Texas A&M University was among the first institutions of higher education to develop departments, degree programs, and research in ecology and natural resource management. To the present day, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension support departments and programs at the forefront of basic scientific discoveries in ecology, evolution, and conservation biology with important applications that address natural resource conservation challenges in our rapidly changing world.
Conservation biology was not a recognized field of study until the early 20th Century. Aldo Leopold, recognized by most as the founder of conservation biology, established the first course in Game Management at the University of Wisconsin in 1933. In 1939, Texas A&M University was one of just nine universities granted one of the initial Cooperative Wildlife Research Units funded by the federal government (the unit was dissolved in 1954). The Department of Wild Game was established at Texas A&M in 1937. During the same year, the Texas Cooperative Wildlife Collection (currently named the Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collection, now one of the largest vertebrate collections in the nation) was established with the donation of 542 bird and mammal skins. The department then underwent a rapid series of name changes: Department of Fish and Game (1938), Department of Game Conservation (1939), Department of Game and Fish (1940), Department of Wildlife Management (1948), and Department of Wildlife Sciences (1965). The department was renamed again in 1970 and remained the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences until a major reorganization of departments within the college in 2020. In 1980, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences had 26 full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members, and about 300 undergraduate majors and 150 graduate majors enrolled.
During the same period, there was a parallel development of academic departments focused on vegetation ecology and management of rangelands and forests that occurred within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and AgriLife Research and Extension. The Department of Range Management was formed in 1946, and the name was quickly changed to the Department of Range and Forestry to reflect the inclusion of a forestry curriculum in 1961, the name was changed to the Department of Range Science, and a separate Department of Forest Science was established in 1969. The first Ph.D. in Forestry s awarded by the Department of Range Science in 1965. In 1991, the Department of Range Science was renamed the Department of Rangeland Ecology and Management. The Department of Ecosystem Science and Management was formed in 2007 through a merger of the Department of Forest Science and Department of Rangeland Ecology and Management. In 2013, the department had 23 full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members, and about 250 undergraduate majors and 90 graduate majors enrolled.
In 2019, the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences were dissolved and reorganized to create two new departments, one with emphasis on fundamental knowledge and basic research in ecology and conservation biology, and one with emphasis on natural resource management, especially with regards to rangelands in Texas surrounding regions. The forestry program now resides within the new Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology. AgriLife Research and Extension personnel were placed within the new Department of Rangeland, Wildlife and Fisheries Management. New degrees were developed within each of these new departments.
The Future of the Department
The Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology (ECCB) was established in January 2020 within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. ECCB faculty, staff and students conduct disciplinary and interdisciplinary research across all ecological levels, from genes to ecosystems, with the aim of advancing fundamental scientific knowledge and contributing solutions for the conservation of biodiversity and natural resources in our rapidly changing world. During its first three years, the department was led by Interim Department Head, Dr. Kirk Winemiller, who is a University Distinguished Professor and former member of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences. Currently, the department has 18 Full Professors, 11 Associate Professors, 3 Assistant Professors, 1 Instructional Associate Professor, and 1 Instructional Assistant Professor. The department manages the Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collection (4 faculty curators, 2 staff curators), the Tracy Herbarium (1 faculty curator, 1 staff curator), and the Stable Isotopes for Biosphere Science Laboratory (1 faculty director, 1 staff manager). The department is committed to excellence in teaching, research, and professional service in ecology, conservation biology, and forestry. In the coming years, the department looks to build upon several areas of research strength related to biodiversity (e.g., ecology, evolution, systematics, biogeography, population genetics) and ecosystems (e.g., ecohydrology, vegetation ecophysiology, elemental/nutrient cycles, remote sensing, geographic information systems, simulation modeling). The department conducts local, regional, and international research and offers several study-abroad opportunities for students. The department’s faculty includes researchers who are global leaders in their fields of study, and each year many international scientists and scholars come for professional exchange visits to the department for collaboration and training.
The Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology anticipates continued research excellence and growth in its undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Interested students are invited to explore our webpages for information about degrees, curricula, and opportunities for scholarships and research experiences. Please feel free to contact any member of our faculty or staff for further information.