Everybody knows plants and animals are the two basic types of life. In the most general terms, botanists study plants and zoologists study animals, but the diversity of both scientific disciplines is reflected in a wide variety of botanists and zoologists. Given that more than 1.3 million animal species have been identified to date, it is not surprising that zoology is an especially broad field, with practitioners ranging from bacteriologists to ornithologists to wildlife biologists.
Most zoologists become specialists in a particular type of animal. A few common specialty zoologists include mammologists, who study mammals; ornithologists, who study birds; ichthyologists, who study fish; and entomologists, who study fish. Each of these specialist zoologists has studied for many years to become an expert on the anatomy, behaviors and habitats of the animals they research. Almost all have earned master's degrees, and many have earned doctorates in zoology, including original research involving their specialties.
Many wildlife biologists choose research careers, meaning they spend a good deal of time in the lab as well as in the field. Other wildlife biologists choose more public-facing careers, working in conservation, ecology or wildlife education. Some wildlife biologists work in academia, and a number of wildlife biologists are employed by government agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, as well as by state natural resource and management agencies.
Ecologists study the relationships among various organisms and the surrounding environment. Rather than focus on just one type of animal, ecologists study ecosystems more generally. Ecologists do, however, frequently specialize in a specific type of physical environment, such as a grasslands ecologist or a forest ecologist. An ecologist might try to figure out, for instance, the impact of invasive species, such as Asian carp, on the ecosystems of local lakes and waterways.
Marine biologists study organisms that live in salt water environments such as oceans, salt marshes or tidal flats. Scientists know much less about marine life than they do terrestrial life because of the difficulty in doing research underwater. That said, marine biologists work to close the gap, and are involved in research projects ranging from observing whale migration patterns to trying to catch the elusive deep sea squid on film.
2016 Salary Information for Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
Zoologists and wildlife biologists earned a median annual salary of $60,520 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, zoologists and wildlife biologists earned a 25th percentile salary of $48,360, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $76,320, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 19,400 people were employed in the U.S. as zoologists and wildlife biologists.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: OOH -- Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
- Current Results: Number of Species Identified on Earth
- iSeek Careers: Zoologists
- About BioScience: BioScience Careers -- Zoology
- Alec.co.uk: Careers in Zoology
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
- Career Trend: Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.