A program that focuses on the scientific study of the natural history, life cycle behavior, and ecosystem dynamics of single species and multi-species communities, and the patterns and causes of diversity within and among such populations. Includes instruction in biostatistics, population dynamics, population and quantitative genetics, RNA and DNA sequences, genomics, evolutionary ecology, natural adaptation and hybridization, geographic differentiation, life history and life cycle studies, and animal and plant demography.
Population biologists focus on understanding the interactions between populations and their environments.
In this context, "population" is a term used to refer to any particular species of plant or animal, though the term can also be used to refer to all of the organisms in a given place. Population biologists study the factors that cause animal populations to climb, drop, or vanish entirely. To make sense of these changes, they must understand predator-prey dynamics, human interference, environmental events, and disease vectors, along with a myriad of other complex elements.
It's hard to overstate the value of population data to natural scientists; monitoring the numbers of organisms in a given area can produce important information. Overpopulation strains an area's natural resources, and low numbers can indicate a larger problem - population biologists must watch the numbers for clues to what might be causing issues in a given ecosystem. Sometimes it ends up being pollution, invasive species, or diseased plants; other times populations are cut down by hunters or breeding gets out of control due to chemical changes that affect natural hormone cycles. Uncharacteristic data is the first step in a chain of investigation, and population biologists are often the first responders working to find solutions that will restore the natural balance of an area.
Work in population biology may include...
- Monitoring the numbers and activities of a type of organism
- Determining the cause of a population spike or decline
- Tracing changes back to their event of origin
- Collecting and analyzing population data
- Developing solutions to population threat factors
Though some consider population biology a niche field, its workers provide valuable data to many other experts across varying disciplines. Many work for universities, teaching or conducting research. Government agencies employ population biologists to keep an eye on wildlife populations, especially large predators, migratory birds, and fish. Some private corporations and nonprofits will bring population biologists on as consultants for special projects, and news publications often use data they have collected.
Most population biologists begin their studies at the undergraduate level, often in biology-focused Bachelor's degree programs. It can be very helpful to take coursework in statistics and ecology, as well as genetics, geography, and plant or wildlife biology. Few undergraduate institutions offer extensive courses in population biology, and many students pursue the field in a specialized Master's or PhD program in ecological or environmental sciences.
If you have a head for data and want to know about the secret lives of the creatures around us, consider a career in population biology - there are so many pieces of the puzzle, and the big picture holds answers to questions we haven't yet learned how to ask.
For more information, please follow the links below:
- The Center for Population Biology at UC Davis is the premiere specialty research center in the field, working to solve fundamental mysteries concerning the origin and persistence of new genetic systems, the history of life on Earth, and the maintenance of biodiversity.
- PNAS: Population Biology is a section of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a journal featuring original research that broadly spans the biological, physical, and social sciences.
- Theoretical Population Biology is an interdisciplinary journal that presents articles on theoretical aspects of the biology of populations, particularly in the areas of demography, ecology, epidemiology, evolution, and genetics.