Ecology vs. Biology: What’s the Difference?

What are the major differences between ecology vs. biology? Saint Leo University examines these two specific areas within the science field.

Tags: Bachelor of Science Biology Career Advancement Career Advice Career Exploration Career Planning College of Arts and Sciences Ecology Environment Environmental Science Science Undergraduate Degrees Undergraduate Education Undergraduate Studies
13 February 2023 - By Saint Leo University
A graphic that says 'Ecology vs. Biology' and includes small graphics of a tree, fish, bird, and raccoon, along with the Saint Leo University logo

If you are fascinated by the things in our environment that are alive, you may be trying to decide whether to pursue a career in ecology or biology. Before you can make this decision, it’s important to understand exactly what each field entails. We’ll talk about that here. We also share how these two career paths vary, giving you a clearer idea of the differences that exist between ecology vs. biology.  

What Biology Is

Biology is the study of living things. It is derived from the Greek words bios, which means “life” and logos, which means “study.”

Biologists are interested in learning more about a living organism’s origins, anatomy, and physiology. They also want to better understand its behaviors and how it might change during different stages or phases of its life—in addition to how it may have changed evolutionarily over time.

As there are many different types of living things, from humans to animals to plants, biology is a broad field. This enables professionals to specialize in a certain area or branch of biology, one of which is ecology.

What Ecology Is

The Ecological Society of America defines ecology as “the study of relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment.” Thus, an ecologist’s goal is to better understand the interaction and connections that exist between plants, animals, and other organisms within their respective environments.

Ecologists want to know how each plays off the other, and how changes in one might cause the other to change as well. This information can help us come up with ways to best utilize environmental resources in a way that is sustainable over time without negatively impacting other living things in the process.

Differences in Ecology vs. Biology

The main difference between ecology vs. biology is the broadness of the field. Whereas biology encompasses the structure and function of all living things, ecology focuses specifically on the relationship between these living organisms and their environments.

As a biologist, you may study a certain plant, learning as much as you can about the structure of its roots and leaves, how it changes as it grows, or how it has evolved over time. As an ecologist, you would likely be more interested in how the plant impacts the environment around it or even the impact that the environment has on the plant.

Another difference in ecology vs. biology is where these professionals tend to spend their time. Oftentimes, biologists spend the majority of their days out in the field. They might go to certain locations to collect samples or observe the subjects of their research. Ecologists, on the other hand, often perform their work in a lab or office setting. It is here that they analyze research data to come up with their own ideas or theories about how various organisms interact.

This doesn’t mean that biologists don’t do any work in a lab or that ecologists don’t do fieldwork because each scientist can work in both types of locations. It’s more a matter of where they spend most of their time.

A third difference between ecology vs. biology is the median pay for professionals in these fields. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shares that the median pay for environmental scientists, which is the category in which ecologists fall, is $76,530 per year as of May 2021. The median pay for biological scientists is slightly more, or $82,220 per year.

As medians, this means that one-half of the professionals in that field earn more and one-half earn less. Several factors can affect actual pay, some of which include your level of education, your experience, where you work, and more.

Ready to Pursue a Career in Ecology or Biology?

Now that you understand the similarities and differences between ecology vs. biology, perhaps either or both of these fields may be interest to you. If so, Saint Leo University offers a bachelor’s degree in biology program. That makes this a good option for those who have decided to take a biology career path. But it’s also good for people who want to spend their days working in an ecology role. Why?

Because when you enroll in Saint Leo’s biology program, you have the ability to pursue an ecology concentration. This enables you to direct your focus to this area of science if that’s the one that interests you most.