Many physical, ecological, and social factors interact to shape the future of our ecosystems and societies. CSU’s innovative Ph.D. in Ecosystem Sustainability enables students to develop core competencies in ecosystem science—the study of organisms and the environment—and apply that knowledge to address real-world issues. We help develop leaders in sustainability science: a new generation of practitioners able to address complex, integrated social-ecological problems in collaborative partnerships with researchers, resource users, and decision-makers.

Our graduates have the tools to understand complex scientific questions in sustainability, and the leadership and collaborative skills required to address current and future issues in sustainability. The program serves as a foundation for a wide range of careers, including academic and scholarly professions, and work in government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and corporate and entrepreneurial environments.

A focus on solutions

Students work at the cutting edge of new research on ecosystem sustainability. Collaborating with some of the world’s leading ecosystem and sustainability scientists, students explore solutions to global problems related to water and natural resources, food supplies, energy, greenhouse gas management, land-use change, climate change, and environmental justice, among others.

What students can expect to gain

  • Detailed knowledge of quantitative and qualitative methods
  • An understanding of complex ecosystem functioning
  • A transdisciplinary understanding of social-ecological processes
  • The ability to work in teams across disciplines and with decision-makers, resource users, and team members outside of academia
  • The skills to conduct integrated assessments using systems approaches, conceptual, mathematical, geospatial, and statistical models, and innovative collaborative processes
  • The ability to apply critical thinking in the development of sustainable systems at local and global scales
  • Advanced training in the methods of urban ecology and on managing the sustainable cities of the future

Local and Global Relevance

Our graduate community benefits from a highly networked program with close working links to the city governments of Fort Collins, Boulder, and Denver, and to local agencies, farming communities, and non-profits across the Front Range. We work at the highest elevations of the Rockies, in the lowest short grass steppe regions, in cities, and in neighborhoods. Our active research programs are spread around the globe: from northern, eastern, and southern Africa to China, Mongolia, Nepal, Tibet, Honduras, and Mexico.

Effective Fall 2023

Required Core Courses:
ESS 501Principles of Ecosystem Sustainability3
ESS 692Seminar1
Areas – Select a minimum of 20 credits from the four Areas indicated below:20
Ecosystem Science
At least one course must be selected from the following (2-3 credits):
Foundations for Carbon/Greenhouse Gas Mgmt
Global Climate Change
Ecology of Forest Production
Biogeochemical Cycling in Ecosystems
Additional courses may be selected from the following:
Global Hydrologic Cycle
Global Carbon Cycle
Plant Metabolism
Foundations of Ecology
Community Ecology
Applications in Landscape Ecology
Ecophysiology of Trees
Fire Ecology
Conservation Biology
Soil-Plant-Water Relations/Water Stress
World Grassland Ecogeography
Ecology of Grasslands and Shrublands
Soil-Plant-Nutrient Relationships
Advanced Snow Hydrology
Hillslope Hydrology and Runoff Processes
Ecosystem Sustainability
The following course must be taken (2 credits):
Greenhouse Gas Policies
Additional courses may be selected from the following:
Advanced Issues in Agriculture
Emerging Issues and Challenges for Global Agr
Bioenergy Policy, Economics, and Assessment
Managing for Ecosystem Sustainability
Integrated Forage Management
Understanding Policy and Emerging Issues
Ecosystem Services on Agricultural Lands
Anthropology and Sustainable Development
Human-Environment Interactions
Issues in Manure Management
Applied Advanced Water Resource Economics
Contemporary Issues in Developing Countries
Interdisciplinary Seminar in Ecology
Biobased Fuels, Energy, and Chemicals
Natural Resources Policy and Biodiversity
Action for Sustainable Behavior
Sustainable Military Lands Management
Seminar in Environmental Philosophy
Politics of Environment and Sustainability
Environmental Politics in the U.S.
Political Theory and the Environment
International Environmental Politics
Comparative Environmental Politics
Environmental Policy and Administration
Riparian Ecology and Management
Environmental Justice
Globalization and Socioeconomic Restructuring
Environmental Sociology
Global Inequality and Change
Watershed Management in Developing Countries
Quantitative Methods
At least one course must be selected from the following (4 credits):
Applications in Greenhouse Gas Inventories
Niche Models
Models for Ecological Data
Additional courses may be selected from the following:
Ecological and Social Agent-based Modeling
Applied Econometrics
Environmental and Natural Resource Economics
Applications in Landscape Ecology
Advanced Quantitative Methods in Forestry II
Groundwater Modeling
Geographic Information Systems
Remote Sensing and Image Analysis
Concepts in GIS
Spatial Statistical Modeling-Natural Resources
Quantitative Spatial Analysis
Principles of Natural Resources Ecology
Rangeland Ecosystem Sampling
Modeling Ecosystem Biogeochemistry
Terrestrial Ecosystems Isotope Ecology
Regression Models and Applications
Generalized Regression Models
Experimental Design
Mixed Models
Probability with Applications
Mathematical Statistics with Applications
Quantitative Reasoning
Data Visualization Methods
Computational and Simulation Methods
Survey Statistics
Nonparametric Methods
Analysis of Time Series
Methods in Multivariate Analysis
Applied Bayesian Statistics
Methods in Spatial Statistics
Design and Data Analysis for Researchers I
Design and Data Analysis for Researchers II
Stochastic Processes I
Analysis of Time Series I
Data Analysis and Regression
Biostatistical Methods for Quantitative Data
Statistics for Environmental Monitoring
Applied Multivariate Analysis
Nonparametric Statistics
Statistical Computing
Theory of Sampling Techniques
Design and Linear Modeling I
Categorical Data Analysis and GLIM
Design and Linear Modeling II
Modeling Watershed Hydrology
Snow Hydrology Field Methods
Data Issues in Hydrology
At least one course must be selected from the following (1-3 credits):
Research Seminar
Public Communication Campaigns
Communication and Innovation
Information Design
Communicating Science and Technology
Leadership and Public Communications
Research and Dissertation (minimum credits required):
ESS 798Research3
ESS 799Dissertation3
Additional credits required to complete this degree may include:42
Master's Degree Credit (a maximum of 30 credits may be accepted from a master's degree)
Additional courses not taken previously from the Areas listed above
Additional credits completed under ESS 798 or ESS 799 beyond the minimum credits required above
Program Total Credits:72

A minimum of 72 credits are required to complete this program.