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University Bulletin
Graduate Degree Programs

Ecology (ECLGY)

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DAVID EISSENSTAT, Chair, Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Ecology
101 Life Sciences Building
Phone: 814-863-3371

Fax: 814-867-1769



Degrees Conferred:

Ph.D., M.S.


The Graduate Faculty


The Program

This intercollege program emphasizes the properties of ecosystems by focusing attention on interactions of single organisms, populations, and communities with their environment. It is designed to give students a basic understanding of ecological theory and hypothesis testing and is complementary to other environmental programs that emphasize the human role in ecosystems.

The program is administered by a committee drawn from faculty members in several departments and colleges of the University. This committee and its chair are appointed by the dean of the Graduate School. The instructional staff is composed of participating faculty in those departments offering graduate courses in fields closely allied to ecology.

The advisory committee is selected by the candidate and his/her adviser and approved by the Graduate School. The committee has the responsibility for determining the course program and research acceptable in satisfying degree requirements.

Four options for specialization are offered: Quantitative Ecology, Microbial Ecology, Conservation Biology and Physiological Ecology. Students are not required to select an option. The quantitative ecology option includes mathematical and statistical modeling and applications of statistics to experimental design and data analysis. The microbial ecology option includes basic aquatic and soil microbial ecology and applications to recycling of materials and release of genetically engineered organisms. The conservation biology option is concerned with problems of maintaining the rapidly disappearing diversity of organisms and their habitats, and the global reservoir of genetic diversity that these organisms represent. The physiological ecology option is concerned primarily with the function and performance of organisms in their environment. Each option entails extra course requirements plus a thesis directed by an ecology faculty member in the option. Additional information can be obtained from the option coordinators.

Admission Requirements

Scores from the Grade Record Examination (GRE), including verbal, quantitative, and advanced biology test, are required for admission. Requirements listed here are in addition to general Graduate School requirements stated in the GENERAL INFORMATION section of the Graduate Bulletin. Candidates should have a strong science background, including chemistry through organic chemistry, mathematics through calculus, physics, and biology. A limited number of such courses can be made up while the student is pursuing graduate student.

Students with a background in another discipline that has potential value to original ecological work will be seriously considered. A junior/senior grade-point average of 3.00 or better (on a 4.00 scale) is required.

Students are strongly urged to choose their research interests and initiate communication with the relevant faculty member(s) before applying for admission. A student will not be admitted without the commitment of a faculty member to serve as the student's research adviser. Teaching and research assistantships are available only through the student's faculty adviser.

The top sheet (white copy) of the application and application fee are to be sent to the Graduate School. The applicant should forward the following directly to the program chair: (1) pink copy of the application; (2) three or more letters of recommendation regarding the student's academic and professional promise; (3) a concise one-page statement describing the student's goals both within the program and in professional life; and (4) GRE scores (general test and the subject test in biology) Specific inquiries about the Ecology Program may be directed to the program chair. Applications should be submitted by February 1 for summer or fall semester admission.

Master's Degree Requirements

In addition to Graduate School requirements, the instructional program includes two graduate core courses in ecology (one each in two of the three core areas: population ecology, community/ecosystem ecology, and physiological ecology), an advanced 3-credit statistic course, two credits of colloquium, a minimum of six thesis credits, breadth courses selected by the student in consultation with the research adviser and research committee, and a thesis research project directed by the student's adviser. A nonthesis option is available for the M.S. degree, at the adviser's discretion.

Doctoral Degree Requirements

In addition to Graduate School requirements, the instructional program includes three graduate core courses in ecology (one each of three core areas: population ecology, community/ecosystem ecology, and physiological ecology), two advanced 3-credit statistics courses, 4 credits of colloquium, breadth courses selected by the student in consultation with the research adviser and research committee, a minimum of 15 thesis credits, and a thesis research project directed by the student's adviser.

The communication and foreign language requirement for the Ph.D. degree may be satisfied by strong performance in two semesters of one foreign language or the equivalent. Both the candidacy and comprehensive examinations will be written and oral.

Biogeochemistry Dual-Title Degree Program

Graduate students with research and educational interests in biogeochemistry may apply to the Biogeochemistry Dual-Title Degree Program. Students in the Biogeochemistry Dual Title program are required to have two advisers from separate disciplines: one individual serving as a primary adviser in their major degree program and a secondary adviser in an area within a field covered by the dual-title program and a member of the Biogeochemistry faculty. Additional coursework from an approved list of courses is required. All students must pass a candidacy examination that includes an assessment of their potential in the field of biogeochemistry. A single candidacy examination that includes biogeochemistry will be administered for admission into the student's Ph.D. program, as well as the biogeochemistry dual-title. The structure and timing of this exam will be determined jointly by the dual-title and major program. The student's doctoral committee should include faculty from the major program of study and also faculty with expertise in biogeochemistry. The field of biogeochemistry should be integrated into the comprehensive examination. A Ph.D. dissertation that contributes fundamentally to the field of biogeochemistry is required.

Watershed Stewardship Option

The Graduate Option in Watershed Stewardship is intended to provide enhanced educational opportunities for students with an interest in water resources management who are enrolled in the Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Ecology at the University Park campus. The objective of the Graduate Option in Watershed Stewardship is to educate students to facilitate team-oriented, community-based watershed management planning directed at natural resources conservation and environmental problems encountered in Pennsylvania communities, especially non-point source water pollution. The Graduate Option in Watershed Stewardship requires 22 credits of graduate course work: 12 credits of breadth courses, 2 credits of Watershed Stewardship Seminar courses (FOR 591A and FOR 591B or LARCH 510.2), and 8 credits of Watershed Stewardship Practicum I and II courses (FOR 570 and FOR 571 or LARCH 540.2 and LARCH 550.2). Breadth courses will consist of three graduate credits of course work from each of four subject matter areas: (1) water resources science, (2) social science, public policy and economics, (3) humanities, and (4) communications and design. In the watershed stewardship practicum courses, students work in teams with community, government, and business leaders to analyze and understand natural resources and ecological issues and creatively synthesize appropriate solutions in the form of a written watershed management plan.

Other Relevant Information

Detailed descriptions of courses now available for students majoring in ecology may be found under the offerings of several ecologically oriented departments.

Student Aid

Graduate assistantships available to students in this program and other forms of student aid are described in the STUDENT AID section of the Graduate Bulletin.




Last Revised by the Department: Fall Semester 2008

Blue Sheet Item #: 36-06-185B

Review Date: 4/15/08

Faculty linked: 6/9/14



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