Environmental biology is similar to ecology. But while both fields study ecosystems, environmental biology places more emphasis on the biological aspect. Also, while ecology often focuses on the interactions between species in the same ecosystem, environmental biology focuses on the impacts of human activities on those ecosystems and the species living in them.
An environmental biologist investigates the impacts of actions, pollutants, and conditions on wild communities. They usually focus on ecosystems rather than a particular species. For example, they may study "indicator species" like worms that live at the bottom of rivers, lakes, and streams to assess overall ecosystem health. They may delineate wetlands areas, assess water quality, or investigate the impacts of a proposed development project.
What Does an Environmental Biologist Do?
Environmental biologists are mainly responsible for monitoring environmental conditions and conducting environmental impact assessments for development projects. These tasks usually involve significant field work, such as maintaining environmental monitoring systems and collecting water and soil samples from the field. Environmental biologists plan these monitoring and data collection programs. They must then analyze the chemical and biological data from the samples they've collected using mathematical and statistical techniques. They may use GPS equipment to record spatial information on their field activities, and geographic information systems (GIS) to create maps from the GPS data.
Environmental biologists may also determine the impacts of wastewater discharge, agricultural and urban runoff, and other conditions. Many monitor pollution levels to ensure compliance with state and federal laws. Others may conduct wetlands delineations, classify wetland types, and conduct habitat assessments. Some are in charge of consulting with government agencies and obtaining required permits for clients' development projects, or submitting official comments on proposed environmental regulations for their organizations. Nearly all environmental biologists need to write and submit technical reports detailing their findings. Their efforts help protect ecosystems from adverse effects related to human activities.