Population Ecology

Population ecology examines the environmental impact on population growth and development of various living organisms. Learn about career options, employment outlook, educational requirements and course topics.

Is Population Ecology for Me?

Career Overview

The scientific discipline of ecology investigates organisms' relationships with their environments. Population ecology is a sub-discipline of ecology that is concerned with factors like rainfall, urban growth, pollution and temperature that affect species' population size, density and health.

While you may work to monitor the current environmental situation, you could also carry out research to investigate environmental characteristics of the past or to make environmental predictions. You may explores species' interactions with one another and their physical environments, how their communities are organized and the flow of energy within the ecosystem, according to the Ecological Society of America (www.esa.org).

Ecology is an interdisciplinary field, incorporating studies in biology, horticulture, geology, entomology and sociology. Even if you're particularly interested in population ecology, you'll likely study community ecology and physiology ecology as well. Positions you could obtain include ecologist, science teacher, ecotoxologist, conservationist, environmental scientist or naturalist. You might find yourself working in a zoo, museum or national park, or maybe you'll attain a position with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), U.S. Geological Survey or the government.

Employment

A population ecologist is a type of zoologist and wildlife biologist, and, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for careers in this field in general are expected to increase by 5% from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also stated that zoologists and wildlife biologists made a median yearly salary of $57,710 as of 2012; PayScale.com reported in March 2014 that ecologists in general earned a median salary of $50,400. Employment of conservation scientists, many working for the government, is anticipated to increase by only 1% from 2012-2022. They made a median annual salary of $61,100 in 2012.

How Can I Work in Population Ecology?

Education

You'll need a bachelor's degree to seek entry-level positions in ecology. You can prepare for college-level coursework by taking high school classes in math, computers, statistics, chemistry, biology and physics. A bachelor's degree program in biology or ecology may offer concentration areas like ecology and evolution or ecology and behavior. These programs might cover population genetics, geobiology and microbiology. With a bachelor's degree, you could become a research technician, ecological manager or environmental inspector. With proper credentials and licensing, you may also teach high school.

You'll have more freedom to specialize in the population ecology sub-discipline in a master's or doctoral program. If you want to conduct independent research in the field or teach at the university level, you'll need to earn a Ph.D. in a field such as ecology, biological science, environmental science or natural resource management. You can choose appropriate electives and embark on research projects that focus on population ecology. Related graduate-level coursework might cover biodiversity, ecological problem solving, population dynamics, climate change and wildlife biometrics.

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