What Do Ecologists Do?

Ecologists examine water near a chemical plant

Are you passionate about protecting the environment for future generations to enjoy, or safeguarding human health and safety from the effects of climate change? If so, there are many jobs in the environmental science field that you might consider pursuing, such as the job of an ecologist. This career guide offers answers to some common questions students have about ecology, such as, “What do ecologists do?” and “What’s a typical ecologist job description?”

What Is an Ecologist?

Ecology is the branch of science that pertains to the way in which organisms (plants, animals, fungi and other forms of life) interact with each other and with their environments. In other words, ecology studies the relationships among and between organisms and their ecosystems.

Studying organisms and their ecosystems is crucial for understanding how these ecosystems are changing, how various factors affect the organisms within various ecosystems, and which protections are needed to conserve the environment. An ecologist might study specific issues, such as the loss of biodiversity in a national park, the effects of an invasive caterpillar species on a forest, or the impact of climate change on coastal wetlands. The work that ecologists do can have a direct impact on public policy changes and resource allocation for conservation work.

A Look at a Typical Ecologist Job Description

The specific job duties of an ecologist can vary widely, depending on their employer and area of specialization. For example, an ecologist may specialize in microbiology, zoology, toxicology, marine biology, botany or soil science. Some ecologists might study soil microbes, while others might study oceanic pollutants.

In general, however, an ecologist might do any of the following tasks:

  • Conduct fieldwork to evaluate ecosystems and collect data for analysis
  • Write environmental impact reports
  • Maintain equipment and instruments used during fieldwork
  • Write and publish their scientific findings in journals, and present their work at professional conferences
  • Use sophisticated software to develop computer models that explore the effects of changes in the ecosystem
  • Write grant proposals to obtain funding for research and conservation programs

Ecologists may consult for government agencies and private corporations as ecological consultants. For example, they may study the potential effects of proposed business operations on the nearby environment. They may also consult for landowners who are thinking of developing their land, as well as for officials responsible for establishing public policies.

Essential Skills and Characteristics of an Ecologist’s Work

Your academic studies and internship experiences will help you develop the most essential skills and characteristics needed to be an effective steward of the Earth. Some of these important attributes are as follows:1

  • Passionate about your work
  • Computer-savvy
  • Skilled at communication
  • Skilled at writing
  • Good analytical reasoning abilities

Are Ecologists in Demand?

There will be a steady demand for ecologists and environmental scientists in the foreseeable future. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not report data specifically for ecologists, they do report job growth and salary data for environmental scientists and specialists. As of September 2021, the BLS estimates job growth for environmental scientists and specialists to increase by about 8% from 2020 to 2030, which is as fast as the average for all occupations, generating an increase of about 7,300 jobs in the field.2 According to the BLS, as of May 2020,3 environmental scientists and specialists have a median annual wage of $73,230.3

Grand Canyon University can help you pursue your dream of becoming an ecologist or other type of environmental scientist. In addition to the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science degree for undergraduate students, GCU offers the Master of Science in Biology with an Emphasis in Education program, with online courses available. 


1 Retrieved from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Environmental Scientists and Specialists, How to Become an Environmental Scientist or Specialist in August 2022.

2 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on September 2021, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Scientists and Specialists.

3 The earnings referenced were reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”), Environmental Scientists and Specialists as of May 2020. Due to COVID-19, data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may also impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the BLS. BLS calculates the median using salaries of workers from across the country with varying levels of education and experience and does not reflect the earnings of GCU graduates as Environmental Scientists and Specialists. It does not reflect earnings of workers in one city or region of the country. It also does not reflect a typical entry-level salary. Median income is the statistical midpoint for the range of salaries in a specific occupation. It represents what you would earn if you were paid more money than half the workers in an occupation, and less than half the workers in an occupation. It may give you a basis to estimate what you might earn at some point if you enter this career. You may also wish to compare median salaries if you are considering more than one career path.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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