Types of Biologists (With Job Descriptions and Salaries)
Updated June 8, 2023
Biologists serve as a vital link between science and public policy. Their position as researchers, communicators, advisors, and analysts plays a crucial role in influencing environmental policy to support the health of the planet, plants, animals, and humans. Learning more about biological sciences can help you determine whether this career path is suitable for you. In this article, we present a list of different types of biologists, discuss their typical responsibilities, and share the average salary for each role.
Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location.
Types of biologists
Biologists study living organisms and their habitats. There are many types of biologists with different specializations, and these professionals use their knowledge to support environmental health in a broad range of industries. For example, a biologist might work in chemical safety research, waterways protection, fisheries management, epidemics research, air quality regulations, urban planning, or agricultural policy. Here are some of the most common types of biologist roles:
1. Marine biologist
National average salary: $63,422 per year
Primary duties: Marine biologists study plant, animal, and microscopic life in Earth's oceans and saltwater environments. They analyze the interactions among marine life, the atmosphere, and coastal environments to track the effects of human activity and development on oceanic ecosystems. The field of marine biology contains many possible specializations, including fish biology, marine mammalogy, and microbiology. Most marine biologists have a minimum of a bachelor's degree, and many also complete advanced degrees. As marine biology is a broad and complex field, it's common for scientists entering the field to specialize in one area, such as a particular species.
Marine biologists can work in a range of settings, from overseeing research projects at sea to teaching in universities, or a combination of both. They may also work as consultants for companies to help mitigate the negative effects of their activities on marine wildlife. Those who work in zoos or aquariums may monitor the health of resident animals and make recommendations about their living conditions. Marine biologists help inform policy related to marine protection and oceanic resource management.
2. Wildlife biologist
National average salary: $87,791 per year
Primary duties: Wildlife biologists, or terrestrial biologists, study non-marine animal populations in the wild to collect data about their habitats, behaviour, and biology. They use this data to reach conclusions about the health of different species and their habitats. Governments often use reports compiled by wildlife biologists to make decisions that affect local wildlife. For example, a regional wildlife authority may use research conducted by these biologists to determine the number of hunting licences to give out per year for a particular species. They may also work in an advisory capacity at zoos, consulting firms, or community centres.
Some wildlife biologists may spend a significant amount of their time outdoors observing, tagging, trapping, relocating, and releasing animals as part of conservation efforts. They may focus on disease transmission among animals in the wild, ecosystem health, or wildlife reproductive rates. Others may work in research or as an educator in colleges or universities. Biologists, particularly those who work in academic settings, conduct census projects, publish research papers, and perform complex statistical and data analyses to determine the condition of animal populations. They may also communicate their findings in presentations or written reports to the public, governments, or stakeholders.
National average salary: $69,599 per year
Primary duties: Ecologists specialize in studying the interaction between living creatures and their environment. They work on ways to support the health of different ecosystems and devise strategies to improve the efficiency of resource use. These tasks ensure resources are available for future generations and support conservation work by providing informed predictions about ecosystem management. Some ecologists specialize in specific environments, such as deserts, rainforests, or soil. They may also devise less harmful strategies to control non-native invasive animal and plant populations.
The work of ecologists can be used to support public health and health research. For instance, an ecologist might identify potentially beneficial substances secreted by animals and plants that offer therapeutic potential for humans. Their findings are often used to inform policy-making on significant environmental issues, such as preserving naturally occurring water filtration systems, using controlled burning to regenerate ecosystem diversity and reduce harmful wildfires, and safeguarding populations of pollinating plants and insects.
4. Environmental planners
National average salary: $85,149 per year
Primary duties: Environmental planners review proposals for buildings and development projects and assess their potential impact on the surrounding environment. They use their knowledge of local environmental regulatory frameworks to devise ways to minimize harmful outcomes and ensure compliance with environmental law. As they require highly detailed knowledge of complex regulatory codes, environmental planners usually become specialists in a specific area of environmental planning. This may include topics like water quality, the building of highways and roads, biodiversity, or agricultural land use.
Environmental planners typically interact with business professionals, governmental employees, and members of the public who aren't scientists. This requires strong communication skills and tact, and negotiation and mediation can be an important part of their job. Excellent writing skills can also benefit environmental planners and help them communicate important information to audiences without a scientific background. As they may intervene in building projects to help ensure regulatory compliance with environmental law, a comprehensive familiarity with relevant regulations is essential to ensure that projects follow the law.
National average salary: $91,843 per year
Primary duties: Biostatisticians help inform policy relevant to individual and public health issues. Using data, mathematics, and statistics to assess disease risk and management, their work helps shape the policies of health agencies. They may use information from different sources, such as medical discharge records or genomic studies, to make predictions related to disease management. The work of biostatisticians is also crucial to the planning, development, and execution of accurate and effective clinical trials. They contribute to the management of epidemics and other health crises by providing a statistical interpretation of complex data to health authorities.
Their specialist statistical and mathematical knowledge allows them to identify appropriate analytical models or develop new ones. They contribute to the design and implementation of clinical trials, ensuring that findings are accurate and based on scientific data. Some examples of areas where the work of biostatisticians has helped improve public health include HIV research, well water contamination, and the reduction of particulate matter air pollution.
6. Fisheries scientist
National average salary: $69,292 per year
Primary duties: Biologists who specialize in fisheries and aquatic resource management study the health of fish populations and ecosystems in areas where fish and human populations interact. These might be places where people swim, fish farming sites, or commercial fishing operations. They may track and document fish population levels to inform sustainable fishing and harvesting policy, assess the impact of pollution on fish health, conduct controlled scientific experiments in the laboratory to simulate real-world conditions, or conduct field research in different types of water.
Fisheries scientists seek to develop excellent analytical and communications skills because they transmit their empirical findings to the public, stakeholders, or governments in a way that encourages good policy development. Their work can have a significant impact on the success of sustainable fishing methods and help avoid resource exhaustion or depletion.
7. Forensic scientist
National average salary: $62,995 per year
Primary duties: Forensic scientists apply their training in scientific methodology to help investigators solve crimes. In addition to training in biology and biochemistry, they also study subjects like dentistry, microbiology, toxicology, pharmacology, DNA analysis, forensic archaeology, and molecular genetics. They support the judicial system by providing investigators with scientific evidence to investigate, solve, and prosecute crimes.
Forensic scientists typically hold a minimum of a bachelor's degree in science, either in forensic science or a related discipline. They can continue to specialize in various fields of forensic investigation, such as forensic podiatry, criminalistics, or trace evidence analysis. As part of their training, they can get certifications in special technical topics, including hair and fibre analysis, drug chemistry, crime scene reconstruction, paints and polymers, or forensic photography.
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