Skip to main content

Certification Requirements

Certification now follows a rolling model for applications and approvals. If you have questions after reviewing this website, please contact cert@nullesa.org or 202-833-8773.

The period of certification lasts for 5 years, retroactive to the first day of the month the application was approved and expiring on final day of the same month 5 years hence. ESA staff will communicate with you about your status beginning at least 60 days prior to expiration, and will additionally remind you to submit your CEU data on a regular basis.

If you currently hold a certification from pre-2021 and will expire the next June from now, you should recertify in the spring of the year your certification expires; if your certification expired in the previous June, you may still recertify or upgrade.

We now allow 2 years’ grace periods to recertify or upgrade, but you will be required to apply anew in full if your certification has lapsed beyond that grace period.

Minimum Education Requirements to Apply

Candidates for certification must have completed at least a bachelor’s degree or a higher degree in ecology or a related science. Completed undergraduate or graduate coursework must include the following, totaling 42 credits. Full requirements include areas of coursework and should include some core topics.

Eligibility per Level

Please use this table for a general overview of requirements; specifics for each category follow below. Following approval of the minimum CEU type requirements by the Board of Professional Certification, this table will list requirements to upgrade as well.

  Degree Requirement Professional Experience (Years)
Ecologist in Training Bachelor’s + 0
Cover Letter Detail: Career aspirations, highlights of research/work to date
Associate Ecologist Bachelor’s + 1
Cover Letter Detail: Field work, data skills, understanding of the human dimension in ecological systems
Ecologist Bachelor’s + 2 with master’s degree; 5 with bachelor’s
Cover Letter Detail: Independent studies, complex data analyses, journal publication, report writing, oral presentations, understanding of the human dimension in ecological systems
Senior Ecologist Bachelor’s + 5 with doctoral degree; 10 with bachelor’s/master’s
Cover Letter Detail: Thorough knowledge of ecological theory and application, including the interdependence and impact of humans on ecosystem structure, function, and environmental change; written original contributions of original interpretation of ecological information; technical or organizational competence as evidenced by supervision of projects

Certified Ecologist and Senior Ecologist certification holders who hold that status for 10 consecutive years and are no longer working may upgrade to each level’s respective Emeritus designation. Contact cert@nullesa.org to learn more.

Time spent in graduate school beyond the degree being used for the level of certification sought counts as half-time experience. Provide appropriate explanation of time spent in full-time employment (e.g. if working through school, during gap year, etc.) in your application. Length of experience will be evaluated only up to the application deadline.

Continuing Education

Please note that beginning 2021, all newly certified ecologists are required to complete 44 continuing education units over 5 years to be eligible for recertification or upgrade. Currently certified ecologists will be permitted to recertify or upgrade per their original requirements up to 2025; beginning with 2026, all recertifications and upgrades will require having met the CEU requirements. The ESA Board of Professional Certification approved this framework in January 2021.

Certified ecologists should report their CEU as they are earned, or at least on an annual basis. You can see how to do so here.

Interpretive leeway will be given to participants to identify suitable professional development opportunities per the requirements. ESA is partnering with other scientific organizations and training bodies to recommend opportunities for CEU in addition to the content that ESA provides — see the directory. Participants are encouraged to share ideas with staff as well.

Ethics and Professional Conduct

All ecologists certified by ESA shall conduct their activities in accordance with the ESA Code of Ethics and with the highest standards of professional conduct and personal honor. 

Application Materials

You can review the full application requirements here.


Here are additional details about the requirements for each certification level.

Ecologist in Training

This category is for graduating students who have met the education requirements for ESA certification but do not have the required professional experience for the current certification categories. The basic requirement is:

  • A bachelor’s or higher degree in ecology or a related science from an accredited college or university.

A holder of the Ecologist in Training designation is encouraged to use the full term, “Ecologist in Training,” on business cards or in official signatures, but may use the initialism “EiT” if space limits require.

Associate Ecologist

This category is for ecologists in the early stages of their career. Course requirements may be met with post-baccalaureate courses from an accredited college or university, but professional experience may not be counted until all coursework requirements for certification are met. The basic requirements are:

  • A bachelor’s or higher degree in ecology or a related science from an accredited college or university.
  • At least one year of post-graduate professional experience gained in the performance of research or data analysis demonstrating technical competence in current application of ecological principles and/or theory.
  • Relevant experience should have been gained within the five years preceding application at this level.

A holder of the Association Ecologist designation is encouraged to use the full term, “Certified Associate Ecologist,” on business cards or in official signatures, but may use the initialism “CAE” if space limits require.

Ecologist

This category is for established professional ecologists.

  • A master’s degree or higher in ecology or a related science from an accredited college or university and at least two years of full-time equivalent professional experience after degree; OR at least five years of professional experience in addition to the education requirement for Associate Ecologist.
  • In addition to the one-year experience requirement for Associate Ecologist, candidates must also demonstrate the ability to perform professional work in ecology, as outlined in the table above. This professional work must follow completion of the education requirement for qualification at the Ecologist level.
  • Relevant experience should have been gained within the five years preceding application at this level.
  • Note that, beginning in 2022, Ecologist in Training or Associate Ecologist certification holders who achieve a relevant doctoral degree may upgrade to the Ecologist level without completing other CEU for that 5-year certification period.

A holder of the Ecologist designation is encouraged to use the full term, “Certified Ecologist,” on business cards or in official signatures, but may use the initialism “CE” if space limits require.

Certified Ecologist Emeritus

This category is for retired, previously Certified Ecologists. The requirements are:

  • Previously certified as a Certified Ecologist for at least 10 years, with no more than a total two-year lapse between periods of certification.
  • May no longer be employed full-time.
  • DO NOT USE THE APPLICATION FORM for this designation. Contact cert@nullesa.org if you are interested.

If the Certified Ecologist Emeritus desires to depict certification on any official document, they are encouraged to use the term “Certified Ecologist Emeritus.” This is meant as an honorary recognition and does not imply continued professional status. The initialism “CEE” is acceptable if space limits require.

Senior Ecologist

This category is for professional leaders in ecology who have established a track record of excellent contributions to the field in applied and analytical environments.

  • A doctoral degree in ecology or a related science from an accredited college or university and at least five years of full-time equivalent professional experience after degree; OR at least 10 years of professional experience after completion of the minimum education requirements for certification (qualifying bachelor’s degree or completion of required coursework in post-baccalaureate courses).
  • Course requirements may be met with post-qualifying degree (post-baccalaureate or post-master’s) courses from an accredited college or university, but professional experience may not be counted until all coursework requirements for certification are met.
  • Relevant experience should have been gained within the five years preceding application at this level.
  • Note that, beginning in 2022, Ecologist certification holders who achieve a doctoral degree may upgrade to the Senior Ecologist level without completing other CEU for that 5-year certification period.

A holder of the Senior Ecologist designation is encouraged to use the full term, “Certified Senior Ecologist,” on business cards or in official signatures, but may use the initialism “CSE” if space limits require.

Recertification applications at the senior ecologist level require only a cover letter and up-to-date CV if the applicant is, at the time of application, currently certified as a Senior Ecologist by ESA and a member of the Society in good standing.

Senior Ecologist Emeritus

This category is for retired, previously certified Senior Ecologists. The requirements are:

  • Previously certified as a Senior Ecologist for at least 10 years, with no more than a total two-year lapse between periods of certification.
  • May no longer be employed full-time.
  • DO NOT USE THE APPLICATION FORM for this designation. Contact cert@nullesa.org if you are interested.

If the Senior Ecologist Emeritus desires to depict certification on any official document, they are encouraged to use the term “Senior Ecologist Emeritus.” This is meant as an honorary recognition and does not imply continued professional status. The initialism “SEE” is acceptable if space limits require.