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What is Applied Ecology?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2016
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Applied ecology is a discipline within the field of ecology which is focused on applying ecological knowledge to problems. This field takes ecology out of the realm of the academic and into the real world, using the research conducted by ecologists to answer difficult questions about the natural environment. Applied ecologists can work for governments, environmental organizations, private consulting firms, educational institutions, and community development groups, applying their skills to issues which require the input of an ecologist.

Much of applied ecology focuses on the management of ecological resources. Humans recognize that natural resources are finite and vulnerable to damage, and that conflicting needs may need to be balanced when deciding how to allocate resources. These conflicting needs can be between human populations, as when humans want to use the same river for irritation, recreation, and as a source of public drinking water, and they can also involve conflicts with living organisms other than humans which may want to use the same resource, like fish in our hypothetical river.

Resource management is a growing issue, as the human population is constantly increasing and creating increasing pressure on the natural environment. Specialists in applied ecology help people allocate and manage resources responsibly, and make policy suggestions which are designed to benefit the environment in the long term while also ensuring that people can continue to use and enjoy it. Applied ecologists are involved in agriculture, forestry, real estate development, water management, and a variety of other fields.

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Applied ecology can also be important for habitat restoration and environmental remediation. The knowledge of ecologists can determine how an environment might be repaired after damage and can reduce mistakes such as the introduction of an invasive species to solve a problem which ends up causing a problem as the invasive species takes over. Long term planning can also be informed by applied ecology, including plans to rejuvenate urban environments, control development, or open new resources to exploitation.

People who work in this field can be found in a variety of environments. Some work in the field, conducting research, while others may be in the lab, analyzing samples and conducting experiments. Applied ecologists may work as public policy advocates and people who actually formulate and enforce environmental policies, and they can work in public education or private consulting as well. Work in this field generally requires a bachelor's degree in ecology at a minimum.

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jmc88
Post 4

@titans62 - I know at the community college near me they offer classes in environmental science. I'm not sure if you get all of the training that an applied ecologist gets, but it might be a nice way to see whether it is really what you want to do, and it would be a low cost way to advance on toward a four year degree.

I'm not sure what the curriculum would be like. My guess is that classes in math and any kind of biology classes you can take would be helpful.

I have been reading about some different environmental problems lately. I'm curious to know what types of applied ecology and environmental research are going on to solve the problems. Of course we have been hearing about global warming for a while. Water pollution is another. Are ecologists making any advances in these areas?

titans62
Post 3

Where can you go to get a degree in ecology? I am in high school now, but I think I would really like a job where I get a chance to work outside. I like all the science classes I have taken, too. I am really interested in the global warming problem. Do ecologists study global warming?

Do community colleges offer ecology degrees or do you have to go to a four year university? Are there any special classes that I should take when I am in high school that will help me get into a college or help with classes later?

jcraig
Post 2

@TreeMan - Those are good questions. I took a few ecology classes when I was in college, and I loved it. Ecology does apply to water systems. Basically anywhere that nature exists, ecology exists.

Unfortunately, I don't think most companies hire any sort of environmental consultants or ecologists to help them make decisions. That would usually mean they have to spend more money doing environmentally responsible things.

Ecologists that I have heard of get jobs with places like the EPA, Forest Service, or even state and local parks and nature preserves. I think it all really depends on what kind of atmosphere you want to be a part of, and what your goals are.

TreeMan
Post 1

I never really understood what exactly ecology was. Does it only apply to land animals and environments, or do oceans and lakes count too? I always thought that marine life would be much more exciting to study. I don't know why.

The article mentions a few broad areas where an applied ecologist might get a job, but what are some real companies or organizations that hire these types of people?

Is it usually government agencies, or do big companies usually hire applied ecologists to help them make the best decisions about how to control their waste products?

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