Ecology is the study of living organisms and how they interact with - and are influenced by - their environment around them. As an Ecology student, you will study the environment at four different levels – the individual organism, the population, the community, and the ecosystem. In a society and economy that is increasingly aware of the need to protect the environment, Ecology graduates are in high demand.
Ecology is a branch of Biology. It is the study of ecosystems and how the different parts interact together to form one cohesive, functioning habitat. Ecologists study plant and animal species in relation to each other and investigate how outside influences such as human activity impact natural processes.
Ecology is all about how nature is connected, and it includes studying biotic factors such as plants and animals, as well as abiotic factors such as the weather and geography. Ecology has real-world impacts in conservation and habitat management and restoration.
Degree curricula in Ecology contain various subjects reflecting all those aspects. Ecology can be divided into several fields, including:
Ecology is a very popular degree for those who interested in a career in conservation or habitat management. It is available in most universities across Europe that have a school of Biology or Environmental Sciences.
As with most science courses, you will start broad and narrow down your specialty as you go. In first year, you can expect to study general Ecology and biology, as well as some broad topics such as geography and chemistry.
After first year you will study topics such as (but not limited to):
Entry requirements will differ depending on the university, but you can expect to need passing high school grades in biology, maths, and a second science such as geography or chemistry.
In contrast to an often generic foundation delivered in undergraduate programmes, most Ecology Master’s programmes allow you to specialise further. Focusing on a specialty allows you to become an expert.
Depending on the programme, this is either predetermined or something you can choose through elective courses.
Typical specialisations in an Ecology Master are, for example, Marine Ecology, Forest Ecology, Agroecology, Industrial Ecology, or Conservation Management.
Whichever Master’s you choose is going to influence the direction of your professional career. Choose wisely and align your study programme with the goals you want to achieve.
To obtain a PhD degree you will undertake a significant amount of academic research in an area of your choice. Most PhD programmes last at least three years and require you to work independently, meeting high academic standards.
Going for an Ecology PhD is not a decision you should make lightly. And you should make sure that whichever area of Ecology you want to focus on relates to things you learnt and explored during your Bachelors and Masters.
University rankings can be of help when choosing a university. One helpful subject-focused overview is provided in the Academic Ranking of World Universities' Ecology ranking. Below you find a selection of some of Europe’s best universities to get an Ecology degree:
Numerous factors are relevant when deciding which university is the right choice to study Ecology.
University rankings can serve as an inspiration, especially subject rankings for Ecology, Biology, Environmental Sciences or related discipline.
If you have an idea of the career you want, then look for a university that has connections to that career path. For example, if you want a career working in environmental protection, then find universities that are actively involved in green initiatives. Your university will often have connections with companies, NGO’s etc. that are relevant to the courses that they teach and can often help you get established at the beginning of your career.
If you already have an idea what aspects of Ecology you are most interested in, this may also narrow down the locations where you should study. Want to focus on marine ecology? Choose a university close to the sea! Want to be involved in forest management? Choose one in a less urban area with access to forests.
If you are considering a career in academia, it is also a good idea to look at the kinds of research projects the university is involved in, and what current PhD students are working on.
Biology is the umbrella term for the study of all aspects of living organisms. From processes at the cellular level, to morphology, physiology, behaviour, and everything in between.
Ecology is the branch of Biology that studies how an organism interacts with the environment and how the environment impacts the organism.
Unlike Ecology, a Biology degree curriculum generally will not include abiotic topics such as geography, the climate, or the human impact on biological organisms and systems.
If you want to make a very real impact on the natural world, then Ecology is a great choice for you! Ecologists are on the front line of conservation and environmental protection.
There are a diverse range of careers and employers that will be interested in Ecology graduates. More and more, companies and government departments are dedicating resources to environmental causes and habitat protection. Thanks to efforts such as the EU Biodiversity Strategy, Ecology graduates will be in growing demand as we move towards a greener way of life.
Ecologists are needed at any organisation where the environment plays an important role. Typical employers include, but are not limited to:
The job options with an Ecology degree are as diverse as nature herself. Here are typical roles and responsibilities:
Ecology involves a lot of field work, so learning good “outdoors skills” such as camping, hiking, and first aid are beneficial. You will find yourself out in nature in all types of weather, so try invest in some good outdoor gear. Ecology can take you to some remote places, so being able to drive is a bonus.
Not all of the work happens outside, though: As in many other scientific disciplines, it also pays off to acquire solid laboratory skills. Don’t be shy and get competent at basic tasks like weighing and measuring samples, preparing microscope slides, etc. Being able to do these things well can make a meaningful difference to your Ecology career.
Ecology is a diverse and dynamic field. But if it is not quite the subject you were looking for, there are numerous related alternatives to an Ecology degree that also offer a wealth of opportunities: