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6 Best Ecology Courses for 2024: From Species to Systems

Explore the wonders of biodiversity, interspecies relationships, and conservation in a variety of ecosystems with these top courses.

I grew up on a farm. Some of my best childhood memories are from the area of Australian bush at the back that wasn’t used for growing crops. I was fascinated by the giant ironbark and gum trees, the smaller shrubs, the caterpillars that ate leaves and turned into butterflies, the birds, and once or twice we even saw kangaroos hopping by. Admittedly, I wasn’t as keen on the spiders, mosquitos, and occasional snakes that were also part of the environment.

Later, I discovered that the relationships among species and with their environment is called ecology. As I compiled this list, I wanted to spend the next several weeks finishing all the courses I hadn’t yet done 🙂

Whether you’re interested in species interactions, conservation, or marine ecology, there’s a course for you. We’ve done the research, using Class Central, a search engine for online courses, and other sites to identify the top online ecology courses. With over 40 ecology courses and more than 3,000 people following the subject in our platform, we’ve collated ratings and reviews to narrow down the best choices for you.

These courses are created by well-known institutions: Rice University and the American Museum of Natural History, among others. We’ve also thrown in a dynamic offering from CrashCourse for good measure.

Click on the shortcuts for more details:

Here are our top picks

Course Highlight Workload
Best Introduction to Ecology Course (Rice University) 19 hours
Best Short Ecology Course (CrashCourse) 2-3 hours
Best Course About Conservation (American Museum of Natural History and Howard Hughes Medical Institute) 9 hours
Also Great Conservation Course (University of Leeds) 4 hours
Best Marine Ecology Course (American Museum of Natural History) 6 hours
Also Great for Marine Ecology (The University of Queensland) 36-45 hours

Best Introduction to Ecology Course (Rice University)

Scott Solomon, PhD, course instructor

Introduction to Biology: Ecology was released in Sept 2022. This comprehensive, up-to-date course includes resources such as excerpts from books and papers, and has worksheets to help you take notes for the lecture videos. The seven modules include topics such as ecological niches, species interactions, island biogeography, abiotic factors, and the future of the biosphere including the sixth extinction and loss of biodiversity. If you pay for the graded items and certificate, the final peer-reviewed assignment will give you the opportunity to study an organism of your choice and how it interacts with its living and non-living surroundings.

And if you enjoy the course, you can go on to the rest of the Biology: Ecology, Evolution, & Biodiversity Specialization by Rice University in Houston, Texas: Introduction to Biology: Evolution, and Introduction to Biology: Biodiversity.

Sofia FL, a Coursera learner, is enthusiastic: “Loved it!!! An amazing introduction to this perspective in life! Than (sic) you!”

Course Introduction to Biology: Ecology
Provider Coursera
University Rice University
Instructor Scott Solomon
Time Commitment 19 hours
Provider Rating 4.8 stars
Enrollments >3,000
Cost Free Audit
Quizzes/Assessment Items Yes, behind paywall
Certificate Paid

Best Short Ecology Course (CrashCourse)

Hank Green, course instructor

I’m a big fan of Hank Green of CrashCourse, so I was delighted to spot Ecology by CrashCourse in the catalog. Hank’s lively, upbeat style doesn’t suit everyone, but I love his simple explanations of sometimes complex topics, bolstered by relevant images and quirky animations. Even though it was created in 2014, the material is still very relevant today. And with over 3.5 million views, it’s proven to be a popular course that will give you an overview of ecology in under three hours.

You’ll start with a quick run-through of the history of life on Earth, followed up by population ecology, community ecology and predators, economic ecology and ecosystems, pollution, conservation, and biogeochemical cycles.

Mateus Martins says, “Agradeço pelo curso e pelo seu conteúdo impecável…” (Thank you for the course and its impeccable content…)

Course Ecology by CrashCourse
Provider YouTube
Institution CrashCourse
Instructor Hank Green
Time Commitment 2-3 hours
Class Central Rating 5.0 stars
Views >3,500,000
Cost Free
Quizzes/Assessment Items No
Certificate No

Best Course About Conservation (American Museum of Natural History and Howard Hughes Medical Institute)

Ana Luz Porzecanski, course instructor

Ecology: Ecosystem Dynamics and Conservation takes a holistic look at the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, whose wildlife is slowly recovering after being affected by 15 years of civil war. You will learn about systems thinking and how changes in one population can affect others in sometimes unexpected ways. A later module examines coastal ecosystems. While this course is described as an intermediate level, you don’t need previous experience in ecology. You can access useful and interesting links such as a list of classroom resources from the American Museum of Natural History.

According to Diana Hamid, “This course is really more than amazing…”

Course Ecology: Ecosystem Dynamics and Conservation
Provider Coursera
Institution American Museum of Natural History and Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Instructor Ana Luz Porzecanski
Time Commitment 9 hours
Class Central Rating 5.0 stars
Enrollments >60,000
Cost Free audit
Quizzes/Assessment Items Yes, free
Certificate Paid

Also Great Conservation Course (University of Leeds)

Chris Thompson, course instructor

With 128 reviews on Class Central, Ecology and Wildlife Conservation from the University of Leeds features in Class Central’s list of Best Online Courses of All Time. Why and how can we conserve the natural world? You’ll take a look at various ecosystems and how they are affected by human activity, including offshore wind farms, coral reefs, the Galapagos Islands, and bees. And read about more populations and communities in the comments from other learners as you go through the course.

In the words of David Stuart Hinley: “This was a really engaging and enjoyable course with a diverse range of case studies from around the world. I learnt so much from the other course participants as well as from the course itself…”

Course Ecology and Wildlife Conservation
Provider FutureLearn
University University of Leeds
Instructor Chris Thompson
Time Commitment 4 hours
Class Central Rating 4.5
Enrollments >32,000
Cost Free audit
Quizzes/Assessment Items Yes, behind paywall
Certificate Paid

Best Marine Ecology Course (American Museum of Natural History)

John Sparks, course instructor

Added to the catalog in June 2023, Marine Biology already has over 1500 enrollments. Since humans breathe air, it’s hard for us to explore the oceans, which contain only 13% of the species we know. Discover a range of ecosystems including river estuaries, coastlines, deep sea reefs and the ocean depths. We’ll learn about evolution, threats including destructive fishing techniques and how deep-sea organisms use biofluorescence and bioluminescence to survive. Several case studies cover a range of organisms and habitats.

A compact course that won’t take much time.

Course Marine Biology
Provider Coursera
Institution American Museum of Natural History
Instructor John Sparks
Time Commitment 6 hours
Provider Rating 4.8 stars
Enrollments >1,500
Cost Free audit
Quizzes/Assessment Items Yes, free
Certificate Paid

Also Great for Marine Ecology (The University of Queensland)

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, course instructor

It’s not quite deep ocean ecology, but Tropical Coastal Ecosystems by The University of Queensland covers coral reefs, mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, and more, where an estimated 25% of marine species live. Explore the challenges these ecosystems face, with up to 500 million people living near the world’s tropical coasts. Dive into tropical coastal ecosystems with plenty of above-water and underwater images and videos. Learn about calcification and nutrient cycles, field research and experimental design in this comprehensive course.

Knowledge check questions are found throughout. If you’ve paid for the certificate, you can access the end-of-week assessments and the final tropical ecology project. For the project, you design an experiment set on and around “Paradise Island”, decide what data to collect, then analyze data provided by the instructor.

Suzan Hann says: “…Very nice course. I learned a lot, and it was presented in a way to keep the interest…”

Course Tropical Coastal Ecosystems
Provider edX
University The University of Queensland
Instructor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
Time Commitment 36-45 hours
Class Central Rating 4.9 stars
Enrollment >26,000
Cost Free audit
Quizzes/Assessment Items Yes, behind paywall
Certificate Paid

Why You Should Trust Us

Class Central, a Tripadvisor for online education, has helped 60 million learners find their next course. We’ve been combing through online education for more than a decade to aggregate a catalog of over 150,000 online courses and 200,000 reviews written by our users. And we’re online learners ourselves: combined, the Class Central team has completed over 400 online courses, including online degrees.

I’ve personally completed over 150 online courses in a variety of topics including ecology.

How We Made Our Picks and Tested Them

Trying to find “the best” can be daunting, even for those of us who live and breathe online courses. Here’s how I approached this task.

First, I combed through Class Central’s Catalog and the internet to find a variety of free and paid open courses, some with certificates. You don’t need to enroll in a university to learn about ecology.

I extracted information from course syllabi and reviews, and compiled their ratings, leveraging the Class Central database with its thousands of course ratings and reviews written by our users as well as available course provider ratings. I watched some course videos to sample courses I hadn’t already taken.

Then, I defined the scope for these recommendations. An ecology course can cover various topics, so I chose top courses from a range of sub-fields.

Ultimately, I used a combination of data and my own judgment to make these picks. I’m confident these recommendations will be a reliable way to learn about ecology.

Pat Bowden Profile Image

Pat Bowden

Online learning specialist, still learning after 200+ online courses completed since 2012. Class Central customer support and help since 2018. I am keen to help others make the most of online learning, so I set up a website:  www.onlinelearningsuccess.org

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