Difference Between Ecologist & Wildlife Biologist

This article examines the similarities and differences between wildlife biologists and ecologists, including the scope of their research, responsibilities and salaries.

Comparing Wildlife Biologist to Ecologist

Wildlife biologists and ecologists are both involved in researching living organisms. The scope of their focus varies, however, since wildlife biologists typically study specific animals and issues affecting them, while ecologists study ecosystems and look at how multiple organisms are impacting each other. In this sense, ecologists look at a larger portion of life, while wildlife biologists focus on a specific element of life.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary Job Outlook (2014-2024)*
Wildlife Biologist Bachelor's Degree $60,250 (2016)* for Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists 4% for Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
Ecologist Bachelor's Degree $50,749 (2017)** 11% for Environmental Scientists and Specialists, including health

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

Responsibilities of Wildlife Biologist vs Ecologist

An ecosystem is essentially a community, which means it encompasses all things that live there. The focus of an ecologist's work is to understand how all the living things in that community have contributed to the development of their ecosystem. While both ecologists and wildlife biologists do research in the field and focus on living things, wildlife biologists may focus specifically on one animal or species, and how the environment is affecting natural populations. Their work can focus on specific issues, such as how to breed endangered animals. Ecologists tend to research many animals living within the ecosystem, as well as their environments.

Wildlife Biologist

Wildlife biologists can begin their careers with a bachelor's degree, but graduate studies may be needed for some employment opportunities. The government employs the highest percentage of wildlife biologists, although they may also work for consulting services or educational institutions. Their work may involve spending a lot of time traveling to conduct research. They focus on animals in their natural habitats and as part of their duties they may conduct very specific studies such as how a particular animal or species behaves.

Job responsibilities of a wildlife biologist include:

  • Identify animals that are declining in population
  • Determine what factors are threatening endangered animals
  • Recommend strategies to protect endangered species
  • Inform people about their research
  • Identify human behavior that's affecting wildlife


Ecologists need to have a bachelor's degree in a subject such as biology, though, half of all ecologists have obtained at least a master's degree in a natural science related field as of 2016. Ecology is an analytical heavy subject requiring extensive knowledge of environmental processes. Ecologists use their understanding of the natural sciences to determine how to perform research on ecosystems. Their work hours can vary and include evenings and weekends, depending on the habits of the organisms they're studying. While they may write their reports or educational materials in an office, they can spend a lot of time traveling to specific locations to conduct research.

Job responsibilities of an ecologist include:

  • Travel to locations they are studying
  • Identifying organisms and environmental systems
  • Assessing environmental risk factors
  • Identify pertinent educational information relevant to that ecosystem
  • Prepare and present research findings

Related Careers

Conservation scientist perform similar duties to those of wildlife biologists since they may be able to help preserve land and prevent the extinction of local wildlife. Another career option for aspiring ecologists is microbiologist. While ecologists study organisms, microbiologists study microorganisms.

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