Conservation Biologist


As a conservation biologist, you focus on how to protect and restore biodiversity, particularly understanding and minimizing human impacts on the natural world. You emphasize the use of planning and sustainable management practices to prevent species extinction and repair damage to ecosystems. You are involved in a number of projects that address issues such as managing threats to species and habitat, identifying and protecting endangered species, identifying sensitive areas for protection, and contributing to the recovery of threatened populations through breeding programs. You are also involved in building partnerships between government agencies, conservation groups, universities, and private landowners.

At a glance

Imagine you are crouched on the edge of a small river, carefully observing a pack of wolves ambling along the opposite bank. You are a conservation biologist and you have been studying and gathering data on this particular group of wolves for the past few days. The River Pack, as it has been dubbed by your research team, is losing valuable habitat, and its population is declining quickly. You and your team of researchers are here to determine what can be done to protect habitat and save this pack. As a conservation biologist, you must look at a number of issues to determine what this wolf pack needs to survive. For starters, you gather data on the life history of these wolves, including their average life span, reproductive and mortality rates, and average litter size. You also study their food and habitat requirements and look at how much of each is available and how this affects the pack's range. You will also study other wildlife in the area, specifically the wolves' predators and prey. For example, the River Pack hunts primarily deer, so you are interested in the area's deer population, including its size and reproductive rate. You will then examine the area's human population and the influences it has on local wildlife, particularly with respect to habitat loss. You will also research wolf studies from other areas to evaluate the success of different strategies that have been implemented to protect populations. As you determine the best way to preserve habitat and protect the River Pack population, you will balance all these factors.

Job duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a conservation biologist:
  • Plan and conduct environmental studies to define problems and identify issues.
  • Plan restoration efforts for damaged ecosystems.
  • Conduct long-term monitoring of populations.
  • Design and conduct field or lab studies and other research on the environment and the relationships between living organisms.
  • Study and evaluate strategies for using land without affecting wildlife habitat.
  • Analyze and present research findings and prepare reports and scientific papers.
  • Provide technical advice to decision and policy-makers.
  • Liaise with government representatives, conservation groups, and landowners.
  • Ensure the maintenance of ecological data as a basis for ecosystem management.
  • Locate funding for research and conservation projects.

Work environment

Conservation biologists work in a variety of locations, including: In the office:
  • Analyzing and managing data and reviewing reports
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, stakeholders, government departments, colleagues, and experts in the field
  • Researching new studies and techniques for conservation
  • Compiling data and preparing reports and scientific articles
In the field:
  • Studying wildlife populations and ecosystems
  • Recording data and observations
In the lab:
  • Processing samples

Where to work

There are a number of places conservation biologists can find employment. They include:
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and First Nations government departments
  • Colleges, universities, and research institutes
  • Environmental and engineering consulting firms
  • Conservation authorities and centres
  • Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations

Education & requirements

If you are a high school student considering a career as a conservation biologist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
  • Biology
  • Mathematics
  • English
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a conservation biologist is a university undergraduate degree. If you are interested in research, a graduate degree is usually required. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a conservation biologist, the following programs are most applicable:
  • Conservation Biology
  • Wildlife Biology
  • Ecology
  • Zoology
  • Natural Resource Management
  • Environmental Science
  • Geology
  • Geography
  • Habitat Restoration
Although it is not necessary to become certified in order to work as a conservation biologist, some practitioners choose to apply for Professional Biologist status. The requirements for this designation vary among provinces.

Skills

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with business skills. The ECO Academy can help you build the essential skills needed for a successful environmental career. Learn more raquo

Salary

Conservation biologists with a bachelor's degree make an average of $38,000 per year in Canada. With several years of experience and education conservation biologists can make between $52,000 and $67,000 per year.

Role Model

Henry Lickers

When Henry Lickers started work as a biologist on the Akwesasne Reserve, "They had a host of different problems-airborne contaminants from smelters nearby, contaminated fish in the St. Lawrence River, problems with water quality, water levels and flows. They needed a biologist who could look at these problems and the data that was coming from the government." The problems aren't all solved, but Henry isn't working alone any more. He supervises a staff of eight that monitors conditions on the reserve. "Right now we are beginning the summer sampling period-counting ducks, looking for snapping turtles, doing monitoring to help us understand the environment." Henry has always had a natural aptitude for statistics, an ability that has become more and more important in his work. "If you want to work in this field, do as my grandfather told me, see the way the numbers dance. You're looking at the poetry, the dancing of the numbers when you think of the numbers this way. "As Native people, we know that the music we hold in our soul is the song of the drum. When you combine the dance of the numbers with the song of the drum, you have a process and a way of doing things that is strong enough to answer any question." "My work now seems to be doing the dance of the numbers to the world but also bringing to them the spirit of the drum. We have been acknowledged for some cutting-edge science, major health studies. Like I said, it's that song of the drum that keeps us going."