Learn About Being an Ecologist in 2024

By | May 4, 2024

What Does an Ecologist Do? They study the environment and the way it affects human beings. Ecologists use a variety of methods to study the environment, including surveys, research, and fieldwork. Ecologists also work to protect the environment and its resources.

Ecologists study the environment, or the natural world. They collect data about plants, animals, and soils to figure out how they are changing and what effects they’re having on the environment. Ecologists also use their knowledge to help protect the environment.

Learn About Being an Ecologist - What Does an Ecologist Do?


Ecologists are responsible for studying the environment and its creatures. They use their knowledge to help protect our planet and its resources. Ecologists study the way different organisms interact with their surroundings, and they try to understand the relationship between humans and the environment. Ecologists also work on developing new ways of living on Earth.

What is the role of an ecologist?

Ecologists are scientists who study the environment and its inhabitants. They use their knowledge to help people understand and manage the environment. Ecologists work in a variety of professions, including environmental science, forestry, agriculture, and zoology.

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Ecologists are scientists who study the environment and its interactions with humans. They work to understand how natural ecosystems work, how people modify or destroy these ecosystems, and how human activities impact the environment. Ecologists also play an important role in public policy, as they provide insights into what measures can be taken to protect our environment and help preserve it for future generations.


What does an ecologist do?

Ecologists study nature, including fauna, flora and other organisms, with a focus on how these organisms interact with one another and the environment, in an attempt to preserve and protect species and ecosystems and solve environmental issues. These specialists also study the impact humans have on the natural world so ecologists can recommend ways to minimize potentially harmful actions.

Ecology encompasses a broad scope, and ecologists specialize in various fields, such as marine biology, botany, toxicology, zoology, microbiology and soil science. For this reason, the kind of work ecologists can vary significantly, ranging from studying microbes in the soil to investigating the impact of pollutants on a river ecosystem. Depending on their line of work, the duties of ecologists may include the following:

  • Doing fieldwork to gather data for analysis or to assess habitats. Data may be used, for instance, to plan environmental restoration projects or to sustain and improve agricultural production.

  • Writing environmental impact studies

  • Working together with other experts to develop green technology, practices and processes

  • Maintaining and calibrating instruments and equipment used for field research

  • Writing technical reports that provide information on methods used and the interpretation of results

  • Working with software programs like geographic information systems and computer-aided design programs

  • Writing and publishing articles and presenting research at conferences

  • Researching in laboratories, as well as doing theoretical research

  • Managing ecological projects or programs

  • Creating models to investigate the effects of ecosystem changes

  • Writing proposals for funding opportunities

  • Teaching workshops at universities and community programs, or lecturing

  • Advising the government, institutions and businesses on environmental issues and law

  • Managing wildlife conservation lands

Average salary

Salaries for ecologists vary depending on their level of expertise, which area they specialize in, the kind of work they do and their geographic location.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $72,417 per year

  • Some salaries range from $23,000 to $149,000 per year.

Ecologist requirements

Ecologists need a combination of education, training, certification and skills:


The entry-level requirement to work as an ecologist is typically a Bachelor’s Degree in Ecology or a related field like Environmental Science or Zoology. Although bachelor’s programs in ecology offer different concentrations—for instance, restoration, agricultural systems or wildlife conservation—coursework generally covers a wide range of topics that include ecosystems, ecological biology, chemistry, computer science, climatology, mathematics, taxonomy and statistics.

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Apart from coursework, students learn how to operate equipment and perform research through field and laboratory work. Bachelor’s programs typically take four years to complete, and candidates need a high school diploma or GED certificate to gain admittance. With a bachelor’s qualification, candidates typically qualify to work as lab or research technicians or government program scientists.

Since ecology is a competitive area of work, many candidates continue their studies to earn postgraduate qualifications. Candidates can choose from a variety of master’s programs that offer specialized courses, for instance, conservation and biodiversity, wildlife conservation, aquatic ecology and agroecology. These programs usually involve a combination of classroom, field and laboratory work and culminate in the writing of a thesis. With a master’s qualification, candidates can work as environmental consultants, program managers, wildlife biologists or environmental planners.

Those who want to become lecturers or obtain research positions will need Ph.D. qualifications. Ph.D. programs allow candidates to conduct in-depth research in an area of specialization and typically involve coursework, field and laboratory work, and the writing of a dissertation. Completing a Ph.D. program could take three to six years.


Environmentalists normally receive on-the-job training, but could also opt for additional training to remain up-to-date with the latest developments or gain knowledge in a specific area of specialization. There are various training opportunities available to ecologists. The National Association of Environmental Professionals, for instance, offers an annual conference and training symposium where environmental professionals can present papers and attend workshops on important issues like climate change, endangered species and water resources.


The Ecological Society of America offers a variety of certification tracks for ecologists at all levels of education and experience. Admission requirements for the different tracks vary:

Associate Ecologist Certification

To gain entry into this certification track, candidates need a bachelor’s or higher degree in ecology or related science. They should also have at least one year of professional experience.

Ecologist Certification

Candidates need a master’s or higher degree, two years of relevant experience, and must demonstrate their ability to perform professional work in ecology like complex data analysis and publication of articles.

There are a variety of other certification programs available for ecologists who want to improve their knowledge in a specialized field, such as:

Graduate Certification in Conservation Ecology

Northern Arizona University aims this certification program at early- to mid-career professionals who want to expand their knowledge of conservation ecology. The program includes research, fieldwork and coursework in subjects like ecological economics and environmental policy. Candidates require at least a bachelor’s degree to gain admission to the course and must complete 18 learning units to gain certification.

AFE Wildland Fire Ecologist Certification

This qualification is one of the various Wildlife Fire Professional certification tracks that the Association for Fire Ecology offers. To gain admission to this certification course, candidates need a combination of education and experience, for instance, a bachelor’s degree and eight years of experience. To gain certification, candidates need to acquire credits in various subjects, including fire ecology, general ecology, fire science and management, and statistics.


Ecologists need a few core skills to execute their duties well:

  • Writing skills. A large part of an ecologist’s work involves writing, whether it is publishing papers, sharing results and findings with other scientists, writing reports or applying for project funding.

  • Communications and interpersonal skills. Ecologists need to communicate with other researchers and consultants on a regular basis, and must be comfortable working in teams as a lot of their work involves collaboration with other professionals.

  • IT skills. As ecologists often produce computer models to demonstrate predictions about the future of ecosystems, it is essential that they have a solid knowledge of computer systems and specialized programs.

  • Analytical skills. The work of ecologists often involves fieldwork, experiments and analysis, which require analytical thought.

  • Passion for preserving the environment. To be a good ecologist, one needs to be passionate about protecting the environment and solving the pressing environmental issues of the world.

Ecologist work environment

Ecologists can specialize in a variety of fields and opt for many different types of work, including teaching, research and fieldwork. These professionals may, for instance, work for environmental consulting companies, helping them in building sustainable practices. They could also work for government natural resource agencies, where they may conduct environmental impact studies or manage ecological resources. Others may work in program management positions, or hold academics positions at universities.

In general, the work environment of an ecologist may involve the following:

  • Although ecologists typically work a 40-hour week with little to no overtime, fieldwork may at times require working outside of office hours, for instance when they conduct surveys at night.

  • Traveling to remote field sites or conferences may take place from time to time.

  • Working in the outdoors may at times involve uncomfortable situations, such as extreme temperatures and storms.

  • Researching in laboratories or doing computer work in an office is also typical for many ecologists.

How to become an ecologist

If you want to become an ecologist, follow these steps:

1. Obtain a bachelor’s degree

Complete a bachelor’s degree in either environmental science or botany. A bachelor’s program in ecology typically includes coursework in subjects like evolutionary biology, mathematics, physics, statistics and ecology.

2. Gain postgraduate qualifications

As many career options are only open to those with a master’s degree or Ph.D., many candidates continue their studies after graduation. There are a variety of programs in different areas of specialization to choose from, such as human-environment interaction, agroecology and ecosystem sustainability.

3. Gain practical experience

If you want to boost your career and find employment quickly, it is advisable to gain practical experience as soon as you can. If possible, opt for intern positions while you are studying, or do volunteer work at nonprofits and environmental organizations during the holidays. If you cannot find a volunteer position, you could contact an organization like the Student Conservation Association to match you with a volunteer opportunity.

4. Certify yourself

Whether you want to expand your knowledge in a specialized field, demonstrate your skills and expertise to prospective employers or stay up-to-date with recent developments, gaining certification is a great way to boost your career and get noticed.

5. Apply for jobs

Once you are qualified and have gained practical experience in your area of interest, it is time to update your resume and apply for entry-level positions.

Ecologist job description example

An environmental consulting firm has an opening for a mid-career ecologist with experience in conducting wetland delineations and impact assessments. The successful candidate will perform habitat and impact assessments, lead surveys throughout the area, provide quality control for field data collections and reports and conduct water-quality tests. Applicants need a Bachelor’s Degree in Ecology or Environmental Science and a minimum of four years of experience in hydrology and wetland delineations.


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