What Do Ecologists Do?

Nov 9, 2017 By Jenna Pruett
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One thing I learned over the course of my time in college is that “Science” is a big word. I don’t mean big in terms of length, but in terms of meaning! 

Science can mean so many things, and being a scientist can look very different depending on the types of questions you want to answer. Some scientists wear white coats and mix chemicals for most of the day. Some sit at computers and do lots of complicated math problems. Some make observations of the natural world and design experiments to answer questions we have about how nature works.

These are just some of the possibilities for working as a scientist and I got to experience what some of them were like while I was in college. That really helped me decide on ecology as the part of science I wanted to study.

What is Ecology?

Simply put, ecology is the study of how a living thing interacts with its environment. An environment can be made up of lots of things that are living, like other living things, or non-living, like temperature or amount of rainfall.

Understanding how living things interact with their environment is important in understanding so many other things about an animal. It can give us clues about why they live where they do, why they have the characteristics they do, and maybe even how they developed those characteristics. For example, think about a camel.

  • What sort of environment do they usually live in?
  • What makes that environment special or different?
  • What is special about camels that allows them to live in their environment?

These are all ecological questions that help us understand more about the world around us.

What Questions Do Ecologists Ask?

Even within Ecology, you can have lots of different types of questions.

Some ecologists focus on the living things in an environment and how those work together, or maybe how they work against each other. An example of this would be how animals find and capture their food. However, some may focus on how a specific species or type of animal is affected by the nonliving things in the environment. Maybe they want to know how temperature affects the way an animal grows.

As you can see, there are a lot of options when it comes to studying ecology. It’s a very diverse field that can answer questions about plants, animals, and even humans like you and me.

This provides a lot of opportunities for scientists like me to design experiments and collect information to improve our understanding of the world around us.