Systems Ecology

Program Description

Program Background

The University of Montana has created a new graduate program in "Systems Ecology" as an intercollegiate program between the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and the College of Forestry and Conservation (CFC). Systems ecology is an interdisciplinary approach to the study of ecological systems that focuses on interactions and transactions within and among biological systems. Systems ecology recognizes the strongly interactive role that humans play affecting most of the earth's ecosystems. As such, this program plays a vital role in developing fundamental, interdisciplinary understanding of interactions of physical, chemical and biological factors affecting ecological systems across spatial and temporal scales and the factors affecting coupled natural and human systems. Systems Ecology focuses on transdisciplinary approaches to understanding ecological systems and fosters faculty and graduate students who desire to synthesize that understanding across multiple scales ranging from genes to ecosystems and minutes to millennia while coupling the natural and cultural sciences.


Systems ecology is inherently interdisciplinary. As such the program is characterized by broad collaboration across colleges and departments within the university. UM faculty, irrespective of college or department, participate in the graduate program. The Division of Biological Sciences (CAS) is the primary administrative home for the program providing a single administrative and academic program. Graduate students mentored through the program conduct research on some facet of systems ecology, broadly defined. (Read more at

Degrees Offered

M.S. Systems Ecology


Master's students must complete a committee-approved program-of-study composed of at least 30 semester credits of graduate-level coursework and successfully write and defend a thesis. As many as 10 credits may be thesis (BIOL 599), and at least 10 credits of the non-thesis coursework must be at the 500 level or above. Master's students must complete their program-of-study within five years.

Every Systems Ecology MS student must also complete a condensed core program in systems ecology. Additional courses will be selected in consultation with the graduate committee to support the research program and student's career goals. The condensed core program will consist of the following elements:

  • Fundamentals of Ecosystem Ecology (new 500-level graduate course including physical, biological, and social perspectives [see course description below])
  • Integrated Systems Ecology (new 500-level graduate course [see course description below])
  • Annual participation in the Systems Ecology Seminar Series
  • A Systems Ecology oriented thesis

In addition to the core program, each Systems Ecology MS student will select, under the supervision and advice of their graduate committee, relevant course work from a broad suite of graduate courses. (Read more at

Ph.D. Systems Ecology


Basic requirements are a minimum of 60 semester credits beyond a bachelor's degree. As many as 20 credits may be dissertation, (e.g., BIOL 699). The other 40 credits may include coursework, graduate seminars, or independent research (e.g., BIOL 596). Up to 30 credits can be from a master's degree as approved by the student's committee and accepted by the Graduate School. PhD students must also successfully complete comprehensive exams (written and oral) and a successful defense of a dissertation of original research. PhD Students must complete their program-of-study within seven years.

Systems Ecology PhD students must complete the PhD level core program as an integral part of their program-of-study, as well as additional courses that support their research program and career goals. The PhD level core program will consist of the following elements:

  • Fundamentals of Ecosystem Ecology (new 500-level graduate course including physical, biological, and social perspectives [see course description below])
  • Integrated Systems Ecology (new 500-level graduate course [see course description below])
  • A graduate level research methods course relevant to the student's research problem (drawn from existing courses)
  • An ecological modeling course relevant to the student's research problem (drawn from existing courses)
  • Annual participation in a Seminar Series focused on Systems Ecology and related areas
  • Comprehensive Exams (written and oral) focused on the student's Program-of-study and a of research
  • Systems Ecology oriented dissertation

In addition to this core program, PhD students will select, under the supervision of their graduate committees. (Read more at


How to Apply

Systems Ecology is an Intercollegiate Graduate Program with faculty and graduate students distributed across the UM campus. However, the academic unit that administers the program is the Division of Biological Sciences (DBS). Thus, even though a faculty member may be "housed" in their academic home elsewhere, all Systems Ecology graduate student applications get routed through the DBS Office.

To apply, go to the Applying for Admission where you will find the Application Page and Instructions.

Identify in your Application that you are interested in working with a specific Systems Ecology faculty advisor and that you are interested in the Systems Ecology graduate program. Your application will then get routed to the Division of Biological Sciences and to the DBS Office Manager & Graduate Programs Coordinator. From there it will go to the Program Director of the Systems Ecology graduate program for review by the SE Graduate Admissions Committee. Recommendations from the Committee are sent to the UM Graduate School for action. Applicants receive an official "letter of notification" from the Graduate School, not from either their potential Advisor or from the Systems Ecology program. It is recommended that you contact a SE Faculty Advisor in the area of your science and research interests in advance of sending in your application.

1. Application Materials and Deadline

Fall - Priority will be given to complete application packets postmarked by January 10. Complete application packets received after this date will be considered on a space available basis.  Consideration will begin on January 15th.

Instructions for applying to the Graduate School are in the Applying for Admission section on this web site.

In addition to the application materials required by the Graduate School, the Division of Biological Sciences also require:

  • A statement of purpose (1-2 pages).
  • Three letters of recommendation (We prefer electronic submission through the Admission Application. If the electronic method is used there is no need to send paper copies to the department.)
  • A curriculum vitae.

  • SE also requires that you include a 1 – 3 page statement of research interest with your CV.

2. Program Requirements for Admission

  • Grade point average of at least 3.0 for all college work (4.0=A).
  • GRE test - 60th percentile in verbal, quantitative, analytical, and subject scores.

3. International Students

Systems Ecology

Department website

Federal Express Delivery – Street Address
32 Campus Drive HS 104
Missoula, MT 59812-4824

Sherrie Wright, Graduate Programs Coordinator
Phone: (406)243-4433

Maury Valett, Program Director
Phone:  (406) 243-6058