Ecologists are environmental biologists who study the interactions between organisms and their environment and between organisms themselves.

Ecologists undertake environmental studies by investigating the influence of human activity on the natural environment, for instance the impact of population size, housing, recreational facilities, pollution and farming on the environment. Through their research they attempt to rectify imbalances caused to the environment.

Ecology is actually a branch of Biology, dealing with organisms and their relationship to their physical environment. When people cause imbalances in the environment, ecologists try to rectify these imbalances. They are frequently involved with conservation management, which requires the intelligent interpretation and application of biological principles.

Commercial utilisation of the environment has increased along with media and public interest in conserving our limited resources. Large building and mining projects, particularly in areas regarded as being ecologically sensitive, are, in most cases subject to a full report, called an environmental impact assessment (EIA), from a professional ecologist.

Professional ecologists are also known as environmental scientists or environmental engineers. Environmental and business interest groups often enlist more than one ecologist regarding a particular piece of land, in order to gain public approval for their agendas.

Ecologists work both indoors and outdoors. They spend time in nature where they collect material to help solve ecological problems. They also spend time in laboratories analysing and interpreting data which is then used for improving our understanding of the ecosystem.

Personal Requirements

  • love of nature and conservation
  • excellent observational skills
  • enquiring mind and ability to analyse data
  • adaptable and able to work under very demanding circumstances
  • physical stamina to withstand fieldwork under rough conditions
  • able to communicate well with a wide range of people
  • scientific and technical aptitude
  • ability to work as a member of a team
  • able to gain a solid background in as many life sciences as possible to facilitate responsible interpretation of data

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science
Recommended subjects: Life Sciences 

Each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to Study

Degree: BSc degree majoring in one or more of the following: Ecology, Botany, Zoology, Microbiology, Soil Science, Geology with supporting courses in Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science

BSc Honours specialising in Ecology is essential for securing research positions.




  • research organisations, such as: CSIR
  • universities
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
  • Department of Water Affairs and Forestry
  • National Parks Board
  • museums
  • large industries with an interest in conservation
  • self-employment, as a consultant
The opportunities for private consulting are likely to increase as pressure is placed on building consortiums to conduct their own independent environmental impact studies so that they are in a position to state their case when faced with opposition from various lobby groups to proposed building projects.

Further Information

The SA Institute of Ecologists & Environmental Scientists
P O Box 1749
Noordhoek, 7979
Tel: (046) 122-0579

Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa
1 Karkloof Road
Tel: (033) 330-3931

Getting Started

  • join wildlife societies and clubs at school and outside school
  • read as much as possible about ecology and environmental conservation
  • make an appointment to speak to an ecologist about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

Ecologist in Africa

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