Geographer  What They Do

Just the Facts

Geographers Career Video

Insider Info

dotKnowing 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.

dotDavid 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.

dotBiogeographers 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.

dotMany 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.

dotBiogeographers often spend time in the field. George Malanson measures tree rings to gauge the age and health of trees in the northern Rocky Mountains.

dotMost 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.

dotMalanson 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.

dotBiogeographers 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.

dotBiogeographers 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.

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this career is about?Check out Just the Facts for simple lists of characteristics.

At a Glance

Figure out the web of life

  • Biogeographers study plant and animal life and how they fit into the environment
  • Computers and technology are increasingly important tools
  • A bachelor's degree is essential -- master's degrees are common