Master of Science in Ecology


Western’s Master of Science in Ecology provides contemporary scientific training to address pressing questions in the ecology, conservation and management of the Earth’s biota, landscapes and ecosystems.

General Description

Our program engages a new kind of scientist: one whose ability to perform research with immediate relevance for solving problems is matched only by their skills in collaborating with affected communities. This scientist is also expected to incorporate citizens and citizen science into effective research, producing accessible and accurate results for utilization by both policy-makers and the public.

The master's in ecology program offers two tracks:  Ecology and Conservation and Fisheries and Wildlife Management. 

Students work closely with an advisor, conservation practitioners and natural resource managers to develop and complete an original research project. 

Program Features

Our two-year, residential program provides graduate students with many unique resources and opportunities, including:

  • The bioclimatic diversity of the southern Rocky Mountains.
  • Abundant access to public lands—including 80 percent of the land surrounding Western's campus.
  • Access to a broad network of managers of diverse natural resources (e.g., forests, water, fire, land, fisheries, and wildlife).
  • Non-traditional research collaborators (e.g., ranchers, private land trusts, and county/city planners).
  • Opportunities to address critical information gaps at the local, regional and global levels, across a range of ecological systems vulnerable to climate change.
  • Collaboration with researchers around the world and at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

  • Exposure to new avenues for communicating science, through relationships with New Media producers, on-site publications (e.g., High Country News) and interaction with Western's film studies program.
  • Access to 334 acres containing riparian, sage brush and grassland habitats, via collaboration with program partner the Coldharbour Institute (a non-profit conservation organization).
  • Close collaboration with alumni, graduate students and over 15 faculty in Western’s Master in Environmental Management program. 
  • Local access to both Federal and State agency personnel and their local offices in the Gunnison Basin, including representatives of the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado Forest Service.

Current ecological research by Western students and faculty.

Learn More About the MS Program in Ecology


Dr. Jessica Young
“I cannot think of a better place in the world to contribute to the field of applied ecology.  Western students engage in meaningful research that improves our understanding of critically important issues in conservation biology and wildlife management.”
Jonathan Coop smiles at the camera
“I’m really proud we can produce high-quality research and publish papers in scientific journals with my students. We’re out on the cutting edge of our field learning the things we don’t know yet."

Faculty & Staff


Kevin Alexander headshot
Professor of Biology; Chair, Department of Natural and Environmental Sciences
B.A., University of Texas at Austin, Ph.D., University of North Texas
Phone: 970.943.3405
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143C
Robin A. Bingham headshot
Professor of Biology
B.A., University of Vermont, M.A., University of Colorado, Ph.D., University of Colorado
Phone: 970.943.3355
Office Location: Hurst Hall 222
Jonathan Coop headshot
Assistant Professor
B.A., University of California–Santa Cruz, Biology, 1995, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin–Madison, Botany, 2005
Phone: 970.943.2565
Office Location: Kelley Hall 105
Brian Dalton headshot
Lecturer in Biology
B.A., Occidental College, Ph.D., University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Phone: 970.943.2287
Office Location: Hurst Hall 132
Jennie DeMarco, Ph.D. headshot
Lecturer in Environment and Sustainability
B.S., Northern Arizona University , Ph.D., University of Florida
Phone: 970.943.2013
Office Location: Leslie J. Savage Library 303
Derek  D. Houston, Ph.D. headshot
Thornton Chair in Biology, Lecturer in Biology
B.S., Brigham Young University, M.S., Brigham Young University, Ph.D., University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Phone: 970.943.2269
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143B
Corinne Knapp, Ph.D. headshot
Assistant Professor of Environment & Sustainability, and Integrative and Public Land Management MEM Coordinator
B.A., University of Colorado, M.S., Colorado State University, Ph.D., University of Alaska
Office Location: Kelley Hall 106
Patrick Magee headshot
Assistant Professor of Biology
B.S., Colorado State University, M.S., University of Missouri, Ph.D., University of Missouri
Phone: 970.943.7121
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143A
Jessica Young, Ph.D. headshot
Global Coordinator, Associate Professor of Environment and Sustainability
B.A., University of California San Diego, Ph.D., Purdue University
Phone: 970.943.2195
Office Location: Leslie J. Savage Library 120


FOR REQUIRED COURSES AND DEGREE PLANS, VISIT THE OFFICIAL UNIVERSITY CATALOG. This is a sample of courses offered by Western Colorado University. To ensure the courses you need are offered during the current semester, please visit the university course search.

 BIOL 606 - Ecological Research Methods (3 credits)

A field- and lab-based course that builds on the capacity for students to conceptualize and complete ecological research projects. Students identify ecological questions and develop research to address them. Scientific communication to varied stakeholders is emphasized throughout. Prerequisite: admission to the MEM or MS programs.

 BIOL 613 - Advanced Ecological Analysis (3 credits)

Students gain knowledge and experience in advanced statistical analysis and simulation modeling using ecological data. Specific topics include linear and generalized linear models, mixed-effects models, general additive models, multivariate analysis, spatial analysis, and simulation models. Emphasis is placed on working with data, writing and commenting scripts, and use of a wide range of internet resources for the R language and environment. Prerequisites: admission to the MEM or MS programs.

 BIOL 620 - Ornithology (4 credits)

A graduate-level survey of bird evolution, ecology, and conservation. This course has a strong field component providing frequent opportunities to identify, observe, and conduct research on birds in their native environments. Prerequisite: acceptance to MS or MEM program.

 BIOL 622 - Mammalogy (4 credits)

An advanced overview of the current science of mammal taxonomy, evolution, ecology and conservation. Prerequisite: acceptance to MS or MEM program.

 BIOL 627 - Field Entomology (4 credits)

A detailed examination of the most diverse and abundant form of animal life on Earth through field and laboratory research. The course emphasizes field study, collection and preservation, identification, ecology, and natural history. Students develop familiarity with current scientific literature and complete a written research paper following peer-reviewed journal formatting. Prerequisite: acceptance to MS or MEM program.

 BIOL 630 - Wildlife Ecology and Management (4 credits)

Principles of ecology are applied to population and habitat management towards wildlife conservation. Tools used by wildlife biologists to restore endangered species, harvest sustainable populations, reduce overpopulated species, and to monitor and study populations are emphasized. Habitat management approaches are examined, along with human dimensions in wildlife conservation. Students will conduct field study to investigate populations and habitat issues, and develop best management practices for wildlife in the Gunnison Basin. Prerequisite: Admission to MS or MEM program. Co-requisite: BIOL 631.

 BIOL 631 - Wildlife Techniques Workshop (1 credits)

A one-week intensive field course focuses on wildlife conservation issues and wildlife management techniques such as trapping and marking wildlife, radio telemetry, population monitoring, GPS and GIS, and wildlife conflict resolution. The course includes a trip outside the basin; a field trip course fee is required.  This course meets the week prior to the start of the fall semester. Prerequisite: Admission to MS or MEM program, instructor permission. Co-requisite: BIOL 630.

 BIOL 640 - Conservation Biology (3 credits)

Conservation Biology is an applied science that addresses the reduction in biological diversity of the planet and suggests solutions to prevent further reduction. Conservation biology serves as an integrating link in biology drawing from scientific disciplines such as population genetics, ecology, evolutionary biology, botany, zoology, molecular biology, biochemistry and wildlife management. Prerequisite: acceptance to MS or MEM program.

 BIOL 652 - Botany (4 credits)

Using field and laboratory experiences this graduate level course explores the diversity within the plant kingdom using a comparative approach to examine evolutionary trends and relationships. Students are introduced to the structure and function of plants through an investigation of plant cells, tissues, organs, and basic physiological processes. Economic importance, human uses, and significance of plants to society are emphasized. Prerequisite: acceptance to MS or MEM program.

 BIOL 653 - Rocky Mountain Flora (3 credits)

A graduate level field and laboratory course focusing on identification of flowering plants common to the Western Slope of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.  This course covers methods of plant collection and preservation, field identification, natural history, and ecology as well as local plants of particular human interest, including those that are medically important, edible, or which are poisonous. Prerequisite: acceptance to MS or MEM programs.

 BIOL 662 - Evolution (3 credits)

This graduate level course provides a comprehensive overview of evolutionary processes, mechanisms, and analytical techniques. Topics include population genetics, conservation genetics, phylogenetic analysis, adaptation, behavioral evolution, sexual selection, and speciation. Evolutionary perspectives in human health and medicine, conservation biology, agriculture, natural resource management, biotechnology, global change, and emerging diseases are considered. Prerequisite: acceptance to MEM or MS program.

 BIOL 667 - Fisheries Biology and Management (3 credits)

Graduate-level overview of the science underlying fisheries and their management.  Topics include the morphology, evolution, ecology, behavior and conservation of fishes, including experimental design, data analysis, quantitative population modelling, and scientific communication of results focusing primarily on freshwater fisheries and common fishes of Colorado. Marine fisheries are covered briefly. Prerequisite: acceptance to MS or MEM program.

 BIOL 676 - Aquatic Ecology with laboratory (4 credits)

Advanced field and laboratory study of physical, chemical, and biological parameters of lakes and streams in the functioning of freshwater ecosystems. Prerequisite: acceptance to MEM or MS program.

 BIOL 681 - Forest Ecology (4 credits)

Ecology of forest species, communities, landscapes, and ecosystems, with a focus on the southern Rocky Mountains. Topics include tree physiology, species interactions, fire and disturbance, succession, forest types, climate, forest management, and restoration. Labs and field trips provide hands-on experience and practical skills in tree identification, forest mensuration, vegetation sampling, statistics and GIS. Students gain broad familiarity with the scientific literature, develop and conduct a sophisticated independent research project, and communicate findings. Prerequisite: admission to MS or MEM program.

 BIOL 690 - Ecology MS Proposal Development (3 credits)

Students are required to develop a proposed research project in consultation with their academic advisor and present it in written and oral form to their thesis committee (composed of their advisor, another faculty member or PhD-level researcher, and an external project sponsor or reviewer). This course should be completed by the end of the spring semester of the first year to prepare students for summer research. Prerequisite: instructor permission.

 BIOL 692 - Independent Study (1-6 Credits credits)

Independent research in ecology. Prerequisite: instructor permission.

 BIOL 695 - Ecology and Conservation Thesis Research (1-9 Credits credits)

Students conduct research adhering to their thesis proposal, complete a written thesis, and defend their thesis. Students must also explicitly connect the research project with relevant and real-world efforts to achieve the broader impacts of ecology and conservation science in society. This is a repeatable course. Prerequisite: BIOL 690.

 BIOL 696 - Fisheries and Wildlife Thesis Research (1-9 Credits credits)

Students conduct research adhering to their thesis proposal, complete a written thesis, and defend their thesis. Students must also explicitly connect the research project with relevant and real-world efforts to achieve the broader impacts of fisheries and wildlife science in society. This is a repeatable course. Prerequisite: BIOL 690.