The Many Branches of Ecology Majors

Student, Wellesley College

Imagine an anthill. You only see the entrance, one little ant door. But you know underneath is a huge network of tunnels . . . probably lots of little ant condos. That’s kind of what it’s like with ecology. You start with ecology as a “general” major, but a little bit of digging reveals tons of education and career possibilities. Just like these:

In some colleges and universities, ecology is considered a concentration of another major, like biology. Other schools might have ecology as a standalone major, or there may be several different majors that have to do with ecology. But however you get into the study of ecology, the options are vast and varied!

Ecology + biology

Combining the study of ecology with various aspects of biology is a very common move. You might see ecology along with evolutionary biology, biochemistry, biophysics, or molecular biology. Ecology may also be studied with biomedical sciences, which include studying animal behavior (ethology), how humans interact with the animals and plants around them (ethnobiology), or the effect of low temperatures on various organisms (chronobiology). If you also enjoy mathematics, biomathematics or bioinformatics, which cover the mathematics required for biology, might tie into your ecology studies. Another major related to both biology and ecology is biotechnology, which centers on using information from various fields to improve biological products.

Ecology + environmental science

Not so surprisingly, there are also many majors related to both ecology and environmental science. An environmental science major in itself may require you to study a certain amount of ecology. Or ecology could be combined with a major like environmental science and ecosystem sciences to study the impact humans have on various ecosystems. A major in environmental and resource economics—the study of the management of key resources that allow both humans and ecosystems to survive—requires some knowledge of ecology as well.

Related: Environmental Science Majors and Potential Jobs

Ecology + agriculture

The study of ecology could also be combined with several topics within the study of agriculture, from the growing of fruits, veggies, and grains to raising domestic animals. Livestock husbandry is the study of how to breed, process, and care for livestock, and because of the involvement with animals it could require some knowledge of ecology. Aquaculture is similar to livestock husbandry but for marine animals, so it requires knowledge of marine ecology.

If you prefer working with plants to animals, you could study crop production to learn how to best grow specific crops. Some schools also have majors in agricultural production, which studies the more general process of crop production and could easily be combined with the study of ecology. If you’re a wine snob (or aspiring wine snob, since you might have to decide before you’re 21!), you could consider viticulture and enology, which is the study grape production for wine.

Ecology + the outdoors

To use ecology to study plants outside an agricultural context, you could pursue forestry or botany. Or to work with animals outside an agricultural setting, consider wildlife ecology directed studies, which entails the study and implementation of conservation strategies for endangered species and their habitat. Other options include zoology, the general study of animals, or (pre-)veterinary medicine.

Ecology + lab work

Finally, if you enjoy getting to the nitty gritty foundations of science in the lab, there are a number of ways to use ecology on a microscopic level. Cell biology, microbiological sciences and immunology, and neurobiology are just a few ways you could work with different aspects of microogranisms and ecology. Another way to do this would be through the study of genetics. If you are interested in tiny infectious microbes and ecology, you could study pharmacology and toxicology to help develop new drugs to combat diseases. There’s also physiology to learn about one human body part in depth or pathology sciences to study disease and how it works directly.

To learn more about these many different facets of ecology, take a look at look at this handy guide from My Majors.

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