Certificate ProgramsCertificate Programs

Desert Ecology Certificate

Apply for Candidacy

There is a nonrefundable application fee of $50 to declare candidacy in this program.

Contact Information

Learn more about the Desert Ecology Certificate.

Professional Certificate in Desert Ecology - Field Nature Studies Program

California is home to a rich and diverse range of settings - mountain, desert, coastal and urban environments. The purpose of the Field Nature Studies Program is to help students better understand the complex ecological relationships within nature.

The program consists of:

The curricula for all five programs were developed in cooperation with an advisory panel of distinguished natural scientists. Each program emphasizes field study, augmented by classroom work and independent study. Field tours are led by instructors who are experts in natural science and history.

Who Can Benefit?

Because the focus is on field studies, the programs can augment earlier studies by professional naturalists. The programs also are designed for:

  • Interpreters at parks and museums
  • Nature photographers
  • Gardeners
  • Landscapers
  • Florists
  • Collectors

The programs are also for persons who simply want to know more about the natural world and ask "why" and "how" when they see a hawk coasting on a thermal breeze, a flower blooming in a high mountain meadow, or a burrowing animal adapting to the desert heat.

Course Schedule

Elective Courses (21 units)UnitsFallWinterSpringSummer
A Field Study of Birds: Fall *2.0Offered   
A Field Study of Birds: Spring *2.0  Offered 
A Field Study of Birds: Winter *2.0 Offered  
Biological Soil Crusts of Joshua Tree National Park1.0 Offered  
Bird Life of The Eastern Mojave - Spring Migration2.0  Offered 
Birds of Anza-Borrego1.5Offered   
Birds of Joshua Tree National Park1.0  Offered 
Birds of the Mojave Desert2.0Offered   
Botanical Illustration of Desert Flora1.0  Offered 
Chaparral of Southern California1.0  Offered 
Citizen Science and the Race North: Population Ecology of Joshua Trees In an Era of Climate Change2.0 Offered  
Desert Bighorn Sheep2.0    
Desert Flora2.0 Offered  
Desert Plant Ecology1.5    
Desert Tortoise Conservation Biology1.0 Offered  
Deserts of the World2.0    
Earthquakes and California: Geology's Dynamic Duo0.5    
Ecology of the Coachella Valley2.0    
Ecology of Joshua Tree National Park2.0  Offered 
Ecology of the Joshua Tree2.0    
Ecology of the Palm Oasis2.0    
Field Study of Birds: Southeast Arizona3.5    
Geology: Creation of the Joshua Tree Landscape1.0Offered   
Field Study of the San Andreas Fault: San Bernardino to Mecca Hills1.0 Offered  
Field Study of the San Andreas Fault: San Bernardino to Palmdale1.0Offered   
Flora of Joshua Tree National Park: Wildflowers1.5 Offered  
From Playas to Pines: The Diverse Landscapes and Habitats of the Eastern Mojave1.5    
Geology of the Basin and Range Province2.0 Offered  
Geology and Natural History of the Anza-Borrego Desert1.5    
Geology and Natural History of Death Valley1.5 Offered  
Geology and Natural History of Northern Death Valley1.5Offered   
Geology and Natural History of the Eastern Sierra1.5  Offered 
Insects and Other Arthropods of the East Mojave Desert1.5  Offered 
Insects and Other Arthropods of the Morongo Basin1.5Offered   
Introduction to Plant Identification and Ecology1.5  Offered 
Lizards & Snakes of the East Mojave2.0  Offered 
Native Plants of California: Medicinal Uses1.0  Offered 
Natural History of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine1.5   Offered
Natural History of the California Deserts2.0    
North American Deserts2.0    
Mammal Tracking in the East Mojave1.5Offered   
Reptiles and Amphibians of Joshua Tree National Park2.0  Offered 
Rocks and Minerals of Joshua Tree National Park1.5 Offered  
Snakes of the Desert: Mystery and Intrigue0.5Offered   
The Amazing World of Bats: Natural History and Ecology1.0  Offered 
The Desert Tortoise: A Natural History2.0    
The Greater Roadrunner: A Natural History2.0    
Wildflowers of the Desert Foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains1.5  Offered 
Wildlife of North American Deserts2.0    
Desert Invertebrate Diversity Great and Small - a Macro Photography and Microscopy Primer1.0 Offered  
*This course may be taken twice for credit toward the Specialized Study Program in Field Ornithology.

Completion Information

Completion Requirements

To earn the certificate, students must successfully complete (grade C or better) 21 quarter units within these study tracks:

  • Ecology and Natural History (7 units)
  • Vertebrates (3 units)
  • Invertebrates (2 units)
  • Botany (3 units)
  • Physical Sciences (3 units)
  • Electives (3 units)

Completion Time

The certificate program can typically be completed in 12-15 months.


The cost for the certificate program ranges from approximately $2,500 to $3,500. This does not include textbooks or materials unless otherwise noted.

Instructors & Administrators

Instructor Opportunities

Interested in becoming an instructor at UCR Extension? Find out how.

Additional Information

Textbook Information

If a textbook is required, information is provided in the course listing when scheduled, on the confirmation you receive after enrolling, or by e-mail for an online class.

Delivery Method

Field study courses typically meet in the physical location of study on weekends. For example, Geology and Natural History of Northern Death Valley meets in Death Valley. Some courses may have an evening orientation in Riverside, Redlands or Palm Desert.

Advisory Board

  • Eugene Cardiff,- Professional Biologist and former Curator of Biological Sciences, San Bernardino County Museum
  • James W. Cornett,- Curator of Natural Science, Desert Museum, Palm Springs
  • Mark C. Jorgensen,- Associate Resource Ecologist, Colorado Desert District, California Department of Parks and Recreation
  • Seymour D. Van Gundy,- Dean Emeritus, College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, UCR
  • Edna Rey-Vizgirdas,- Botanist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Boise, Idaho
  • Ray S. Vizgirdas,- Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Boise, Idaho

Contact Information

Field Nature Studies Program Coordinator
(951) 827-5804

Additional Information

Are you a member of PINE(Partners in Nature Education)?

UCR Extension recognizes the following PINE organizations for their activities in improving nature education throughout the Inland Empire, and rewards their members with discounts on many of our outdoor courses.

Check course listings to see if the discount applies.

  • Anza-Borrego Foundation
  • Anza-Borrego Desert National History Association
  • Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park
  • Hidden Valley Wildlife Area
  • Hi-Desert Nature Museum
  • Idyllwild Nature Center
  • Natural Science Collaborative of the Desert Region
  • Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
  • Rim of the World Interpretive Association
  • Riverside-Corona Resource Conservation District
  • San Bernardino National Forest Association
  • Sierra Club, San Gorgonio Chapter
  • Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants
  • Volunteers of the Angeles National Forest

More Information 

General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

Contact Information

UC Riverside Extension Center
1200 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92507-4596

UCR Extension Center

Tel: Work(951) 827-4105 or Toll-Free(800) 442-4990 toll-free
Fax: Fax(951) 827-7273