Some biologists work primarily in the field, organizing and participating in field inventories or surveys, documenting species and relevant data for various types of studies, consulting purposes, environmental impact assessments, reclamation or other purposes. Other biologists conduct laboratory research and offer advice and expertise to others. In general, biologists:
- inventory and identify organisms (for example, plants, animals or communities)
- organize and implement field studies to analyze and monitor such things as population dynamics, genetics or habitat
- take samples and conduct tests in laboratories
- conduct research to understand how organisms develop and function
- apply biological principles to further medicine and health studies
- analyze and interpret data, and write scientific papers and reports
- use statistics and mathematical models for applications (for example, estimating the number and kinds of organisms in a specific place, identifying trends in population sizes, understanding molecular and cellular processes)
- assess harvest rates and sustainable yield for harvested fish and wildlife species
- consult with stakeholders and the public at large to explore resource management options
- make recommendations regarding the sustainable development of resources
- recommend operating conditions for industrial activities to negate or minimize environmental damage
- provide information and make presentations to schools, clubs and interest groups
- supervise the work of biological technicians and other staff.
Biologists may have a wide variety of job titles depending on their area of specialization. For example, aquatic biologists may be called fisheries biologists, invertebrate biologists, limnologists or marine biologists depending on the types of organisms (for example, fish, plankton) and habitats (ocean or freshwater environments) they study.
There are many specializations in each of the following broad areas of study.
Botanists and plant biologists study plants and plant systems (plant growth, development, function, distribution, origin, as well as applications in medicine, agriculture and synthesis) and related environmental issues such as conservation, re-vegetation or weed control. For example, they may:
- design reserves and recovery plans for threatened plant species
- identify plants and conduct plant inventories
- develop biological control strategies to combat pest insects and weeds
- reclaim old mining and oil drilling sites to stabilize the surface and facilitate the recovery of natural vegetation
- study the effects on natural vegetation of pollutants discharged into the air by factories or vehicles
- study how habitats change after a disturbance such as a fire (ecological succession)
- study plant specimens in greenhouses and laboratories
- conduct evolutionary or taxonomic studies
- study the physiology and synthesis of valuable plant products
- develop biotechnological processes to facilitate the production of valuable commodities including drugs, foods, fuels and other chemicals
- study prehistoric plant fossils.
Fisheries biologists study freshwater fish and their habitats. For example, they may:
- study the relationship between water quality and the health of a fishery
- identify fish, aquatic plants and insects (fish food)
- develop and evaluate fish management programs
- manage fish hatcheries
- study life history features relevant to the sustainability of fisheries.
Marine biologists study bacteria, plankton, plants and animals that live in oceans and seas and on their shorelines. For example, they may:
- study and develop models to predict the behaviour, distribution, evolution or relationships of organisms that live in marine environments
- study the effects of light, temperature, physiology and nutrients on the growth of plants and animals in the sea
- study the effects of pollution on plant and animal life in oceans (water chemistry)
- develop new food sources and other useful products from the sea.
Wildlife biologists study wildlife (birds, reptiles, mammals, amphibians), wildlife habitat and environmental interactions (for example, the effects of fire), and apply their knowledge to the management of wildlife resources and natural habitats.
For information about other areas of study, see the Biochemist, Ecologist, Entomologist, Food Scientist, Geneticist, Microbiologist, Pharmacologist and Toxicologist occupational profiles.