What does a Ecologist do?

Median Pay $69,400
Growth Rate 11%
Citation Retrieved from BLS.gov

Ecologists focus on the relationship of organisms within their environment. Ecology is a branch of biology (biology is the study of live). Given the wide scope of ecology, there are multiple sub-disciplines that an ecologist can choose to focus on. Since all living things (plants, animals, microbes) are dependent on other living things and a healthy environment in order to survive, ecologists may specialize on one aspect of an ecosystem.

How to Become an Ecologist

Ecologists must hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in biology or a related field (such as environmental science or zoology for example). In college, you can expect to take various levels of biology and ecology courses along with mathematics. You may also get the opportunity to choose courses that allow you to specialize in a field of ecology, such as genetics, biodiversity, plant physiology, conservation, community ecology, marine biology, and animal physiology.

Job Description of an Ecologist

how to become an ecologist

The job description of an ecologist will depend on what they specialize in as there are various sub-disciplines in ecology. For example, some ecologists specialize in ecological restoration to restore unhealthy ecosystems. You also have aquatic ecologists that study the relationship of organisms in various aquatic environments. Community ecologists study how various species interact with one another. There are a dozen more sub-disciplines of ecology to research which is part of what makes this career field so interesting.

The Ecological Society of America (link opens in a new tab) sums up just how vast of a career field ecology is, “ecologists study these relationships among organisms and habitats of many different sizes, ranging from the study of microscopic bacteria growing in a fish tank, to the complex interactions between the thousands of plant, animal, and other communities found in a desert. Ecologists also study many kinds of environments. For example, ecologists may study microbes living in the soil under your feet or animals and plants in a rainforest or the ocean.”

The following ecologist position was posted by the Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service and ran on 09/14/2018 until 09/19/2018 with a posted salary of $66,577 to $86,553 per year on USAjobs.gov, part of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.


Major Duties may include, but are not limited to:

  • Conducting field research to sustain and enhance agricultural production with neutral to positive impacts on environmental quality for rangeland agroecosystems.
  • Maintaining and calibrating instrumentation to examine ecological process and mechanism responses to adaptive management, seasonal weather variability, extreme events, and predicted climatic variability on agricultural production and ecosystem services for representative rangeland agroecosystems.
  • Providing essential support to a research team through collection, data quality, research, and assurance and control using highly specialized and sophisticated sensor equipment and infrastructure primarily related to water, energy and carbon fluxes and balances.
  • Writing technical reports that detail methods used and interpretation of results.

Travel Required

Occasional travel – Occasional travel may be required to local and remote field sites for instrument checks, calibration and replacement of sensory equipment, and localized field experiments.


Teacher and Student Resources

To learn more about an introduction to ecology, Khan Academy (opens in a new tab) has a wonderful lessons outlining what ecology is. The lessons start with an intro to ecology and continues through population ecology, community ecology, ecosystems, and biogeography. Khan Academy is a free resource for students and adults.

To learn more about aquatic ecology, visit the Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program (link opens in a new tab) which provides an Introduction to Aquatic Ecology.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Environmental Scientists and Specialists.

National Center for O*NET Development. 13-2011.01. O*NET OnLine.

“Principles of ecology – MarineBio.org”. MarineBio Conservation Society. Web. Accessed 16:20 PM 9/16/2018. .