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Master of Science (Ecology)

Key facts

  • Available at Manawatū
  • Not all listed subject course options are on offer every year
  • Available for international students studying in NZ

Make the connection

Explore the connections between living things and their environment with the Master of Science (Ecology).

Find out more about the Master of Science parent structure.

What is it like?

The Ecology Group at Massey has a large teaching and support staff, with diverse expertise. As a postgraduate student undertaking masters studies you will have the opportunity to specialise in stimulating subjects ranging from:

  • Biodiversity and biogeography
  • Community ecology
  • Behavioural ecology
  • Lake and river management
  • Plant ecology
  • Modelling animal populations
  • Soil communities and ecosystem function

You will benefit from Massey’s strong collaborative links with New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, Landcare Research, AgResearch, NIWA, Fish & Game NZ, regional, district and city councils and private sector environmental consulting firms.

Facilities and equipment

The ecology complex at Massey has an excellent range of facilities and equipment including controlled temperature and light rooms, glasshouses and a workshop for making field equipment. There are labs for microscopy and image analysis, chemical analysis, ancient DNA, freshwater fish and invertebrates, insects and plant ecology, animal behaviour and soil invertebrate extraction.

Why postgraduate study?

Postgraduate study is hard work but very rewarding and empowering. The Master of Science (Ecology) will push you to produce your best creative, strategic and theoretical ideas. The workload replicates the high-pressure environment of senior workplace roles. Our experts are there to guide but you will find that postgraduate study demands more in-depth and independent study.

Not just more of the same

Postgraduate study is not just ‘more of the same’ undergraduate study. It takes you to a new level in knowledge and expertise especially in planning and undertaking research.

A good fit if you:

  • Are interested in the natural world
  • Good at solving problems
  • Enjoy sciences and analysing data
  • Want to have a positive impact on our world and environment
Sarah Jackman
Master of Science (Ecology)
Graduated in 2014
Weed Technician, AgResearch

“All the ecology staff are really lovely, especially once I got to post-grad and started interacting with them more…”

I really loved the MSc at Massey. It’s a lot easier once you begin to specialise in what you are truly interested in.

My study at Massey prepared me well for life in the workforce. The physical and mental job of setting up and carrying out your own experiments (with some help from others) is daunting. Afterwards, you feel much more prepared to tackle whatever life throws at you. I also learnt more subtle skills like how to read a paper properly, how to use previous experiences to assist in new challenges, and how to work on my own without direction.  

I loved studying at Massey. It’s a great campus, and all the ecology staff are really lovely. Massey campus in Palmerston North is nice and leafy; great green spaces to rest in. And having large CRIs close by is quite handy if you want to make contacts in those areas.

I really do love my job, apart from the times that I’ve just been stuck by a thistle!

My job is to work with a team of scientists to help them set-up, run and collect data from their experiments. This can be done on-site in a glasshouse or nearby field, or it can involve driving/flying to sites around the country. Some favourite examples of tasks I’ve had to do include; buying a sewing machine and sewing mesh bags for enclosing plants (I’d never used a sewing machine in my life!), buying and using a men’s nose hair trimmer to shave some thistle leaves (the lady at Briscoes looked at me weirdly when I said it was for work), carefully and individually placed hundreds of teensy tiny beetle larvae onto leaves, and using nail polish to paint dots on the back of some beetles.

Summer jobs with relevant CRIs, local govt agencies, etc., are a perfect way to gain the experience you need in this industry. You also make contacts and it can help you decide what area you want to specialise in.


A postgraduate qualification in ecology will allow you to approach many environmental research and management issues from a strong theoretical and practical base. Massey ecology graduates may find employment with the Department of Conservation, Regional Councils, Government Research Institutes and Environmental Consultants. Our postgraduate degrees are well regarded internationally so you may continue your studies overseas at a PhD level.

Others have added another specialisation to become an ecotoxicologist, environmental economist, or even an environmental lawyer.

Sought after by employers

International trends are for employers to reward postgraduate study well, especially in larger enterprises. The skills you learn are increasingly recognised as setting you apart from other potential employees.

Earn more

A 2017 Ministry of Education publication The post-study earnings and destinations of young domestic graduates, found that in New Zealand:

  • Young master’s graduates earn more than one and a half times more than the national median (five years after study)
  • Earnings and employment rates increase with the level of qualification completed
  • Five years after completion, the median earnings of young master’s graduates are 15% higher than for those with a bachelor’s degree.

World-leading lecturers and supervisors

Massey’s ecology staff are internationally renowned for their research and teaching and learning methods. You will be working with recognised ecologists, for example:

Professor Russell Death

Professor Russell Death is a world leading freshwater ecologist. Russell is a senior figure in the field of river ecology, freshwater management and aquatic biodiversity. He uses a range of machine-learning approaches to combine experimental and observational studies into predictive models to assist resource management decisions.

He is currently working on applying computer network fragility measures to understand the stability of food webs across a global database. He is using this as a basis for developing some robust nutrient limits to contribute to the development of the National Objectives Framework on freshwater.

In 2014 he was a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Birmingham (England). He worked on modelling the effects of climate change on the distribution of river invertebrates using Future Flows projects for 253 UK rivers. This involved workshops incorporating a range of academics, consultancy firms and the Environment Agency in the UK.

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