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Conservation Science Banner The content below is information specific to this academic department's fields of interest.

Differences Between Conservation Science and Environmental Science

Conservation Science and Environmental Science are both important new lines of interdisciplinary inquiry. Together, they provide powerful tools for addressing the host of environmental and biotic issues we face at the dawn of the 21st century. Muskingum College is pleased to offer distinctive majors in both of these exciting fields. Each program draws on our strong science tradition at the college and informs their action oriented pursuits with our liberal arts values. Yet, important differences define these disciplines and their associated programs.

Environmental Science emphasizes the investigation and analysis of how the four major features of the Earth's natural environment (the earth, waters, atmosphere, and living world) are linked and interact. In addition, there is often an emphasis on understanding how the natural environment is impacted by human activity. As an example, let us suppose a team of scientist has been called in to work on a lake experiencing acid rain. The environmental scientist will be very interested in studying a number of questions including things like: what's causing the rain to be acid? How will water chemistry in streams flowing from the lake be affected? Will weathering rates of rocks and thus soil formation be changed? Other examples of current problems studied by environmental scientists include groundwater contamination, changes in the cycling of nutrients in the ocean, and global climate change. Given the emphasis on analysis of physical processes, environmental science students require a solid grounding in the physical sciences (chemistry, geology, hydrology, physics and climatology) complimented by at least a modest exposure to biology and ecology. Although the primary focus of environmental science is investigation for the sake of improving our understanding of the natural world and the interactions between features of the earth system, workable solutions often require a contextual understanding of social, political, and economic dimensions related to the problem at hand.

Conservation Science is generally more "mission-oriented." Its emphasis is on providing information, principles and intellectual tools that can be used to formulate decisions or recommendations which directly impact a focused goal -- the maintenance of biological diversity. To return to our example of the acid lake system then, a conservation scientist would be more specifically focused on designing strategies to ameliorate declines in important populations or preventing the loss of whole species (e.g., the conservation scientist might explore strategies like adding buffering chemicals to the lake water to halt fish kills). Like environmental scientists, conservation scientists must also consider human impacts, but, mostly from the standpoint of considering how a sustainable strategy for helping fish populations can be developed that will not adversely affect local and regional populations of humans. To continue with our example, let's suppose fish are found to be declining due to acid rain and the acid rain is traced to emissions from regional factories. Ultimately, if lake fish are to be protected, a conservation biologists would have to help develop economic incentives that confer value on healthy fish communities (e.g., perhaps helping establish sport fisheries). As is the case with Environmental Science, Conservation Science also requires a solid grounding in the social sciences (particularly ethics, economics, political science and sociology). In contrast to environmental science, natural science training in conservation requires a much stronger emphasis on biology and ecology, rather than physical sciences.

Professionals in both disciplines are often motivated by aesthetic appreciation for the inherent beauty and value of the natural world. Indeed, there is enough overlap between the disciplines that the same individuals often work in both fields. It is also important to note then that training received in preparation for one field will almost certainly prove valuable in the other. Both majors feature interdisciplinary curriculums centered around a rigorous core designed to prepare students for exciting careers in a broad number of professional areas including: teaching, research, government service (e.g., management positions within the National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, United States Biological Service, as well as state and local positions), work with non-profit organizations (e.g., World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation), law and global commerce (e.g., environmental law, consulting). In addition, faculty leaders in the Environmental Science and Conservation Science at Muskingum work together closely to coordinate activities for the benefit of students in both programs. Interested students should arrange to see faculty advisors from either program for further information.