Difference Between Ecologist & Environmental Scientist

Ecologists and environmental scientists both focus on protecting the environment, but their areas of expertise differ. This article will cover the job descriptions and outlook for each career to assist you in selecting the better fit.

Comparing Ecologists to Environmental Scientists

A career as an ecologist or environmental scientist may appeal to individuals with strong analytical and interpersonal skills. Although both positions involve protecting the environment, they study different areas. An ecologist focuses on how species interact with each other and their habitats, while an environmental scientist focuses on conservation activities like reducing pollution or waste. Key similarities and differences between these careers are highlighted below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Ecologist Bachelor's degree $50,803 (2017)** 9% - 13% (Environmental Restoration Planners)
Environmental Scientist Bachelor's degree $68,910 (2016; Environmental Scientists & Specialists, including health)* 11% (Environmental Scientists & Specialists, including health)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,**

Responsibilities of Ecologists vs. Environmental Scientists

Ecologists and environmental scientists both utilize their knowledge and research to solve environmental problems. An ecologist utilizes their analyses of animals and their habitats to better understand how human behavior affects them. In contrast, an environmental scientist utilizes their analyses of environmental issues, such as polluted water, to create methods to minimize future risk.


Ecologists strive to understand how ecosystems develop and exist, what impact humans have on nature, and what humans can do to minimize the negative impact on nature. They may conduct field or laboratory research or work for educational institutions or government agencies. This career requires the minimum of a bachelor's degree for positions as program scientists or environmental educators, with a master's degree needed for positions as environmental planners or consultants in private industry. A doctoral degree is needed for research or teaching positions in higher education and research positions at government or private agencies. Students will benefit from internships or volunteer positions at a lab or biological research station. Interested individuals can pursue membership in professional organizations like the Ecological Society of America.

Job responsibilities of an ecologist include:

  • Examining how influencing factors like pollution impact the biodiversity of ecosystems
  • Developing and testing theories on communities and populations
  • Creating technical literature for stakeholders or project proposals
  • Providing consulting services like project management, overseeing staff, and increasing revenue

Environmental Scientist

Environmental scientists strive to understand how they can ensure both the environment and human population are not negatively affected by factors like pollution. They usually work in laboratories or offices of management or scientific services firms, government agencies, or engineering services firms. Environmental scientists will need a bachelor's degree in environmental science, engineering, or chemistry. Students who complete a degree in environmental science will have a broad background in areas like physics, chemistry, and geology. A doctoral degree is required for positions in higher education. Interested individuals can obtain certification through the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management, which requires renewal every five years.

Job responsibilities of an environmental scientist include:

  • Gathering and processing data from soil, air, water, and food samples
  • Advising organizations, government agencies, and the general population on health risks and environmental dangers
  • Examining data from surveys and samples to determine environmental threats
  • Producing technical literature based on their findings

Related Careers

If you would like to become an ecologist, consider a job as a microbiologist, since both careers involve studying organisms in their environments. Individuals interested in a career as an environmental scientist may be interested in a job as a conservation scientist, since both careers involve protecting natural resources.

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