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Become An Ecologist

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Working As An Ecologist

  • Monitor Processes, Materials, or Surroundings
  • Getting Information
  • Interacting With Computers
  • Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events
  • Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates
  • $80,000

    Average Salary

What Does An Ecologist Do

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems. They study the physical characteristics of animals, animal behaviors, and the impacts humans have on wildlife and natural habitats.

Duties

Zoologists and wildlife biologists typically do the following:

  • Develop and conduct experimental studies with animals in controlled or natural surroundings
  • Collect biological data and specimens for analysis
  • Study the characteristics of animals, such as their interactions with other species, reproduction, population dynamics, diseases, and movement patterns
  • Analyze the influence that human activity has on wildlife and their natural habitats
  • Research, initiate, and maintain ways of improving breeding programs that support healthy game animals, endangered species, or other wild populations of land or aquatic life
  • Estimate, monitor, and manage wildlife populations and invasive plants and animals
  • Write research papers, reports, and scholarly articles that explain their findings
  • Give presentations on research findings to academics and the general public
  • Develop conservation plans and make recommendations on wildlife conservation and management issues to policymakers and the general public

Zoologists and wildlife biologists perform a variety of scientific tests and experiments. For example, they take blood samples from animals to assess their levels of nutrition, check animals for disease and parasites, and tag animals in order to track them. Although the roles and abilities of zoologists and wildlife biologists often overlap, zoologists typically conduct scientific investigations and basic research on particular types of animals, such as birds or amphibians, whereas wildlife biologists are more likely to study specific ecosystems or animal populations, such as a particular at-risk species. Wildlife biologists also do applied work, such as that involving the conservation and management of wildlife populations.

Zoologists and wildlife biologists use geographic information systems (GIS), modeling software, and other computer programs to estimate wildlife populations and track the movements of animals. They also use these computer programs to forecast the spread of invasive species or diseases, project changes in the availability of habitat, and assess other potential threats to wildlife.

Zoologists and wildlife biologists conduct research for a variety of purposes. For example, many zoologists and wildlife biologists work to increase our knowledge and understanding of wildlife species. Traditionally, many wildlife biologists researched ways to encourage abundant game animal populations in order to increase recreational hunting and tourism. Today, many also work with public officials in conservation efforts that protect species from threats and help animal populations return to and remain at sustainable levels.

Most zoologists and wildlife biologists work on research teams with other scientists and technicians. For example, zoologists and wildlife biologists may work with environmental scientists and hydrologists to monitor water pollution and its effects on fish populations.

Zoologists generally specialize first in either vertebrates or invertebrates and then in specific species. Following are some examples of specialization by species:

  • Cetologists study marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins.
  • Entomologists study insects, such as beetles and butterflies.
  • Herpetologists study reptiles and amphibians, such as snakes and frogs.
  • Ichthyologists study wild fish, such as sharks and lungfish.
  • Mammalogists study mammals, such as monkeys and bears.
  • Ornithologists study birds, such as hawks and penguins.
  • Teuthologists study cephalopods, such as octopuses and cuttlefish.

Some zoologists and wildlife biologists specialize in studying wildlife according to the type of water or land where the wildlife lives. The following are examples of those who specialize by habitat:

  • Limnologists study organisms that live in freshwater.
  • Marine biologists study organisms that live in saltwater.
  • Terrestrial biologists study organisms that live on land, including plants and microbes.

Other zoologists and wildlife biologists are identified by the aspects of zoology and wildlife biology they study, such as evolution and animal behavior. Following are some examples:

  • Botanists study plants, including their growth, diseases, and structures. Agronomists study the particular plant science concerning crop production. For more information on agronomists, see the profile on agricultural and food scientists.
  • Ecologists study ecosystems, which include all relationships between organisms and the surrounding environments.
  • Evolutionary biologists study the origins of species and the changes in their inherited characteristics over generations.

Many people with a zoology and wildlife biology background become high school teachers or college or university professors. For more information, see the profiles on high school teachers and postsecondary teachers.

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How To Become An Ecologist

Zoologists and wildlife biologists need a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions; a master’s degree is often needed for higher level investigative or scientific work. A Ph.D. is necessary to lead independent research and for most university research positions.

Education

Zoologists and wildlife biologists need at least a bachelor’s degree. Many schools offer bachelor’s degree programs in zoology and wildlife biology or in a closely related field, such as ecology. An undergraduate degree in biology with coursework in zoology and wildlife biology also is good preparation for a career as a zoologist or wildlife biologist.

Zoologists and wildlife biologists typically need at least a master’s degree for higher level investigative or scientific work. A Ph.D. is necessary for the majority of independent research positions and for university research positions. Most Ph.D.-level researchers need to be familiar with computer programming and statistical software.

Students typically take zoology and wildlife biology courses in ecology, anatomy, wildlife management, and cellular biology. They also take courses that focus on a particular group of animals, such as herpetology (reptiles and amphibians) or ornithology (birds). Courses in botany, chemistry, and physics are important because zoologists and wildlife biologists must have a well-rounded scientific background. Wildlife biology programs may focus on applied techniques in habitat analysis and conservation. Students also should take courses in mathematics and statistics, given that zoologists and wildlife biologists must be able to do complex data analysis.

Knowledge of computer science is important because zoologists and wildlife biologists frequently use advanced computer software, such as geographic information systems (GIS) and modeling software, to do their work.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists write scientific papers and give talks to the public, policymakers, and academics.

Critical-thinking skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists need sound reasoning and judgment to draw conclusions from experimental results and scientific observations.

Emotional stamina and stability. Zoologists and wildlife biologists may need to endure long periods with little human contact. As with other occupations that deal with animals, emotional stability is important in working with injured or sick animals.

Interpersonal skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists typically work on teams. They must be able to work effectively with others to achieve their goals or to negotiate conflicting goals.

Observation skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists must be able to notice slight changes in an animal’s characteristics, such as changes in its behavior or appearance.

Outdoor skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists may need to chop firewood, swim in cold water, navigate rough terrain in poor weather, or perform other activities associated with life in remote areas.

Problem-solving skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists try to find the best possible solutions to threats that affect wildlife, such as disease and habitat loss.

Other Experience

Some zoologists and wildlife biologists may need to have well-rounded outdoor skills. They may need to be able to drive a tractor, use a generator, or provide for themselves in remote locations.

Many zoology and wildlife biology students gain practical experience through internships, volunteer work, or some other type of employment during college or soon after graduation.

Advancement

Zoologists and wildlife biologists typically receive greater responsibility and independence in their work as they gain experience. More education also can lead to greater responsibility. Zoologists and wildlife biologists with a Ph.D. usually lead independent research and control the direction and content of projects. In addition, they may be responsible for finding much of their own funding.

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Ecologist Demographics

Gender

Male

58.7%

Female

32.9%

Unknown

8.4%
Ethnicity

White

64.4%

Hispanic or Latino

13.8%

Black or African American

10.6%

Asian

6.7%

Unknown

4.5%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

60.0%

French

8.0%

Russian

8.0%

Irish

4.0%

Nepali

4.0%

Chinese

4.0%

German

4.0%

Mandarin

4.0%

Hindi

4.0%
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Ecologist Education

Schools

University of Florida

8.0%

University of Washington

8.0%

Colorado State University

8.0%

University of South Florida

7.1%

Oregon State University

6.3%

University of California - Davis

5.4%

Michigan State University

5.4%

Utah State University

5.4%

University of Georgia

5.4%

University of Montana

4.5%

Texas A&M University

4.5%

Louisiana State University and A&M College

3.6%

Southern Illinois University Carbondale

3.6%

University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

3.6%

Auburn University

3.6%

University of Central Florida

3.6%

Antioch University

3.6%

University of Akron

3.6%

University of California - Riverside

3.6%

State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry

3.6%
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Majors

Ecology, Population Biology, And Epidemiology

23.4%

Biology

22.1%

Environmental Science

18.1%

Wildlife Management

5.6%

Zoology

5.3%

Natural Resources Management

3.7%

Botany

3.2%

Forestry

2.4%

Marine Sciences

2.1%

Business

1.6%

Geology

1.6%

Plant Sciences

1.6%

Management

1.3%

Soil Science

1.3%

Environmental Control Technologies/Technicians

1.3%

Geography

1.3%

Mathematics

1.1%

General Education, Specific Areas

1.1%

Education

1.1%

Public Health

0.8%
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Degrees

Masters

39.7%

Bachelors

32.7%

Doctorate

12.7%

Other

11.4%

Certificate

2.2%

Associate

0.7%

Diploma

0.7%
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Job type you want
Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary
Average Yearly Salary
$80,000
View Detailed Salary Report
$37,000
Min 10%
$80,000
Median 50%
$80,000
Median 50%
$80,000
Median 50%
$80,000
Median 50%
$80,000
Median 50%
$80,000
Median 50%
$80,000
Median 50%
$171,000
Max 90%
Best Paying Company
Battelle
Highest Paying City
Denver, CO
Highest Paying State
North Dakota
Avg Experience Level
2.8 years
How much does an Ecologist make at top companies?
The national average salary for an Ecologist in the United States is $80,447 per year or $39 per hour. Those in the bottom 10 percent make under $37,000 a year, and the top 10 percent make over $171,000.

Real Ecologist Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Macroinvertebrate Ecologist Lewis and Clark Community College East Alton, IL Sep 10, 2016 $107,120
Macroinvertebrate Ecologist Lewis and Clark Community College East Alton, IL Nov 01, 2014 $100,000
Piro Coral Reef Ecologist Research Corporation of The University of Hawaii Urban Honolulu, HI Oct 01, 2012 $73,233
Landscape Ecologist Oneida Total Integrated Enterprises Raleigh, NC Jan 03, 2011 $72,800
Computational Ecologist/Coastal Ocean Modeler CSS-Dynamac Silver Spring, MD Jun 15, 2016 $65,852 -
$80,549
Environmental Ecologist Chemtex Environmental Laboratory, Inc. Port Arthur, TX Apr 04, 2016 $58,561
Environmental Ecologist Chemtex Environmental Laboratory, Inc. Port Arthur, TX Sep 18, 2015 $56,871
Environmental Ecologist Chemtex Environmental Laboratory, Inc. Port Arthur, TX Sep 18, 2014 $56,871
Ecologist HDR Alaska, Inc. Anchorage, AK Jun 02, 2010 $55,120
Ecologist 1 Triple HS, Inc. Fresno, CA Aug 25, 2016 $55,000 -
$75,000
Jimar Piro Senior Coral Reef Ecologist Research Corporation of The University of Hawaii Urban Honolulu, HI May 17, 2010 $52,363
Algal Systematist, Ecologist & Researcher Rhithron Associates, Inc. Missoula, MT Sep 18, 2014 $52,000
Ecologist (Researcher) Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Inc. Fort Worth, TX May 01, 2010 $50,881
Environmental Ecologist Chemtex Environmental Laboratory, Inc. Corpus Christi, TX Sep 19, 2014 $50,839
Environmental Ecologist Chemtex Environmental Laboratory, Inc. Corpus Christi, TX Sep 19, 2011 $48,669
Field Ecologist Wetland Services, Inc. Henderson, KY Sep 01, 2014 $47,730
Environmental Ecologist Chemtex Environmental Laboratory, Inc. Corpus Christi, TX Sep 19, 2014 $46,665
Environmental Ecologist Chemtex Environmental Laboratory, Inc. Sulphur, LA Dec 13, 2010 $40,342
Environmental Ecologist Chemtex Environmental Laboratory, Inc. Corpus Christi, TX Dec 13, 2010 $40,342

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Top Skills for An Ecologist

  1. Wetland
  2. Habitat
  3. Wildlife
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Collected baseline environmental and biological data and mapped wetlands and stream crossings associated with natural gas and oil pipelines.
  • Conduct avian and bat fatality surveys by searching solar panel arrays and associated infrastructure in Mojave Desert habitats.
  • Identified and analyzed habitat conditions and wildlife usage.
  • Team member in construction and maintenance of feral hog holding pens, as well as precautionary perimeter fencing.Animal care.
  • Manipulated large databases in R to observe long-term trends in commercially important species and ecosystem ecology.

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Top 10 Best States for Ecologists

  1. District of Columbia
  2. Alaska
  3. North Dakota
  4. Delaware
  5. Louisiana
  6. Massachusetts
  7. Maryland
  8. Oregon
  9. Connecticut
  10. Iowa
  • (6 jobs)
  • (3 jobs)
  • (2 jobs)
  • (1 jobs)
  • (6 jobs)
  • (5 jobs)
  • (15 jobs)
  • (4 jobs)
  • (0 jobs)
  • (0 jobs)

Top Ecologist Employers

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