Ecology is a field with many specializations, such as urban ecology, wildlife management and environmental conservation. Learn about employment options and salary info, related degree programs and topics of study in ecology.
Is Ecology for Me?
Ecology is the study of the interaction of organisms among themselves and with their environments. The ecologist is a biological scientist who is concerned with the quality of the water, food, soil and air in natural and human environments. Ecologists strive to help conserve and restore the earth's ecosystems.
Conservation involves minimizing species extinction and habitat loss. Restoration is about managing ecosystems to enhance or repair damaged habitats. As an ecologist, you may deal with issues such as habitat degradation, invasive species threats and land use effects. You may specialize in different areas of ecology, such as wildlife conservation, marine and coastal restoration, population or urban ecology.
If you choose to go into this field, you have several ecology career options. You may work in the private sector as a consultant, native plant expert or restoration contractor. You may also work for governmental agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service or National Parks Service. Conservation organizations, such as the National Audubon Society, need ecologists to help with their mission of restoring and conserving natural ecosystems. You might conduct wetlands research, restore fire damaged natural areas or work to sustain fragile ecosystems.
Ecologists may work inside labs conducting research. However, the job is often performed outside under strenuous physical conditions for extended periods of time. You may have to deal with crude living conditions in hot or cold climates. However, if you enjoy camping and communing with nature, you might consider this a job benefit.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) does not have wage or employment statistics specifically for ecologists; however, PayScale.com reported in March 2014 that ecologists who earned total pay (including salary, bonuses and profit sharing) in the 10th-90th percentile range made $33,633-$68,337, with a median salary of $50,400 reported. The BLS reports that zoologists and wildlife biologists, careers that are closely related to ecologist, earned median pay of $57,710 in 2012; employment is predicted to increase 5% from 2012-2022. Conservation scientists earned median pay of $61,100 in 2012, and jobs in this field are predicted to increase 1% from 2012-2022, per the BLS.
How Can I Work in Ecology?
An ecology degree program at the bachelor's or master's level may be sufficient for many employers. In an undergraduate program, you will take classes such as mathematics, statistics, regional economics, biology, chemistry, soil science, plant ecology, animal ecology, wildland ecosystems, conservation biology and natural resource management. For any degree in ecology, you will need a strong foundation in biology, mathematics, physics and data analysis.
If you plan to do independent research, pursue an administrative position or work in academia, you will likely require a Ph.D. In a master's or doctoral degree program, you may expect to take classes with concentrations in several different types of ecology, such as physiological ecology, population ecology and community ecology. A master's degree is usually completed in two years, while a Ph.D. generally requires an additional three or more years beyond the master's level.