Plant Biology and Conservation, MS

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The Master of Science degree in plant biology and conservation functions as a unique collaboration between ASU and the Desert Botanical Garden, a private botanical garden focused on plants of the Southwest and located only 2.5 miles from the ASU Tempe campus. This program provides a foundation for jobs in plant conservation in both the public and private sectors, as well as for continued academic training.

Our program is the only one like it in the Southwest and is one of only two in the United States. Students with a passion for the Sonoran Desert and other unique Arizona biomes work with ASU faculty and DBG research staff to develop their own conservation-related project, driven by their field-collected data.

In addition to campus resources such as the ASU Vascular Plant Herbarium, which holds more than 290,000 accessions, students have access to Desert Botanical Garden facilities boasting 140 acres of desert plants and the resources of the Desert Plant Research Center. The garden also coordinates the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance. This provides students access to research and job opportunities, as well as interactions with conservation groups and governmental agencies.

This degree is designed for students who want to pursue a conservation-oriented profession with government agencies or conservation groups. It is also considered the first step toward a PhD and academic career. Our alumni have jobs with the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, botanical gardens and as teachers. Others are pursuing their PhDs in conservation fields.

1 program in the Southwest
12 ASU faculty
8 DBG faculty

Degree Overview

This degree was established in 2014 in collaboration with Desert Botanical Garden. It addresses a growing need for plant conservation biologists in academic institutions, government agencies and non-government organizations.

The thesis and 30 hours of coursework will provide you with advanced training in plant ecology, evolution and floristics, as well as theory and practice in conservation biology.

How to apply

The plant biology and conservation master's program admits one group of students annually to start their program the following August. Before applying, we encourage you to read our Tips for Applying. 

To apply, follow the Apply Now link.

You will be asked to:

  • review university standards, degree program timelines and application requirements
  • complete graduate admission application
  • send official transcripts
  • send language tests (international students only)
  • complete the academic record form
  • submit a non-refundable application fee

Application Deadline
Applications are accepted Sept. 1 - Dec. 15. There is no guarantee that applications received after Dec. 15 will be reviewed.

In January, the top applicants will be invited to a recruitment event scheduled in mid- to late-February. We will notify you of your admissions status by April 15. 

Desired qualifications:

  • Research experience 
  • Undergraduate GPA minimum 3.0 (on 4.0 scale)
  • International students: TOEFL score of 100, or IELTS score of 6.5

Note: Your application is evaluated based on your entire application package.

All of our graduates are currently working in conservation plant biology for government agencies, conservation groups, botanical gardens and in PhD programs.

The collaboration between ASU and Desert Botanical Garden was indispensable. Staff at both institutions are extremely knowledgeable and inspiring. The combined resources available in the form of mentoring and facilities made this a well-rounded program, perfect for students with a passion for plant conservation and a wide variety of research interests. With research at its center, this program prepares students for entry into the job market or into doctoral study.

Dustin Wolkis, 2016 graduate, National Tropical Botanical Garden, Kalāheo, Hawaii


To meet the demands of conserving plant resources in a rapidly changing world, this degree focuses on three major areas: plant biology, quantitative skills and human interactions with plants. Students pursue topics such as population monitoring for rare and endangered plants, fire recovery, wild burrow digging as an agent for water availability, butterfly and plant response to changes in streamflow fluctuation in riparian ecosystems, seed bank studies and regional floristic studies.

This is a relatively small program, and individual students get a lot of support from mentors, each other, and the ASU botanical community. Fellow students and citizen science volunteers often help with fieldwork and other tasks needing assistance.

This degree will provide you with an intellectual foundation and practical, hands-on experience necessary for a career in plant conservation biology.


Credit Hours

Core courses


Elective courses






Total hours required


Courses and electives

This program requires 30 credit hours and a thesis. There is only one core course, but you will choose from a wide variety of electives taught by faculty at both ASU and Desert Botanical Garden. You will benefit from a wide range of topics and expertise and also be able to choose your specific area of interest.

One core course, PLB 502 Perspectives in Plant Biology (3), is required. It is taught on even-numbered years during the fall semester and can be taken in either year.  

Note: Undergraduate classes at 300 and 400 levels are taken for graduate credit along with extra graduate assignments as BIO 598.

  • BIO 303 Plant Diversity and Evolution
  • BIO 304 Plant Anatomy (spring 2019)
  • BIO 313 Arizona Flora* (taught even-numbered spring semesters)
  • BIO 331 Animal Behavior
  • BIO 423 Population and Community Ecology (spring semester)
  • BIO 471 Ornithology
  • BIO 494 Topic: Art and Science
  • BIO 498 Grasses of Arizona (fall semesters, occasionally)
  • BIO 498 Lichenology (spring 2019)
  • BIO 516 Foundations of Bioethics
  • BIO 519 Physiological Plant Ecology (alternate springs 2018, 2020, etc.)
  • BIO 521 Landscape Ecology
  • BIO 522 Populations: Evolutionary Ecology
  • BIO 527 Environmental Ethics and Policy Goals
  • BIO 549 Phylogenetic Biology & Analysis (offered occasionally)
  • BIO 591 Drylands in a changing earth
  • BIO 591 Parasites and their relatives (offered spring)
  • BIO 592 Human impact on ecosystem functioning
  • BIO 598 Seminar: Topics in Plant Biology
  • BIO 614 Biometry
  • BIO General Entomology
  • BIO/PLB 498/598 Botany Seminar
  • ESL 501 Environmental Grand Challenges
  • PLB 591 Perspectives in Plant Biology
  • PLB 598 Sonoran Desert Field Botany (spring even-numbered years)
  • PLB 592 Research (3 credit hours minimum)

PLB 599 Thesis (exactly 6 credit hours)

  • BIO/PLB 591 Botany Seminar (1). This is a participatory seminar taught fall and spring semesters. (required)

Up to 14 credit hours in special courses, e.g. below.

  • PLB 584 Fieldwork
  • PLB 584 Internship
  • PLB 598 Special Topics
  • BIO 598 Special Topics
  • PLB 590 Readings and Conference