Learn About Ecology
Data And Science
World Biomes
Marine Mammals
Classroom Projects

What do ecologists do?
What is a work day like?
How can YOU become an ecologist?
How much does an ecologist get paid?
What are some types of careers in ecology?
Where do ecologists work?
Information on other ecology and environmental careers

What do ecologists do? Ecologists study the relationships between living things and their environment. Ecologists often have to study and explain how human actions affect other living things and their environment. Ecologists can be teachers or research scientists. They can work for environmental organizations like The Nature Conservancy or for the government. They may work at museums, zoos and aquariums. One cool thing about being an ecologist is that you get to spend time working outside! More on types of careers in ecology...

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What is a work day like?
KDE Ecologist Elsa Cleland talks to students about her day to day work

How can you become an ecologist? It takes a lot of dedication to become an ecologist. Someone who wants to become an ecologist should have a strong science background and enjoy life sciences, such as, botany, zoology, and biology.  It is also important to have good computer and math skills.

Because a large part of ecology is communicating with other researchers and consultants, it is also important to develop writing and speaking skills, as well as to work well in teams and groups. For some ecologists it is also important to know about economics, social sciences and engineering.

It may seem like a career in ecology is far, far away. Most jobs in ecology require a bachelor’s degree in science, and it is often beneficial to have a master’s degree or Ph.D.

For people still in school, there are things you can do to get involved in ecology. If you want to get involved in ecology now you can join an environmental science class or join an ecology club. It is also fun to get involved through summer internships, or volunteer opportunities through UCSB, museums, aquariums, zoos, or other organizations.

How much does an ecologist get paid? If you want to make tons of money, ecology may not be the career for you. But, if you love nature and the outdoors, it is a fantastic job. The salary for ecologists has a broad range, based on the type of job, the level of education needed, and how much experience the person has in working as an ecologist.   The average ecologist makes $30,000 - $60,000 per year. Few ecologists make up to $100,000 each year.

Where do ecologists work?Some ecologists work outside doing field research on land or underwater. Others work in labs, or work in the community with natural resource managers or government officials who develop policies. Some work in offices where they analyze data and build computer models. Ecologists work for educational and other nonprofit organizations, government agencies, research centers and private companies. 

A few examples: At the U.S. government agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, many different ecologists are employed to study the ecology of marine fish and mammals, to help policy makers manage fisheries and to conserve populations. NOAA ecologists study big fish like tuna far offshore, sea lions on islands near the coast, and salmon that migrate between the ocean and streams as far inland as Idaho! NOAA Fisheries has Science Centers, where research is done, on both coasts and also on the Great Lakes in the Midwest. Most of their research scientists have Ph.D.’s, but there are also positions with NOAA that require Masters in Science or bachelor’s degrees.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employs many ecologists and environmental scientists to carry out programs and regulations that protect the environment all around us. The EPA is responsible for making sure that the air we breathe and the water we drink and swim in are safe to use. To keep our air, waters, and ecosystems clean and healthy, the EPA develops regulations that protect the environment from chemicals and other harmful activities. EPA's scientists produce the scientific data and evaluations needed to make good decisions on behalf of the environment, and all of us.

Here at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), an ecology research center, ecologists and other scientists and social scientists from all over the world come together in teams for a week at a time to analyze different problems in ecology such as effects of climate change on salmon, or how best to preserve coastal resources. Each team puts together all the information (data) on a topic that other scientists have found in their research, and they look for patterns or clues that emerge from looking at all the data.

Scientists at non-profit environmental organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy or Conservation International, study environmental issues that relate to conservation. The Nature Conservancy employs scientists with bachelor’s degrees, master's degrees, and Ph.D.’s in ecology and related fields to do a variety of projects. They may carry out their own research projects, help to manage land for conservation, and work with communities to make sure that conservation of land is good for both people in the communicty and for the land.

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More information about ecology as a career from The Ecological Society of America

Careers at the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS)

Opportunities to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Marine mammal careers at the NOAA/National Marine Mammal Laboratory

More on marine careers from NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries

Ocean careers at Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence