Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology

Administrative Information

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Dr. Matthew Palmer, 1010 Schermerhorn; 854-4767;

Evolutionary Biology of the Human Species Adviser: Dr. Jill Shapiro, 1011 Schermerhorn Ext; 854-5819;

Academic Department Administrator: Lourdes A. Gautier, 1014B Schermerhorn Extension; 854-8665;

Departmental Office: 10th Floor Schermerhorn Extension; 854-9987

Walter Bock (Biological Sciences)
Marina Cords (also Anthropology)
Ruth DeFries
John Glendinning (Barnard)
Kevin Griffin (Earth and Environmental Sciences)
Paul Hertz (Barnard)
Ralph Holloway (Anthropology)
Darcy Kelley (Biological Sciences)
Don Melnick (also Anthropology and Biological Sciences)
Shahid Naeem
Paul Olsen (Earth and Environmental Sciences)
Robert Pollack (Biological Sciences)
Maria Uriarte

Associate Professors
Hilary Callahan (Barnard)
Steve Cohen (International and Public Affairs)
Brian Morton (Barnard)
Paige West (Barnard)

Assistant Professors
Steffen Foerster(Barnard)
Krista McGuire (Barnard)
Dustin Rubenstein

Elisa Bone
Joshua Drew
Matthew Palmer
Jill Shapiro

Adjunct Faculty/Research Scientists
Columbia University
James Gibbs (Center for Environmental Research and Conservation)
Cheryl Palm (Earth Institute at Columbia University)
Dorothy Peteet (Lamont-Doherty)
Miguel Pinedo-Vásquez (Center for Environmental Research and Conservation)
Pedro Antonio Sanchez (Earth Institute at Columbia University)
William Schuster (Center for Environmental Research and Conservation)

American Museum of Natural History
George Amato
Daniel Brumbaugh
James Carpenter
Joel Cracraft
Rob DeSalle
Ian Harrison
Christopher Raxworthy
Robert Rockwell
Mark Siddall
Nancy Simmons
John Steven Sparks
Eleanor Sterling
Melanie Stiassny
Ward Wheeler

The New York Botanical Garden
Michael Balick
Brian Boom
Roy Halling
Scott Mori
Christine Padoch
Charles Peters
Dennis Stevenson
William Wayt Thomas

Wildlife Conservation Society
Joshua Ginsberg
Carter Ingram
Martin Mendez
Robert Rose
Howard Rosenbaum
Eric Sanderson
Scott Silver
Patrick R. Thomas

Ecohealth Alliance
Peter Daszak
Parviez Hosseini
William Karesh
Kevin Olival
Kristine Smith

NYC Aubudon
Susan Elbin

Woods Hole
Micael T. Coe

The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology (E3B) was established in 2001 as a result of a multi-institutional collaboration through the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC). CERC is a consortium of five New York City–based science and research institutions: Columbia University, the American Museum of Natural History, The New York Botanical Garden, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Wildlife Trust. In creating E3B, the University and the consortium partners held that the fields of ecology, organismal evolution, population biology, and environmental biology constitute a distinct subdivision of the biological sciences with its own set of intellectual foci, theoretical foundations, scales of analysis, and experimental designs and methodologies.

E3B’s mission is to educate a new generation of scientists and practitioners in the theory and methods of ecology, evolution, and population biology. The department’s educational programs emphasize a multi-disciplinary perspective on the earth’s declining biodiversity, integrating understanding from relevant fields in biology with insights from related fields in the social sciences. Though its administrative staff, core faculty, and headquarters are based at Columbia University, the department’s academic staff is also based at the other partner institutions in the CERC consortium. Through the auspices of this consortium, the department is able to tap into a broad array of scientific and intellectual resources in the greater New York City area.

In close coordination with the consortium, E3B has assembled a research and training faculty of over 90 members from the five partner institutions. This academic staff covers the areas of plant and animal systematics, evolutionary and population genetics, demography and population biology, behavioral and community ecology; and related fields of epidemiology, ethnobotany, ethnobiology, public health, and environmental policy. Harnessing the expertise of these major research institutions, E3B covers a vast area of inquiry into the evolutionary, genetic, and ecological relationships among all living things.



The Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC) was founded in 1995 as a consortium of five New York City science and education institutions to address the challenges of conserving the earth’s biological diversity in the face of rapid global change. The five CERC partners are: the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), Columbia University (CU), the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and Wildlife Trust (WT). These institutions collectively comprise a staff of scientists and a range of biodiversity-related research that is unequalled anywhere in the world.

The underlying principle of CERC’s unique partnership is that the scope and complexity of the environmental conservation challenge demand an interdisciplinary approach that cannot be addressed by any single institution. CERC, therefore, brings together scientists from diverse natural and social science backgrounds to apply their intellectual resources to a diverse set of education, professional development, and research programs which form the core of CERC’s programmatic activities.

CERC and E3B share office space and administrative facilities, as well as scientific and faculty resources. Both are housed in a 15,000 square-foot space on Columbia University’s Morningside Heights campus that includes: administrative and faculty offices, wet and dry labs, and seminar and lecture rooms.

While most of the degree program activities are based on campus, the true strength of E3B’s programs is realized through the staff expertise, laboratories, collections, field sites, and research initiatives of all five CERC member institutions.

In addition to the off-campus CERC facilities, the Columbia community offers academic excellence in a range of natural and social science disciplines that are directly related to biodiversity conservation including: evolution, systematics, genetics, behavioral ecology, public health, business, economics, political science, anthropology, and public and international policy. These disciplines are embodied in world-class departments, schools, and facilities at Columbia. The divisions that bring their resources to bear on issues most relevant to E3B’s mission are: the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the School of International and Public Affairs, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the International Research Institute for Climate Predication, the Black Rock Forest Reserve in New York State, the Rosenthal Center for Alternative/Complementary Medicine, the Division of Environmental Health Sciences at the School of Public Health, and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). Several of these units of the University are networked through the Earth Institute at Columbia, a division of the University that acts as an intramural network of environmental programs and supplies logistical support for constituent programs, through planning, research, seminars, and conferences. All of the above schools, centers, and institutes contribute to finding solutions for the world’s environmental challenges.


The American Museum of Natural History is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. Since its founding in 1869, the Museum has advanced its global mission to discover, interpret, and disseminate information about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe through a wide-reaching program of scientific research, education, and exhibitions. The institution comprises 45 permanent exhibition halls, state-of-the-art research laboratories, one of the largest natural history libraries in the Western Hemisphere, and a permanent collection of 32 million specimens and cultural artifacts. With a scientific staff of more than 200, the Museum supports research divisions in anthropology, paleontology, invertebrate and vertebrate zoology, and the physical sciences. The Museum’s scientific staff pursues a broad agenda of advanced scientific research, investigating the origins and evolution of life on earth, the world’s myriad species, the rich variety of human culture, and the complex processes that have formed and continue to shape planet Earth and the universe beyond.

The Museum’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (CBC) was created in June 1993 to advance the use of scientific data to mitigate threats to biodiversity. CBC programs integrate research, education, and outreach so that people, a key force in the rapid loss of biodiversity, will become participants in its conservation. The CBC works with partners throughout the world to build professional and institutional capacities for biodiversity conservation and heightens public understanding and stewardship of biodiversity. CBC projects are under way in the Bahamas, Bolivia, Madagascar, Mexico, Vietnam, and the Metropolitan New York region.

The Museum’s scientific facilities include: two molecular systematics laboratories equipped with modern high-throughput technology; the interdepartmental laboratories, which include a state-of-the-art imaging facility that provides analytical microscopy, energy dispersive spectrometry, science visualization, and image analysis to support the Museum’s scientific activities; a powerful parallel-computing facility, including a cluster of the world’s fastest computers, positioned to make significant contributions to bioinformatics; and a frozen tissue facility with the capacity to store one million DNA samples.


The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), with its 7 million specimen herbarium, the largest in the Western Hemisphere, and its LuEsther T. Mertz Library, the largest botanical and horticultural reference collection on a single site in the Americas, comprises one of the very best locations in the world to study plant science. NYBG’s systematic botanists discover, decipher, and describe the world’s plant and fungal diversity, and its economic botanists study the varied links between plants and people. The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the largest Victorian glasshouse in the United States, features some 6,000 species in a newly installed “Plants of the World” exhibit. The new International Plant Science Center stores the Garden collection under state-of-the-art environmental conditions and has nine study rooms for visiting scholars. All specimens are available for on-site study or loan.

In recent years, NYBG has endeavored to grow and expand its research efforts, supporting international field projects in some two dozen different countries, ranging from Brazil to Indonesia. In 1994, AMNH and NYBG established the Lewis and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics Studies to promote the use of molecular techniques in phylogenetic studies of plant groups. This program offers many opportunities for research in conservation genetics. NYBG operates both the Institute for Economic Botany (IEB) and the Institute of Systematic Botany (ISB). The ISB builds on the Garden’s long tradition of intensive and distinguished research in systematic botany—the study of the kinds and diversity of plants and their relationships—to develop the knowledge and means for responding effectively to the biodiversity crisis.

The Garden has also established a molecular and anatomical laboratory program, which includes light and electron microscopes, and has made enormous advances in digitizing its collection. There is currently a searchable on-line library catalog and specimen database collection with some half million unique records. Field sites around the world provide numerous opportunities for work in important ecosystems of unique biodiversity.


The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society, works to save wildlife and wild lands throughout the world. In addition to supporting the nation’s largest system of zoological facilities—the Bronx Zoo; the New York Aquarium; the Wildlife Centers in Central Park, Prospect Park, and Flushing Meadow Park; and the Wildlife Survival Center on St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia—WCS maintains a commitment to field-based conservation science. With 60 staff scientists and more than 100 research fellows, WCS has the largest professional field staff of any U.S.-based international conservation organization. Currently, WCS conducts nearly 300 field projects throughout the Americas, Asia, and Africa. The field program is supported by a staff of conservation scientists based in New York who also conduct their own research.

WCS’s field-based programs complement the organization’s expertise in veterinary medicine, captive breeding, animal care, genetics, and landscape ecology, most of which are based at the Bronx Zoo headquarters. WCS’s Conservation Genetics program places an emphasis on a rigorous, logical foundation for the scientific paradigms used in conservation biology and is linked to a joint Conservation Genetics program with the American Museum of Natural History. The Wildlife Health Sciences division is responsible for the health care of more than 17,000 wild animals in the five New York parks and wildlife centers. The departments of Clinical Care, Pathology, Nutrition, and Field Veterinary Programs provide the highest quality of care to wildlife.


For nearly three decades Wildlife Trust (WT) has been an international leader in species conservation research, environmental education, and professional training of conservation scientists. WT seeks to save endangered species from extinction through creative and interdisciplinary small-scale projects in collaboration with local scientists and educators. Working primarily in areas where there are human pressures, human-wildlife conflicts, and where there are highly diverse or unique ecosystems, WT trains local conservation professionals. Wildlife Trust’s principal resources are its field-based project leaders—local scientists and educators who excel at interdisciplinary conservation activities and communicate effectively with local people of diverse backgrounds.

In 1996, Wildlife Trust established an International Field Veterinary Program that has helped define the new discipline of conservation medicine. It currently co-manages the Center for Conservation Medicine. Wildlife Trust’s 2003–2004 programs support more than sixty projects from eighteen countries. Each project is unique, but all share the ultimate goal of saving wild species and their habitats through applied wildlife science, conservation medicine, environmental education, and professional training. WT carries out global projects in North America, Central America, the Caribbean, South America, Africa, and Asia.

Academic Programs

The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology runs two undergraduate majors/concentrations. The primary major is in environmental biology and the second is evolutionary biology of the human species. The foci and requirements vary substantially and are intended for students with different academic interests.

The environmental biology major emphasizes those areas of biology and other disciplines essential for students who intend to pursue careers in the conservation of earth’s living resources. It is designed to prepare students for graduate study in ecology and evolutionary biology, conservation biology, environmental policy and related areas, or for direct entry into conservation-related or science teaching careers.

Interdisciplinary knowledge is paramount to solving environmental biology issues, and a wide breadth of courses is thus essential, as is exposure to current work. Conservation internships are available through CERC and serve as research experience leading to the development of the required senior thesis.

Declaration of the environmental biology major must be approved by the director of undergraduate studies and filed in the departmental office, 10th floor Schermerhorn Extension.

The major in evolutionary biology of the human species provides students with a foundation in the interrelated spheres of behavior, ecology, genetics, evolution, morphology, patterns of growth, adaptation, and forensics. Using the framework of evolution and with attention to the interplay between biology and culture, research in these areas is applied to our own species and to our closest relatives to understand who we are and where we came from. This integrated biological study of the human species is also known as biological anthropology. As an interdisciplinary major students are also encouraged to draw on courses in related fields including biology, anthropology, geology, and psychology as part of their studies.