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Field Biologist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a field biologist. Get a quick view of the various specializations as well as details about degree programs, job duties and employment outlook to find out if this is the right career for you.

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Field biologists perform research of the plants and animals related of a specific natural habitat that they focus their research on. This field requires a bachelor's degree in a related subject. The job outlook for zoologists and wildlife biologists is about as fast as all jobs.

Essential Information

Field biologists conduct research on land, in air and water, studying plant, animal and bird behavior in natural ecosystems. They collect plant specimens and track the movements of aquatic and land animals. Many field biologists study environmental degradation due to industrial development and global warming and work as advocates for the environment.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) * 4% (for all zoologists and wildlife biologists)
Average Salary (2015) * $64,230 (for all zoologists and wildlife biologists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description of a Field Biologist

Field biologists can work in many different areas. Some concentrate on plants in a range of ecosystems from deserts to tropical forests, observing plant interactions with the environment. Others study the behavior of wild animals. They often have to live and work outdoors as they perform field research and collect biological data. Some field biologists specialize in the study of aquatic plant and animal life. For example, marine biologists specialize in saltwater organisms, while limnologists specialize in freshwater organisms.

Field biologists are responsible for conducting field research, recording data and analyzing data in their respective fields. Field biologists can then draw conclusions based on their analyses. Some field biologists can make recommendations to organizations or government agencies based on their findings.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that, while career opportunities in biological science were good, government jobs for zoologists and wildlife biologists would vary depending on budgets. Jobs were expected to grow 4% for wildlife biologists and zoologists from 2014 to 2024. While it did not publish wage information specifically for field biologists, in 2015 the BLS reported the mean annual wage for zoologists and wildlife biologists to be $64,230.

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Duties of a Field Biologist

The duties of a field biologist vary greatly. Not all field biologists perform the same tasks. Field biologists identify and classify new plant species and perform experiments on their growth and behavior. They track land animals using sounds, paw prints, fecal matter and saliva. They conduct censuses of endangered animal species and observe their behavior patterns and interactions. Some field biologists trap and tranquilize wild animals like bears and moose to record their sex, physical measurements, paw size and age. They tag the sedated animals with GPS collars or VHF radio transmitters to track their movements. They capture endangered species and transport them to wildlife sanctuaries. They reintroduce specimens born in zoos or sanctuaries back to wild habitats.

Field biologists must maintain extensive, scientific records of their observations in the form of field reports. They make sketches, take photographs and collect samples of plants, insects and animals. They collect blood, feces and other organic substances left behind by animals to perform laboratory analysis and genetic testing. They use hand-held devices with GPS tracking software to input observational data and create species maps. They also use radio telemetry equipment, remote cameras, database software and modeling programs to track animal movement.

Requirements to Become a Field Biologist

The educational requirements for an aspiring field biologist vary depending on his or her choice of subject for future research. A bachelor's degree in botany, molecular biology or biochemistry is good preparation for an aspiring field biologist who wishes to study plant life. Most undergraduate biological sciences programs require courses in chemistry, organic chemistry, physics and statistics. Undergraduate botany programs require courses in plant ecology, structure, pathology and genetics.

Getting a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) in botany is useful for field biologists aspiring to teach and pursue research. Ph.D. students take plant biology seminar courses, perform independent research under a faculty adviser having similar research interests and write a thesis.

A bachelor's degree in zoology, environmental science or marine biology is ideal for aspiring field biologists who wish to focus on studying wildlife. Subjects that undergraduate zoology majors study might include:

  • Animal communication
  • Ecosystem analysis
  • Insect behavior
  • Ornithology
  • Landscape ecology

A bachelor's degree in marine biology, molecular biology or oceanography is useful for field biologists focusing on aquatic life. Oceanography majors learn to plan and perform experiments and analyze results to understand marine ecosystems. They learn to synthesize useful scientific data by melding the principles of chemistry, physics, geology and biology.

Field biologists who wish to continue their education can participate in master's degree programs or doctoral degree (Ph.D.) programs. A field biologist with a Ph.D. can teach and perform research for university programs.

Field biologists work in many different areas studying plant and animal life in a variety of habitats. They must have a bachelor's degree, and may pursue a master's degree or a Ph.D if they want to work in academia. The average annual salary in this field is about $64,000.

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