Ecologist

South Africa is highly biodiverse, boasting nine biomes within its national borders. 10% of the world’s plant species and 7% of its reptile, bird and mammal species make up intricate ecosystems. Understanding the interactions and interrelationships between living organisms and the physical environment, helps to identify changes in ecosystems that affects its health and ultimately the services it provides. It also informs strategies to conserve and ensure resilient ecosystems to secure all life on earth that it supports.

Ecologists study whole ecosystems, investigating the nature and distribution of living organisms, their interactions within and connection with the surrounding environment. They collect and test samples in marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. They use the data to plan and advise on environmental policies, species and habitat management, environmental restoration and conservation strategies. Some can also develop environmental education programmes to build ecological knowledge amongst key stakeholders.

Ecologists can engage with conservation and environmental scientists, policymakers and social scientists to make recommendations on the effective conservation of ecosystems. They typically work between the field, laboratory and an office environment to collect and analyse ecological data.

Skills

Ecologists require a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of biological and ecological principles, processes and interactions. They will further benefit from:

  • Strong methodical ability in the field and laboratory
  • Extensive statistical modelling ability
  • Critical and analytical thinking ability and problem solving
  • Excellent written and verbal communication and presentation skills

Tasks

  • Conduct field, laboratory and theoretical research
  • Provide models and analysis to establish influencing factors
  • Develop conservation strategies and projects
  • Advise stakeholders and publish findings for sustainable ecosystem management

Studies

B.Sc., B.Sc. (Hons), M.Sc. in Biological Sciences specialising in Botany, Ecology and/ or Zoology at all universities

B.Sc., B.Sc. (Hons), M.Sc. in Conservation Ecology at SU and Wits

B.Sc., B.Sc. (Hons),M.Sc. in Biodiversity and Conservation Biology at UWC

Employers

National, provincial and local government.

Conservation organisations, both public and private.

NGOs and research institutions.

Museums.

Related career paths