What is Field Biology?

College and university programs in modern biology may be divided into two categories: organismic biology and cellular biology. The basic difference between these two categories is their primary level of focus. The whole organism is the center of attraction in the former category, whereas the cellular biologist is more interested in what is happening at the cellular and molecular level within an organism. Field biology operates at the level of the organism, community, ecosystem or landscape. Field biologists use nature as a laboratory and combine the principles of biology, the physical sciences and mathematics to study the diversity and interactions of plants, animals and microorganisms in their natural environments. Thus, field biologists include ecologists, zoologists, botanists, population biologists, taxonomists, physiologists, wildlife and fisheries biologists, microbiologists and others.

What Field Biologists Do

In colleges and universities, field biologists teach courses such as ecology, ornithology, plant taxonomy, entomology, wildlife and fisheries management and an almost endless list of other courses. In addition, they not only teach students how to conduct research, but they conduct original research in their individual areas of expertise to expand our knowledge and understanding of the evolution and diversity of organisms and how the interactions between organisms form and maintain biotic communities.

Many field biologists are employed by county, state, and federal agencies as wildlife biologists, fisheries biologists, entomologists, range managers, pollution control technicians, environmental health officers, environmental education specialists, toxicologists, soil scientists, naturalists, and many others. Many of these types of careers involve research and some may be involved in the regulation and enforcement of environmental laws.

Field biologists may also find careers in industry and private business. For example, Wolf Creek Generating Station employs several field biologists to monitor and manage the cooling lake and land around the facility. Large commercial fish farms often employ fishery biologists, and chemical companies may utilize field biologists as environmentalists. Field biologists may be self-employed and offer their expertise to the public and industry as consultants in wildlife management, environmental landscaping, habitat improvement, etc.

Academic Requirements

Although there are career opportunities for field biologists with only a baccalaureate degree, many professional field biologists hold either a master degree or a Ph.D. For this reason it is advisable that individuals interested in careers in field biology give careful consideration to graduate study after completion of the bachelor degree.

At Emporia State, students who plan to become field biologists earn a Bachelor of Science degree with a concentration in either environmental biologyzoology or botany. The major in biology consists of a minimum of 45 semester hours in biology plus an additional 10-20 semester hours in chemistry and mathematics. Coursework in physics, computer science and earth science is also encouraged. Regardless of the concentration selected, all students complete a common core of 21 semester hours in Principles of Biology, Biology of Plants, Biology of Animals, Microbiology, Genetics, and Ecology. The remaining 24 semester hours are selected from advanced courses in general biology, physiology, taxonomy, ecology, vertebrate zoology, invertebrate zoology and botany.