What is Ecology And The Role of An Ecologist?

To work in ecology roles, you must be passionate about the environment and its surroundings, and be devoutly dedicated to the monitoring and conservation of wildlife and its natural components.

What Is Ecology?
The following will give you a broad understanding:
(See the bottom of the page for an outline of what you need to be an ecologist).


The tropical zones both north and south of the equator are the places where the tropical rainforests are found. In these areas, the rainfall is abundant all the year round and totals 200 to 400cms annually.

The rainforest consists mainly of tall broad leaved evergreen trees. The areas of the rainforest do not really have seasons it is a constant climate of high temperatures and heavy rain. These conditions produce humidity that encourages a rich variety of plants and wildlife. In fact, it is the most diverse habitat in the world.

Approximately 70% of the plant species in these forests are trees, with the upper trees composed of solitary 60 metre plus giants. The lower order of trees forms a continuous canopy, and there are woody vines in abundance, as are orchids and mosses, which grow on other plants. Leaf litter is minimal in the rainforest and the nutrients released through decomposition are rapidly reabsorbed by the trees.

Rainforests are found primarily in:

West Africa Malaysia

Burma Thailand

Southern China Indonesia

South America Northern Australia

The Ecology

The climate is the reason everything grows so fast and luxuriantly in a rainforest. Every living thing requires three necessities for growth. These are warmth, water and nutrients. A rainforest provides all these in abundance. The soil is poor, but the vegetation is very rich, because the dead plants and animals are quickly absorbed by the living organisms as food.

Any leaf, plant or animal that dies and falls to the ground is immediately attacked by insects and fungi. Within a very short time the litter decomposes and is absorbed by the plant roots to produce new growth. As a result, the top layer of the soil, the fertile component is very thin, no more than 500 millimetres. Even the tallest trees have only shallow roots that feed off this fertile layer.

While the forest is feeding upon itself, it is also recycling its water. The rainfall is high and the thick canopy of trees keeps out the sun and prohibits any great loss of heat, thus resulting in high humidity.

The Vegetation

Most of the mature trees stand 30 metres high. These trees are partly supported and protected by vines and other smaller trees. However, many tall trees have thick buttress roots that help them to stay upright. The sunlight is blocked out by the treetops and very little reaches the ground.

Without light it is very difficult for the saplings to grow, and in fact, their only chance is when a large tree crashed to the ground and leaves a space. When this occurs, there is a wild race for growth among the seedling to reach the canopy and survive.

The other plants have different growth patterns. Some creeping plants geminated on the floor of the forest and then send out long climbing tendrils. The tendrils creep along the ground until they reach a tree, then they climb up the tree until they reach a patch of sunlight, where they burst into leaf. However, many plants don't bother with the forest floor. They grow in places where water collects, such as a fork in a tree. Here, they cling on and drink water from the air through their roots, that dangle freely in the air. The branches and trunks of trees are covered in orchids, ferns, mosses, creepers and bromeliads, members of the pineapple family.

Creatures of the Rainforest

There is an abundance of life at all levels of a rainforest, from the highest treetops down to the ground. Approximately two-thirds of the plants and animals are found in the canopy and about 80% of the forest's food is there.

In the rainforests of each continent, there is a different selection of animals, there is, however, a common pattern of survival in all rainforests. They have three layers of growth, although the vegetation is so tangles that making a distinction is difficult. Each layer has its own wildlife.

The Canopy

The dense canopy creates the roof of the forest. This is the busiest part of a rainforest where a huge variety of mammals, birds and insects live. The canopy creatures adopt different methods of moving around. Some move by swinging from branch to branch, such as the gibbon monkey, some by leaping, such as gliders and some by crawling or griping the trees with hands feet and tails, such as possums and spider monkeys.

The canopy is also home to epyphitic or “air living” plants such as ferns and elkhorns that take advantage of the elevated position in the canopy tops to access more sunlight. High above the canopy, the largest trees called “emergents” reach 60+ metres and are perfect perches for the birds of prey such as eagles.

The Under-storey

This lies beneath the canopy and it is made up of the smaller trees, shrubs and tangled vines. In Africa, the under storey is the habitat of chimpanzees and mamba snakes. In South East Asia, the under-storey is very dense and busy. This is because the canopies are thinner and more light passes through. These jungles boast spectacular birds of paradise and orchids.

The Forest Floor

This is where the larger animals and insects live. In many countries, there are big cats present, such as South American jaguars and Asian tigers. In others, main predators include lizards and dragons, such as is found in Australia.

Clearing the Rainforest

Tropical rainforests are under threat in most parts of the world. Huge areas are being cut down for timber, or cleared for mining and habitation. This large scale destruction is leading to the greatest number of plant and animal extinctions ever experienced on earth and unfortunately, when the forest are cleared for agriculture, the soils can sustain only a few crop plantings before becoming infertile.

The forest can re-establish itself in small clearing, but the large clearing are never reclaimed. When whole areas have been cut down, the land becomes arid, like a desert.

What is the role of an ecologist?

Ecologists work on a range of challenging, interesting field and office based projects. Whether it’s working solely or in teams, an ecologist may find employment in water and/or earth science fields such as:

Contaminated land research

Land rehabilitation

Ecology analysis


Spatial science and modelling

Research and data analysis

Flora and fauna identification

 To work in Ecology roles, you must be passionate about the environment and its surrounding, along with devoutness and dedication for the monitoring and conservation of wildlife and its natural components


· Ecology Lecturer

· Ecology Analyst

· Remote Sensing Ecologist

· Computer-based Ecologist (link to

· Field-based Researcher

· Spacial Science and Modelling (Ecologist)

· Ecotoxicologist

· Ecologist (link to Botany and Environmental Studies)

· Zoologist (link to Zoo Keeping)

· Eco-tour Guide (link to Eco-tour GuideCourse)

· Project Scientist

· Environmental Scientist

· Environmental Consultant (link to Earth Science)

· Scientific Officer (Council/Government)

· Sustainability Officer (Council/Government)

· Environmental Engineer


An Ecologist, depending on the job, may earn anything from $43,000 - $180,000 a year