Imagine standing knee-deep in a fast-moving, frigid creek 20 metres from where it runs into a spectacular alpine lake. In front of you is a large fishing net strung between the creek's banks in which five enormous bull trout have been caught.
You are an ecologist and you've been here for two weeks gathering data on the endangered bull trout population.
Two decades ago, the province wanted to encourage sport fishing and tourism in the area, so it introduced rainbow and brown trout to the lake. These new species became direct competitors with the bull trout for food and habitat, sending the bull trout population into sharp decline.
Years of study and work have been dedicated to reviving the bull trout population by removing the introduced fish. You are here to see if these measures are working.
Several times a day, you wade out nets to grab the fish that have been caught and bring them to your mobile station on the bank. One at a time, you put the bull trout in a basin of water with a bit of anaesthetic that temporarily sedates the fish so you can work with each one for about 10 minutes.
When the fish is sufficiently calm, you take it out of the basin and check for an identification chip implanted just under the skin. Once you have identified the fish, you measure its length and weigh it. You then put the fish in another tank, where you will keep it until the anaesthetic's effects have worn off and the fish can be safely returned to the creek.
Then, you will compare the data from this year to years previous. The ID chip lets you track each fish individually so you can check if it is growing longer and gaining weight, indications of an abundant food supply.
The ID chip also lets you measure recruitment rates by counting how many new juveniles are caught without chips, as well as death rates by counting how many fish from last year didn't return to the creek. These factors will allow you to evaluate the recovery of the lake's bull trout population.
After a couple long weeks in the field, you will return to your office and begin analyzing all the data using statistical software to indicate the size and growth of the bull trout population and whether it is going to survive in the lake.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical duties that an ecologist might encounter:
The main role of an ecologist is to study and observe environmental patterns. As a result, ecologists work in a variety of locations, including, but not limited to:
Note: with regards to fieldwork, your work is heavily dependent on the seasons and the specific ecosystems that you are investigating.
There are several places to find ecologist jobs and employment. They include:
Search for jobs on the ECO Canada Job Boad
If you are considering an ecologist career, you should have an interest in:
For progression into a senior or supervisory position as an ecologist, you will likely need a graduate or doctorate degree.
Individuals that hold only an undergraduate degree are more likely to be placed in non-research positions involving laboratory tests and/or collecting field data.
If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an ecologist, the following programs are most applicable:
Although it is not necessary to be certified in order to work as an ecologist, some practitioners choose to apply for certification. The requirements for this designation vary among provinces. Alberta for example has the Alberta Society of Professional Biologists (ASPB).
Other certification that may be an asset include:
Hard/ Technical Skills (skills obtained through formal education and training programs)
Soft Skills (personal attributes and characteristics)
Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with soft skills. Watch our free webinar “Essential Not Optional: Skills Needed to Succeed in Canada’s Environmental Industry” or take our Essential Skills courses.
Todd Fell works in an ecological consulting firm based in Guelph, Ontario. Todd's role as a restoration ecologist/ecological technician includes responsibilities that range from conducting inventories and analyses of vegetation and wildlife resources to restoration plans and working with computer-assisted design (CAD) programs. Many of these projects require a multidisciplinary approach, so Todd often works closely with engineers, hydrologists, botanists and other specialists. "Although I believe in conservation first, my real passion is ecological restoration, which means trying to repair the damage done to an area or a species.
The pace of development is so fast that I feel a responsibility to take an active role in restoring natural landscapes." Like many people, Todd followed a career path that wasn't exactly a straight line.
He graduated from the University of Guelph in landscape architecture, and through his involvement with environmental community groups like the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, Todd discovered the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER). Through the SER, Todd heard of a 1-year college program at Niagara College in Saint Catharines, Ontario, that specialized in restoration ecology.
Upon graduation, Todd was able to quickly get a contract with a firm that matched his career aspirations. "It's been 2 years since that first 6-month contract and I'm still here; sometimes all you need is a chance to get your foot in the door!"
In Canada, we have numerous ways of determining changes in the environment, especially when it comes to the weather. For example, flocks of birds migrating south are a sign that winter is coming. As an ecologist, you question, for example, how the behaviours of birds - such as migration - are stimulated by changes in the environment.
As an ecologist, you may also be invited to educate local communities about environmental issues and ecosystems in their area. Reports that you write will be used to influence environmental policy and offer expert advice to various organizations.
Climate change has increased natural disasters around the world. Despite the wreckage left behind, there are capabilities to rebuild. Natural disasters may be inevitable, but what about oil spills? When animals need to be removed from their habitats, how can this shift affect the behaviour of the environment that they leave behind?
As an ecologist, you will be able to answer these questions and more, while creating proactive solutions. Beyond working on natural disasters, ecologists observe changes to ecosystems and how organisms interact with one another after a disturbance has caused an imbalance.
Disturbances can come from various sources including increases in temperature, increased human activity as a result of urbanization, and many more. Ecologists’ understanding of these disturbances helps other ecologists and scientists make informed decisions on the best ways to mitigate the effects of these problems.
Ecologists’ work is used to answer questions about conservation and environmental protection, and management and environmental stewardship.
Individuals employed as ecologists be classified in one or more of the following occupational groupings:
NOC Code: 2121- Biologists and Related Scientists
NOC Code: 2224- Conservation and Fishery Officers
NOC Code: 2122- Forestry Professionals
The National Occupation Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data, describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.
The NOC is developed and updated in partnership with Statistics Canada to coincide with the 5- year census cycles. It is based on in-depth occupational research and consultations conducted across Canada, to reflect changes in the Canadian labour market.
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