What is conservation biology and ecology?

June 14, 2022 · 3 min read · By ASU Online
Do you have a desire to study and preserve our natural environments? Read on to learn about conservation biology and ecology and how to prepare for a career in the field.

If your heroes include Rachel Carson, John Muir and Jacques Cousteau, a career in ecological sciences or conservation biology might be for you.

If you want to learn more about how to address environmental challenges such as climate change and habitat destruction, studying conservation biology or ecology can be the first step in a career dedicated to understanding and addressing environmental threats.

But first, let's examine what conservation biology and ecology entail.


What is conservation biology?

The late conservation biologist Michael E. Soulé famously referred to conservation biology as a "mission-oriented" science. Conservation biologists explore how humans impact Earth's biodiversity, with the ultimate mission, according to Soulé, of preventing the extinction of the species.

According to Society for Conservation Biology, the preservation of biodiversity is dependent on three questions:

  1. How is the diversity of life distributed around the planet?
  2. What threats does this diversity face?
  3. What can people do to reduce or eliminate these threats and, where possible, restore biological diversity and ecosystem health?

The principles of conservation biology have direct implications for the management of species and ecosystems, captive breeding and reintroduction, genetic analyses and habitat restoration. Students of conservation biology learn how to promote the sustainable use of biological resources and develop practical approaches to the complex problems threatening our world.

Studying ecology and conservation biology can be the first step toward many environmentally based careers, including climate change analyst, environmental analyst, environmental protection specialist, fish and game warden, fish and wildlife biologist, geographic information systems technician, hydrogeologist and park ranger.


What is ecology?

Ecology is concerned with the interrelationships of organisms and their environment. Studying the connections that plants and animals, including humans, have with their physical environment can help us better understand the world around us. Ecology helps us understand how we can best use and preserve the Earth's resources in a way that protects the environment for future generations.

Ecological studies have resulted in many discoveries that have helped us understand and improve our environment, natural resources and health. For example, ecological research in the 1960s led to the understanding that phosphorus in household laundry detergents and fertilizers was contributing to harmful algae blooms and oxygen depletion in lakes and streams, which in turn led to the decline of animal and plant species. This research ultimately led to national and global regulations on the use of phosphates in detergent.

In another example, ecological studies found a link between acorns and Lyme disease. The number of acorns fluctuates greatly from one year to the next, and acorns are a favorite food of field mice, so when there is an abundance of acorns, the mice thrive, and the mouse population explodes during the next year. When mice are hyperabundant, newly hatched larval ticks are more likely to find a mouse to latch onto and grow into adults by the following year. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, and studies have found that two years after a good acorn year is the riskiest time for human exposure to Lyme.


Studying conservation biology and ecology

If you're interested in understanding and finding solutions to complex environmental threats, pursuing a conservation biology and ecology degree online may be the right choice for you. 

Arizona State University offers a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences with a concentration in conservation biology and ecology degree online. Through online classes, virtual reality labs and optional in-person labs, students investigate ecosystem degradation and the principles that inform restoration efforts. The degree can help students prepare for graduate studies in environmental science or public policy. As one of ASU Online's life sciences degrees, it can also be used as a predecessor to medical school.

This program is a critical part of Arizona State University's commitment to a more sustainable world.

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