY 425 Behavioral Ecology and PSYCH 449 Animal Behavior in the conservation biology program.


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


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.

Sample Four-Year Plan

This Sample Four-Year Plan is a tool to assist students and their advisor(s). Students should use it—along with their DARS report, the Degree Planner, and Course Search & Enroll tools—to make their own four-year plan based on their placement scores, credit for transferred courses and approved examinations, and individual interests. As students become involved in athletics, honors, research, student organizations, study abroad, volunteer experiences, and/or work, they might adjust the order of their courses to accommodate these experiences. Students will likely revise their own four-year plan several times during college.

The Conservation Biology road map is a tool to assist you and your advisor in planning your academic career. Use it along with your DARS report and the Course Guide/Schedule of Classes. Your specific program of study could, and probably will, look different. You should customize the road map to fit your unique path at UW–Madison. Consult with your advisor about the best path for you.

Communication A13I/A COMP SCI or MATH (if required for the BS)3-5
Quantitative Reasoning A3-5Ethnic Studies23
Foreign Language (if needed)3-4Social Science Breadth3
CHEM 1034Elective 3
 16 14
INTER-LS 21041Communication B3
STAT 301, 371, or 2403-4Physical Environment3-5
Humanities Breadth3Social Science Elective in the Major3-4
 15 15
Ecology and Evolution3-4Species & Field Biology3
Species & Field Biology3Humanities Breadth3-4
Humanities Breadth3-4Social Science Breadth3-4
 15 15
Ecology and Evolution3-4Species & Field Biology3
Species & Field Biology3Elective credit in the major (if needed for 50 credits)3-4
Humanities Breadth3-4Social Science Breadth3-4
 14 16
Total Credits 120

While most incoming freshman are required to complete coursework to fulfill the Communication A requirement, students may be exempted by approved college coursework while in high school, AP test scores, or placement testing.  Students are expected to satisfy this requirement by the end of their first year of undergraduate study.


Students are expected to complete the Ethnic Studies requirement within the first 60 credits of undergraduate study.


There are three options for Introductory Biology -- please consult the Requirements page of this Guide for more information.   The Communication B requirement can  be fulfilled by completion of ZOOLOGY/​BIOLOGY/​BOTANY  152 or BIOCORE 381,BIOCORE 382, or BIOCORE 384 if you choose to take those courses for Introductory Biology.


INTER-LS 210 L&S Career Development: Taking Initiative is recommended, but not required for students pursuing the Conservation Biology major.


Suggested elective class if needed for 50 credits in the major


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 toward 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

Personal Statement

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 one of the major's learning goals.

How Does It Work?

  1. Set up an appointment with your faculty advisor in your final year and indicate the meeting is regarding the personal statement requirement.
  2. Send to your faculty advisor, in advance of the meeting, your choice of a cover letter for a position of interest, a personal plan for graduate school, or your own two-page personal statement related to the stated learning goal.
  3. Bring along a hard copy of the 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

Every L&S major opens a world of possibilities.  SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science helps students turn the academic skills learned in their major, certificates, and other coursework into fulfilling lives after graduation, whether that means jobs, public service, graduate school or other career pursuits.

In addition to providing basic support like resume reviews and interview practice, SuccessWorks offers ways to explore interests and build career skills from their very first semester/term at UW all the way through graduation and beyond.

Students can explore careers in one-on-one advising, try out different career paths, complete internships, prepare for the job search and/or graduate school applications, and connect with supportive alumni and even employers in the fields that inspire them.

Committee of Advisors: Cameron (Botany, chair of major), Givnish (Botany), Hotchkiss (Botany/Environmental Studies), Ives (Zoology), Pigeon (Forest & Wildlife Ecology), Schoville (Entomology), Strier (Anthropology), Vander Zanden, Waller (Botany), Zuckerberg (Forest and Wildlife Ecology)


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.

SUCCESSWORKS 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.


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 Research Fellowship

The Holstrom Environmental Research Fellowship supports 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 toward solving a challenge identified along with local or global community partners. 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.