Ecology is the scientific study of the relationships between organisms, their interactions with the environment, and the means by which ecosystems develop and thrive. Many ecology jobs involve field and laboratory research, in which scientists observe natural ecosystems, collect soil, water, air, and living samples, and conduct lab experiments. Other ecology jobs involve organizing and promoting conservation efforts in one more more areas of specialization.
Ecologists aim to discover the interrelationships between living things and their immediate environments. To do so, ecologists often specialize by studying specific regions and populations. A marine ecologist, for example, studies all types of ocean plants and animals, their interactions with each other, and the impacts of pollution and climate change upon marine ecosystems. A population marine ecologist specializes further to focus on a local population of a certain species of plant or animal.
Most ecology jobs are found with government agencies, nonprofit environmental groups, universities, and independent research institutions. Ecologists who work for government agencies, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service in the United States, might engage in protection and restoration projects and educate the public about wildlife conservation. Those employed with nonprofit groups often travel to locations where human activity has damaged natural ecosystems, such as rain forests. These ecologists advocate public awareness about sustainability and work directly in hands-on restoration efforts.
Scientists who hold ecology jobs at universities and private institutions often perform extensive field research. Many research ecologists spend months or even years observing ecosystems, collecting samples, and reviewing previous studies. They frequently work in teams to conduct laboratory experiments on organic and inorganic matter to learn more about an ecosystem. In addition, some research ecologists choose to become professors at universities and high school science teachers.
To become an ecologist, a person must typically receive a master's degree or PhD from an accredited university in a specialized area of ecological science. Upon graduation, many ecologists begin their careers by taking internships or fellowships at research universities, where they gain valuable experience by working with veteran ecologists. Interns and fellows acquire the skills they will need when they begin working independently, such as field research techniques and writing scientific papers.
A growing public concern for environmental protection and sustainable living is creating more ecology jobs than ever before. Ecology experts are needed to investigate the impacts of population growth, urbanization, and global climate change on native habitats and ecosystems. The research studies performed by today's ecologists play a vital role in creating new environmental policies.