Ecology - Course Advice - Biological Sciences - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Studying Ecology at Canterbury

Lake TekapoEcology is the study of organisms and how they relate to their environment. Evolution is a closely related area of study that focuses on how organisms change to adapt to their local surroundings.

Related courses are also offered on plant systematics (the study of plant classification and evolutionary relationships) and animal behaviour.

Ecology is an increasingly important field, as we struggle to protect plants and animals from growing human impacts.

Ecologists and evolutionists try to understand our endangered native organisms such as kiwi, kakapo and rare plants, and they also try to predict or mitigate the effects of exotic pests such as possums and old man’s beard. This work can take them to a wide range of beautiful and unique areas in New Zealand and beyond.

The School has teaching and research strengths in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecology.

Career paths

Graduates who specialise in Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour may take up careers like:

  • District conservation officer for the Department of Conservation in Tekapo, Haast...
  • Monitoring of ecological values along streams, rivers and estuary for the Christchurch City Council
  • Field technician in Landcare Research’s programme to help meet Kyoto agreements on global warming
  • Member of project team with a private environmental consulting company
  • Operating an aquaculture facility for a Marlbrough Sounds seafood company


  • BSc (Hons) - Students complete a fourth year of study comprising four 400-level papers and a research project.
  • PGDipSc - Students complete a fourth year of study comprising four 400-level papers.
  • MSc - Students complete a fourth year of study comprising four 400-level papers (part I), followed by a one year research project (part II), written up as a thesis.
  • PhD - Students complete a 3 year research project written up as a thesis. Entry is after successful completion of either BSc(Hons) or an MSc.

Planning Your Degree

Below is a guide to help you select courses that will give you a well rounded degree in ecology.

Full regulations for endorsements can be found at:

Year 1



  • CHEM 111 Chemical principles and Processes [1]
  • BCHM 112 Structure and Reactivity in Chemistry and Biochemistry [1] (aka CHEM 112)
  • FORE111 Trees, Forest and Environment
  • GEOG 106 Global Environmental Change
  • GEOG 109 Physical Geography: Earth, Ocean, Atmosphere
  • GEOL 111 Planet Earth: An Introduction to Geology
  • GEOL 115 The Dynamic Earth System
  • MATH 101 Methods of Mathematics [2]
  • SCIM 101 Science, Maori and Indigenous Knowledge

Year 2



Year 3


  • BIOL 309 Experimental Design and Data Analysis for Biologists [3]
  • BIOL 375 Freshwater Ecosystems
  • BIOL 377 Global Change and Biosecurity
  • BIOL 378 Conservation and Ecology of Populations
  • BIOL 384 Marine Ecosystems


[1] If you have fewer than 14 credits of NCEA level 3 chemistry take CHEM 114 before starting BCHM/CHEM 112.
[2] MATH101 is strongly recommended unless you have good NCEA level 3 maths credits.
[3] BIOL309 is essential for postgraduate biology.