Knowing where certain plants and animals live, and in what numbers, is
an important part of protecting the Earth's fragile environment. Biogeographers
study how this web of life is distributed on the Earth's surface.
David Stoms is a biogeographer at a university. He uses orbiting satellites
that produce images of the Earth's surface. Using remote sensing pictures,
he can determine what type of vegetation grows in an area and even evaluate
other factors that affect the health of the environment.
Biogeographers also use geographic information systems (GIS) software.
It lets them piece together field research and remote sensing with other facts
that describe terrain, land use, soil types and locations of rivers and lakes.
They then interpret the information to draw a clear picture of an area's
environment. "I collaborate with specialists in related fields to build computer
models to help identify critical areas for conservation," says Stoms.
Many biogeographers specialize in a specific type of plant or animal species,
studying how and where that species is distributed. Others analyze the variety
of animals and plants in a particular part of the world -- such as the desert
of the American southwest or the tundra of Alaska.
Biogeographers often spend time in the field. George Malanson measures
tree rings to gauge the age and health of trees in the northern Rocky Mountains.
Most biogeographers work 35 to 40 hours a week. Those who work for universities
may do their research when they are not teaching. They may work unusual hours
-- nights and weekends -- as needed.
Malanson is chair of the Biogeography Group of the American Association
of Geographers. Malanson says most American biogeographers do academic research
or teach in colleges and universities. Others, like Robert Bailey, a biogeographer
with the U.S. Forest Service, work for federal and state agencies.
Biogeographers must be skilled at collecting and evaluating data. Those
who work in wildlife conservation often build mathematical models that can
predict where a species should and shouldn't be found in a region. This predicted
distribution is compared with the location of parks, wilderness and nature
reserves to see if the habitat the species needs is adequately protected.
Biogeographers often work as integral parts of research teams. They often
travel to collect information or attend meetings.
In the field, researchers may have to cope with rugged conditions. Their
work may involve strenuous physical exertion.