Evolutionary Biology and Ecology
The field of evolutionary biology and ecology focuses on the dynamics and interactions of ecosystems, populations and organisms. Read on to learn more about degree programs, job prospects and employment outlook for this field.
Are Studies in Evolutionary Biology and Ecology for Me?
The field of evolutionary biology and ecology applies theories of natural selection and evolution to examine the natural world and the interaction of organisms with their environments. As an evolutionary biologist or ecologist, you'd study the effects of human actions on the environment with the aim of improving environmental conditions and preventing future degradation of natural systems. You may determine the impacts of pollution on air and water quality, or you might work to protect and restore endangered species populations, for example. To succeed in evolutionary biology and ecology, you'll need to be able to identify and solve problems, analyze natural processes, interpret statistical data and conduct research.
You can find evolutionary biology and ecology careers within academia and the environmental private, public and nonprofit sectors; positions typically vary according to education level. With a bachelor's degree, you can qualify for various entry-level environmental positions, as well as for employment in science teaching and research assistance. A master's degree in evolutionary biology and ecology expands job opportunities to include environmental policy and planning, impact assessment, natural resource management and environmental consulting. With a doctoral degree, you could become a professor and research scientist in a college or university, teaching while conducting and publishing your own research.
Employment Outlook and Salary Statistics
If you're interested in working as an evolutionary biologist or ecologist, now may be a good time to enter the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected jobs for environmental scientists and specialists to grow by 15% between 2012 and 2022, a rate that is faster than the national average (www.bls.gov). The continuing need to measure environmental impacts of industry was expected to contribute to job growth over this period. Zoologists and wildlife biologists should experience growth of 5% over the same period of time. As of May 2013, the median annual salary for biological scientists in general was $72,720, per the BLS. Zoologists and wildlife biologists earned $57,430, while environmental scientists received a median of $65,090 that same year.
How Can I Work in Evolutionary Biology and Ecology?
You can enroll in programs in evolutionary biology and ecology at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels. Some bachelor's degree programs incorporate applied learning through fieldwork, lab courses and research opportunities. Most master's and doctoral degree programs are research oriented, requiring thesis and dissertation projects, respectively; however, some master's degree programs include non-thesis tracks that often require internships instead. You may also consider an accelerated master's degree program, whereby you can complete both the bachelor's and master's degrees in just five years. Some schools offer further specialization at the graduate level, such as in environmental law, community ecology and plant physiology.
Topics of Study
Your core evolutionary biology and ecology courses provide a broad knowledge base in the life sciences and mathematics. Various courses from other departments, such as geography, environmental sciences and anthropology, may also be part of your curriculum. Major coursework covers topics in evolutionary genetics, climate change, conservation, animal behavior and population biology.
Once you've earned your degree, you may find professional development opportunities in the field as well. For instance, the Ecological Society of America provides networking opportunities, as well as three levels of certification to those with at least a bachelor's degree and relevant work experience in the field (www.esa.org).