Animals have a huge impact on our lives. They are pets, food, pollinators, decomposers, predators and parasites. Biologists study animals to find out how they shape our world, what they can teach us about ourselves to help us to conserve our planet and improve human and animal health.
Follow a career in biology and you can make a difference. You could improve the well-being of domestic animals and expand our understanding of animals in the wild.
Animals and the environment
Field biologists study the behaviour of animals to see how they make use of their environment and interact with each other and with other species. Knowing how songbirds eat enough during the winter to stay alive, but not too much to stop them flying away from predators, allows biologists to work out when the public should leave out birdseed. Learning how honey bees, who pollinate many of our food crops, pass on their knowledge of where flowers are by dancing for the rest of the hive, can help us combat the decline in bee populations. Knowledge of animals and the environment can help us plan ways to conserve endangered animal species around the world.
Studying animals allows us to see the amazing way in which nature operates; finding out how Earth’s ecosystems work, examining our evolutionary history and the human impact on the planet. For example, marine biologists have found out how dolphins use individual clicks to call specific individuals in their pod, in the same way we use names. Primatologists have found that capuchin monkeys play trust games, putting their fingers in each other’s eyes. Ornithologists have found lyre birds can mimic the calls of other species and even car alarms and pneumatic drills. And mathematical evolutionary biologists have discovered that it was farming goats and cows that made human adults tolerant to lactose.
Animals and medicine
Agricultural scientists study the animals we rely on for food. Epidemiologists track the spread of animal diseases, such as Schmallenberg virus and bovine tuberculosis, and advise governments and farmers how to best control the disease to minimise its impact on food supplies. Microbiologists study the causes of infectious diseases in farm animals and how they can be cured. Behavioural biologists examine the conditions farm animals live in, how to reduce their stress and keep them healthy. Vets work with laboratory scientists to develop drugs to keep farm animal (and our pets) healthy.
Studying the animal equivalents of diseases that have spread from animals to humans (such as HIV) has given vital clues to the evolution of those diseases, enabling new treatments to be developed. The plants that chimpanzees eat when they are feeling ill gives us clues about which plants may have medicinal properties that we can use. Some surprising animals have even been used to better understand the human body and how it works. For example, in the lab, biologists use nematode worms to find out about our nervous system and fruit flies to investigate genetic mutations.
Where do these biologists work?
Biologists who work with animals work in a range of occupations and locations - including conservation groups, zoos, aquariums, museums and universities. For example, vets work both in private practice, treating animals, and for research institutes. Animal technicians care for animals in research institutes and sanctuaries. Ecologists and animal biologists often work in the open air, for environmental consultancies, charities and governmental bodies.
There are also jobs that involve communicating biologists growing knowledge of animals to the public, school students, journalists and the government.
Job titles you might see for biologists working with animals
Zoologist, ecologist, field biologist, evolutionary biologist, wildlife biologist, marine biologist, animal behaviourist, ornithologist, entomologist, primatologist, herpetologist, epidemiologist, microbiologist, biochemist, lecturer, wildlife rehabilitator, zoo keeper, museum curator, conservationist.
What you might study
Zoology, ecology, immunology, microbiology, biochemistry, physiology, molecular biology, cell biology, chemistry, conservation biology, marine biology, evolution, biodiversity, biogeography, animal behaviour, animal science, agricultural science, environmental science, veterinary science, aquaculture, land management, wildlife management.
Becoming a Biologist – Degrees and Careers in Biology (Royal Society of Biology)
Zoology careers (Prospects)
For teachers (Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour)