Conservation Biology and Ecology (CBE) is the newest degree option for undergraduate students in the Department of Ecology.  The MSU Department of Ecology was founded in 2000, and has awarded more undergraduate (BS) and graduate (MS & PhD) degrees than any other program in the College of Letters and Sciences at MSU since that time.

The conservation of species, ecosystems and the services that they provide is one of the central challenges the new millennium. A glance at the headlines confirms that issues of conservation are increasingly important to society as it faces rapid global change in climate, land use, invasive species and many other processes. To fundamentally understand the issues, CBE students take extensive coursework in ecology and conservation biology.  Modern conservation biology incorporates approaches that focus on endangered species (e.g., understanding wolf-elk dynamics in Montana) but also emphasizes the structure and function of ecological communities (e.g., understanding relationships between biodiversity and ecological stability) and complete ecosystems (e.g., understanding the processes that control fluxes of carbon through a biome).  

However, understanding the ecological aspects of a conservation problem is only part of the equation.  Conservation problems are almost invariably embedded in difficult social and economic trade-offs that are affected by politics, law and history. To implement solutions, CBE students benefit from the study of natural resources and conservation in the fields of history, philosophy, political science, economics and law. 
Finally, modern ecology is a highly quantitative science that depends on advanced statistical methods to make valid scientific inferences.The CBE program provides substantially more statistical education than other undergraduate science options. 

Conservation Biology and Ecology Option Curriculum

  • Trains students broadly and comprehensively in ecology and conservation biology.
  • Provides extensive coursework in the scientific method and statistical analysis.
  • Is interdisciplinary, reflecting the broad scope of conservation biology.

MSU is located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, only 90 miles from Yellowstone National Park, which is the core of the largest intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states. A wide range of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems are found nearby, providing convenient opportunities for local research, in addition to projects underway on several other continents.   Examples of current research by CBE faculty include: ecological consequences of stream warming in Iceland;  the effects of climate change on plant-pollinator interactions in the Rocky Mountains; the consequences of introduced pathogens for Montana trout populations and stream communities; genetic consequences of barriers affecting the movements of small mammals; factors affecting the dynamics of large carnivores and their prey in Zambia; use of remote sensing to examine the effects of land use change and climate change on plant communities; identifying ecological factors that control the spread of disease in Wyoming ungulates; developing new methods of analysis for complex genetic data.

Features of the CBE Option

  • Focus on understanding natural and human-related processes that affect populations, species, communities, and ecosystems of the world
  • Understand methods to quantify and mitigate effects on populations, species, communities and ecosystems
  • Strong emphasis on ecology, with exposure to both biological (population and community) and biogeochemical (ecosystem) approaches
  • Coursework  addressing evolutionary/genetic approaches to ecology and conservation
  • Coursework addressing ecological consequences of climate change
  • High standards for statistical, logical and quantitative skills
  • Required exposure to research within the discipline
  • Exposure to courses on physical environment & human dimensions of conservation, including economics, law, history and social science
  • Emphasis on classes in written and spoken communication
  • Suitable for students preparing for a wide range of research careers
  • Strong preparation for graduate school, reflecting the reality that most jobs in ecology, conservation and wildlife biology require a graduate degree.

Conservation Biology and Ecology Faculty

Lindsey Albertson Assistant Professor, Ph.D. (Ecology), University of California Santa Barbara, 2013. Freshwater organism ecology and physical stream geomorphology; feedbacks between animals and sediment erosion; impacts of changing flow regimes and species invasions on ecogeomorphic linkages.

Laura Burkle Associate Professor, Ph.D. (Ecology and evolutionary biology), Dartmouth College, 2008. Community ecology; plant-animal interactions; pollination ecology; climate & land-use change; invasive species; conservation.

Scott Creel Professor, Ph.D. (Behavior, ecology and evolution), Purdue University, 1991. Conservation biology; population ecology; behavioral ecology & endocrinology; predator-prey dynamics.

Diane Debinski Department Head, Professor, Ph.D. (Biology), Montana State University, 1991. Conservation biology, ecology, restoration ecology

Wyatt Cross Associate Professor, Ph.D. (Ecology) University of Georgia, 2004. Aquatic ecosystem ecology, food webs, element cycling, anthropogenic effect on aquatic ecosystems

Andy Hansen ProfessorPh.D (Ecology) University of Tennessee, 1984. Landscape ecology and management; climate and land use change effects on biodiversity; sustaining ecosystems; conservation biology.

Steven Kalinowski Professor, Ph.D. (Biology) Arizona State University, 1999. Conservation genetics; evolutionary biology; wildlife and fisheries management.       

Ben Poulter Assistant Professor, PhD (Environmental science) Duke University, 2005. Terrestrial ecosystem modeling, vegetation dynamics, carbon cycle, disturbance, land cover and climate change impacts.

John Winnie Teaching Professor, Ph.D. (Biological sciences, behavior ecology) Montana State University.