Life Sciences 


Degrees Offered:

  • BA
  • MA
  • PhD
  • Minor*

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Degree Requirements

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* = Minors are not technically a degree, but can be pursued to supplement a bachelor's degree

The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology is home to research and scholarship exploring the principles driving ecological and evolutionary processes, including molecular mechanisms, genetics, behavior, population and community dynamics, morphology and systematics. 

The department features a diverse yet highly collaborative team of scientists and students working across the globe and offers a highly interactive intellectual environment that prepares students for a career in the natural sciences. It is their mission to educate the next generation of scientists while also sharing their knowledge and passion for biology with the community.

In our large university, I have found my niche within the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department and community. My education has been defined by engaging coursework and faculty, who have supported me through opportunities for field and laboratory research, teaching peers and presenting at a national conference.

— Max Wasser (BA '17)

Ecology is, at it's core, the science of the relationships and interactions between organisms, including humans, and their physical environment. As one of three life sciences departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, the ecology and evolutionary department studies the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interaction between organisms, the interaction between organisms and their environment and the structure and function of ecosystems.

Thanks in part to that flexibility, a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology lends itself well to careers across the board—from ecologists working in the field, to zoologists working with captive animals, to botanists working in a lab, to environmental educators working with children to inspire a love of the outdoors. 

At CU Boulder, the undergraduate program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology is a thriving, inspiring hub housing passionate students and faculty who are engaged in many different applications and projects relating to their areas of curiosity and expertise. Because of that, the department is one of the best in the world, with the undergraduate program ranking #24 in the world, according to the most recent US News and World Reports rankings, and the overall department ranking #33 in the world by different metrics.

In addition, the department has a number of excellent and award-winning faculty, including, but not limited to, two Professors of Distinction, a number of Highly Cited Researchers, and numerous Entomological Society of America, Fulbright and Guggenheim fellows.

The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology is internationally recognized in several areas of research, including behavior, genetics, morphology and systematics. Roughly half of the faculty in the department focus on the adaptation and functioning of organisms in the context of environment, while the other half study higher levels of organization, including populations, communities and ecosystems. 

Altogether, the research from this department has relevance for global climate change, conservation biology and revealing fundamental mechanisms underlying the structural and functional adaptations of organisms.

Their diverse faculty also include several who have joint affiliations with museums, institutes and centers within CU Boulder, like BioFrontiers Institute, the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, the Center for Science, Technology and Policy Research, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute and the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, other departments like Environmental Studies, Anthropology and Computer Science.

For the undergraduate students pursuing a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, there are a number of research opportunities beyond just class work:

  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology students have many opportunities to work on research projects with faculty, either in independent study, or through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) or the Biological Sciences Initative (BSI). These two programs offer students a chance to work alongside a faculty sponsor on original research. Learn to write proposals, conduct research, pursue creative work, analyze data and present the results. For more information on UROP, call 303-492-2596 or visit the UROP website. For BSI, visit the BSI website.

  • The department works with a number of world-class research facilities, including the university's Mountain Research Station—one of the best known sites for alpine research in the world. Other nearby field study areas include grassland, semideserts, coniferous forests, tundra, lakes, streams, and reservoirs at a range of elevations from 5,000 to 14,000 feet.

  • Students may also seek honors in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, which results in the designation of cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude at graduation. Honors work usually involves special coursework and an honors research project. For all interested, look into this program early because it involves securing a faculty sponsor and developing an individual project.

  • The experience of studying abroad can prove invaluable for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology majors. The first-hand experience abroad can expose students to the world’s biological diversity and different approaches to the study of biology. The university offers more than 100 programs throughout the world for academic credit. Students may spend a few weeks to a full academic year abroad, depending on the program you select. Some programs require prior language study or other prerequisites, so early planning for study abroad is essential. Further information about study abroad is available from Education Abroad, 303-492-7741 or on the education abroad website.

Students who understand how organisms interact with their environment and are constrained by their evolutionary histories, are well prepared for a variety of scientific fields or related fields, such as industrial and research laboratory work; research and manufacturing positions in biotechnology industries; health care organizations; technical editing and publishing; scientific illustration; scientific communication; scientific journalism; wildlife conservation projects; employment with gas and oil companies, or firms that produce agricultural chemicals, pest controls, dietary supplements, foods, and beverages; positions in environmental science or ecology for county, state, and federal agencies; entry-level jobs with zoos, arboreta, and museums; environmental education; positions as sales and service representatives in business and industry, including pharmaceuticals and medical products; and a variety of management training programs. As well, if you earn Colorado teacher licensure, students may qualify to apply for high school teaching positions following their major.

Ecological and evolutionary principles underlie most current issues in human ecology, local and global environmental change, dietary health, and epidemiology. When combined with elective courses in related departments, the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major is an ideal preparation for post-graduate studies in medicine, public health, environmental law, and environmental policy.

Career Services offers free services for all CU Boulder degree-seeking students, and alumni up to one year after graduation, to help students discover who they are, what they want to do, and how to get there. They are the bridge between academics and the world of work by discussing major and career exploration, internship or job searching, and graduate school preparation. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects:

  • That 2016-2026 job growth for wildlife biologists and zoologists with a bachelor’s degree will be 8 percent, same as the average for all jobs.
  • Median 2016 pay for wildlife biologists and zoologists was $60,520, according to the bureau.
  • That 2016-2026 job growth for environmental biologists and specialists with a bachelor’s degree will be 11 percent, faster than the average for all jobs.
  • Median 2016 pay for environmental biologists and specialists with a bachelor’s degree was $68,910, according to the bureau.

Estimated EBIO Salary Info

At CU Boulder, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology graduates earn roughly the same as the nationwide average of comparable majors as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. CU Boulder alumni in this discipline earn an estimated annual salary of $64,290, based on a pool of 583 alumni who graduated between 2006 and 2018. This amount, however, is lower than the average for all CU Boulder graduates with a bachelor's degree, according to a survey by Esmi Alumni Insight of 25,000 alumni who graduated during the same stretch.

The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology has an extensive alumni network working in a variety of industries across the globe. Two alumni of the program are:

  • Nathan Sanders (BA '94) is a professor and director of the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Vermont.

  • Greg Asner (PhD '97) is a professor of earth system science in the Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University. He is a member of  the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the Ecological Society of America. In 2017 he received the Heinz Award for Environment.