Animal Biology Careers: Job Options and Requirements

Animal biology careers exist in the fields of marine biology, mammalogy and ecology. Continue reading for an overview of the potential majors as well as employment and salary info related to some career options for graduates.

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Do you love animals? Whether you want to study a specific species, an entire ecosystem, or the way different species rely on one another, you might enjoy a career in animal biology. A minimum of a bachelor's degree is needed in this field, and work can be performed in a variety of settings, including academic institutions, laboratories or museums.

Essential Information

Animal biology professionals include biological scientists, mammalogists and ecologists who may work with animals or study their environments. These specialists could educate students, train animals or conduct research. At minimum, a bachelor's degree in a discipline such as animal biology, zoology or marine biology is necessary. Doctoral degrees are required for higher-level research positions.

Career Titles Biochemists & Biophysicists Zoologists & Wildlife Biologists Environmental Scientists & Specialists
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree at minimum; researchers typically need doctoral degrees Bachelor's degree or higher; research positions require graduate degrees Bachelor's degree at minimum; master's degrees are becoming increasingly common
Projected Job Growth (2014 - 2024)* 8% 4% 11%
Median Annual Salary (May, 2015)* $82,150 $59,680 $67,460

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Marine biology, mammalogy and ecology are some career fields under the umbrella of animal biology. For students who fulfill the educational requirements, marine biologist, mammalogist and ecologist are among the career choices.

Marine Biologist

Marine biologists study organisms that live in salt water. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that marine biologists' work focuses mostly on molecular biology, which is the study of the biochemical processes happening inside living cells. Many specialties exist within the marine biology field, and marine biologists can choose to study a single species, ecosystem, behavior or organism. Some branches of marine biology include marine biotechnology and molecular biology. Marine biotechnologists develop new technologies based on marine organisms, while molecular biologists identify microorganisms, study diseases and develop antibodies. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for biochemists and biophysicists were expected to expand at a rate of 8% between 2014 and 2024. Median annual salaries for these professionals were $82,150 as of May 2015.

Marine biologists might work at aquariums, museums, research laboratories, consulting firms, academic institutions, fisheries or government agencies. Some marine biologists teach, while others manage fisheries, train marine animals, conduct research or investigate ocean habitats. Marine biologists need at least a bachelor's degree in animal biology, marine biology or a related field. Marine biologists who conduct research normally need a doctoral degree. Undergraduate classes focus on biology, chemistry, physics, math and oceanography. Graduate programs in marine biology include more advanced classes such as biometry, marine molecular ecology, environmental microbiology and marine parasitology. Thesis or dissertation research is also usually required. Doctoral programs prepare students for careers in research by teaching them processes for identifying, defining and deciphering unique research problems.

Mammalogist

Mammalogists study the evolution, behaviors, illnesses, nomenclature, anatomy and physiology, life processes and ecology of mammals. They often work at zoological gardens to help identify mammals and manage their care. They also teach visitors about the mammals, conduct research and write articles. Mammalogists who are employed by federal or state agencies work on sanctuaries, hunting sites and livestock fields. They might manage wild game species such as rabbits, deer and birds, and some work to control rodent populations to prevent agricultural crop damage. Government agencies and consulting firms often hire mammalogists to evaluate the impact that new construction, structures, roads and other projects have on mammals and their natural habitats.

Research that includes conducting experiments in controlled and natural settings are often part of a mammalogist's job. Findings from these studies are usually published in scholarly journals and scientific reports. The BLS includes mammalogists within the occupation of zoologist/wildlife biologist, which is projected to grow by 4% during the 2014-2024 decade. Growth will be driven by the need to monitor the impacts of humans on the health and balance of wildlife populations and their habitats. Overall, zoologists and wildlife biologists, including mammalogists, earned a median salary of $59,680 in May 2015, with state and federal governments providing the majority of jobs.

Mammalogists can earn undergraduate degrees in animal biology, zoology or a similar field. Classes for these degree programs typically include ecology, biology, anatomy and chemistry. The BLS reports that mammalogists desiring to work in research or in advanced positions may need graduate degrees. According to the American Society of Mammalogists (ASM), master's or doctoral degrees in zoology, environmental science or wildlife management are valuable to mammalogists. Curriculum geared toward mammalogy is available in some college and university biology, zoology and ecology departments. Classes typically include museum field methods, evolutionary biology, biological field studies and biological research. Some schools are affiliated with research museums and have staff mammalogists who also teach. Mammalogy students participate in laboratory practice and field research that sometimes requires students to trap and prepare mammal specimens.

Ecologist

Ecologists study the connection between organisms and their environments and the relationships among organisms, according to the BLS. They use several scientific fields and methods to observe population, rainfall, temperature, elevation and toxins and how these factors affect air, food, water and soil quality. Universities and colleges, government agencies, conservation organizations, museums, consulting firms, research laboratories, private industries and nature centers all hire ecologists. Some ecologists travel to remote areas with heavy populations, and they can spend between two weeks and six months each year doing fieldwork such as biological monitoring, environmental consulting and habitat restoration.

Research is often performed by ecologists employed at academic institutions. Those working for government agencies or industries protect and manage natural resources and wildlife. Ecologists at consulting firms monitor the ecosystem and write influential environmental reports, and ecologists at nature centers and museums teach the public about ecological issues. Ecologists also have a range of job options, with wildlife biologist and molecular biologist among them. Another choice could be environmental scientist or specialist. These professionals made a median salary of $67,460 in May 2015. The BLS expects this occupation to experience 11% growth from 2014-2024, with job increases once again arising from the need to monitor for environmental hazards caused by human development.

Ecologists can earn an undergraduate degree in animal biology, ecology or a related field. A bachelor's degree may suffice for some jobs, such as a high school teacher. According to the Princeton Review, master's degrees in science or ecology are becoming a more common requirement. Government agencies, research institutions, private industries, museums and academic settings may require candidates to have a doctoral degree. Students pursuing a graduate degree in ecology can expect to take classes such as population theory, evolutionary ecology, research seminars, wildlife disease, econometrics and ecotoxicology. Doctoral programs typically require more research beyond the master's program. Many schools have field sites where students gain field experience by helping maintain these sites.

Animal biology careers include marine biologists, mammalogists and ecologists. While it's possible to begin a career in these fields with a bachelor's degree, research positions as biochemists, zoologists, and wildlife biologists all require graduate level degrees. Ecologists, such as environmental scientists and specialists, will see the fastest job growth over the 2014-2024 decade, with an 11% predicted increase in employment opportunities.

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