Environmental Biology and Ecology



An experimental approach in both field and laboratory to explore fundamental ecological principles. Students gather and analyze data to address ecological hypotheses, learn practical ecological skills (performing field techniques, using statistical and graphical tools, and interpreting ecological software), and develop oral and written communication skills. Prerequisites: BIOL 150, BIOL 151, and CHEM 113. Prerequisite or corequisite: BIOL 301.


This course provides a comprehensive overview of evolutionary processes and mechanisms within an applied framework. Evolutionary perspectives in human health and medicine,environmental and conservation biology, agriculture and natural resource management, and biotechnology are covered. Topics include organismic adaptation to changing environments and long-term responses to environmental perturbation, and insights into many issues of growing social importance such as climate change, land use change, and emerging diseases. Prerequisites: BIOL 312


A survey of the three main ecoregions of Colorado including the Great Plains, the Southern Rocky Mountains, and the Colorado Plateau. Students travel throughout Colorado and explore the ecology and natural history of the ecosystems by hiking, backpacking, and river rafting. Content includes an evolutionary perspective on ecosystem features and the adaptations of species characterizing each system, as well as applied issues in natural resources management. Prerequisite: BIOL 301 or instructor permission.


Ecology of forest species, communities, landscapes, and ecosystems, with a focus on the Gunnison Basin. Topics include tree physiology, species interactions, fire and disturbance, succession, forest types, climate, forest management and restoration. Labs and field trips will provide hands-on experience and practical skills in tree identification, forest mensuration, vegetation sampling, statistics and GIS. Students will develop and conduct independent/group research projects. Prerequisites: BIOL 301, MATH 213

When you select the Environmental Biology & Ecology emphasis at Western, you’ll study in the great classroom of the Gunnison Basin - and beyond. You’ll explore public and private lands, from sagebrush and lush riparian lowlands to deep forests and rocky alpine crags. Surrounded by six wilderness areas, the basin is truly a vast and wild classroom.

You’ll learn from passionate ecologists dedicated to hands-on, practical approaches. With connections to numerous natural resources agencies, the program provides frequent opportunities for resource professionals to interact with our students in classes, on field trips, and in training, through internships and paid, local jobs.

Western serves up a rich diversity of coursework for our small size. In addition, our Thornton Biology Undergraduate Research Program (BURP) helps the most engaged students deepen their experience and gain skills, working closely with faculty mentors, while earning research stipends.

What Will You Learn? What Skills Will You Acquire?

The Ecology Emphasis helps you build knowledge and skills, starting in your freshman introductory courses. From that foundation, you add more sophisticated and applied skills as you move through the program.

You’ll learn in a field-based ecology lab that focuses on scientific methods, from experimental design to communication and numerous field techniques. You will gain the technical background and skills needed to communicate with scientists and resource managers.

You’ll learn field techniques, such as vegetation monitoring, stream assessment, radio telemetry, GIS, mapping and compass work, animal and plant identification by sight and sound, and even more diverse approaches to measuring populations, communities and ecosystems.

Beyond the Classroom

Research, service learning, adventure education, applied experiential field trips, connections with professional biologists, and fun social events help comprise the rich culture of our co-curricular program.

Western's Biology students participate in two primary clubs: the Tri Beta Biology Club and the Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society. They hold biweekly meetings throughout the year and organize field trips, fundraising events, and social/educational events.

Students work with the local community through a variety of service projects. They also build connections with local offices of natural resource agencies, which offer opportunities for service and field experience, such as trapping bighorn sheep, assisting with the annual kokanee salmon spawn, electroshocking and sampling fish, and volunteering at the Gunnison Sage Grouse Watchable Wildlife site.

Our budding biologists also work with agency professionals in workshops on applying for federal jobs and writing resumes, obtaining a hunter safety cards, learning to fly fish, learning basic avian taxidermy and more.