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Environmental Biology Degrees and Careers

Environmental biologists, who commonly work on preserving and recovering natural habitats, might specialize in naturally occurring primary ecosystems, such as forests, grasslands or wetlands, or in secondary ecosystems created by agriculture, urban development and other human developments. Find out what you can learn in bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs and where you could work.

What You Need to Know

As an environmental biologist, your work will be to preserve and restore the environment by identifying problems related to pollution, habitat destruction or other environmental problems and providing solutions. Your studies in environmental biology will focus mainly on lab courses and fieldwork experiences to prepare you for technical, research or consultant positions in the field.

Degrees Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in environmental science, environmental studies, ecology and similar fields
Courses Environmental geology, ecosystems ecology, spatial analysis, scientific writing, environmental conservation, environmental sustainability, resource management
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 11% increase in jobs for environmental scientists and specialists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Can I Do with a Degree in Environmental Biology?

A degree in environmental biology can equip you to perform tasks, such as interpreting data from observations of air, water and soil to determine ways to protect and restore environments. In addition, you will work to limit and reduce environmental hazards that can impact public health or disrupt ecosystems.

Work might include observing waste disposal sites, monitoring the population of an endangered species or identifying a water contamination source. You may be asked to write and interpret an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS); these reports describe and explain likely environmental changes brought on by human development.

How Does This Field Differ from Ecology?

Environmental biologists study how to preserve, protect and restore naturally occurring ecosystems and human-managed environments. These can include natural habitats, urban environments, agricultural regions and scenic landscapes. The focus is on the impact human activity has on existing environments.

Ecologists, on the other hand, do research into the relationships existing within an ecosystem's biotic community and also take into account its abiotic elements. Their primary concern is with the natural dynamics between an ecosystem's various members. As an environmental biologist, you'll frequently apply knowledge from ecology to accomplish your tasks.

Where Might I Find Work?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a combined total of 43% of the jobs in environmental science are associated with the government. This includes federal, state and local government jobs with parks and recreation services, wildlife refuges, forest preserves, water reclamation districts, transportation departments and agricultural departments.

In private industry, environmental biologists frequently work with consulting firms. This means you might work as a consultant and write an EIS report for a small landscape project, for instance. You might also work for a large engineering or construction company.

What Degree Programs Are Available?

There are a variety of options to consider when deciding on an environmental biology degree program. You can choose from four-year or advanced degrees. For example, you may enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Evolutionary Biology or a Bachelor of Science in Biology with an ecology/evolutionary biology concentration. A Master of Science in Evolutionary Biology or Ecology may also be available in addition to a Doctor of Philosophy in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology degree program.

What Topics Might I Study?

Topics you typically study in an environmental biology bachelor's degree program include laboratory sciences or life sciences. If you go on to study in a master's program, you might encounter courses in other topics, such as system dynamics, micro-environments or aquatic ecology. Master's programs typically include a supervised research component and field activity. Doctoral students typically take advanced courses in addition to learning how to teach undergraduate science courses and conduct independent research on a dissertation topic they choose. The following topics might also be covered in an environmental biology degree program:

  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Geology
  • Meteorology
  • Oceanography
  • Zoology
  • Botany
  • Ecology
  • Environmental management
  • Environmental law
  • Mapping technology
  • Toxicology
  • Environmental physiology
  • Conservation biology