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Naturalist vs. Biologist: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

A career in the sciences can be both exciting and rewarding. Two common roles in this field are that of a naturalist and a biologist. Though these positions share some similarities, there are several key differences between them.

In this article, we discuss the differences between a naturalist and a biologist, and we provide additional science-related professions you may be interested in pursuing.

What is a Naturalist?

Naturalists are experts in the study of plants, animals and other organisms that exist in nature. They typically work in parks, forests, nature reserves or other outdoor settings to collect data and samples, which they then use to develop theories or models about the natural world. Naturalists also work to educate the public about the importance of conserving natural resources and protecting wildlife. In some cases, Naturalists may also be responsible for developing and implementing conservation plans.

What is a Biologist?

Biologists conduct research on all sorts of topics related to living organisms, including their evolution, structure, function, growth and development. They work in a variety of settings, including laboratories, fieldwork sites, offices and classrooms. Biologists typically specialize in a particular area of study, such as plant biology, animal biology or microbiology. They use a variety of tools and techniques to complete their research, including microscopes, computers and statistical software. Biologists typically write reports and scientific papers to share their findings with the larger scientific community.

Naturalist vs. Biologist

Here are the main differences between a naturalist and a biologist.

Job Duties

Both naturalists and biologists study the natural world, but their duties differ. A naturalist observes nature by looking at it directly and recording what they see. They may keep track of animal populations or record weather patterns in a particular area. Naturalists also make detailed drawings, watercolors or photographs to document their findings.

A biologist uses scientific methods to conduct research. They often use laboratory equipment like microscopes and test subjects to measure reactions. Biologists perform experiments to gather data and analyze results to determine a conclusion. They may also write papers about their findings to share with other scientists.

Job Requirements

Most entry-level positions in the field of biology require a bachelor’s degree. However, some research positions may require a master’s degree or doctorate. A bachelor’s degree in biology typically takes four years to complete and includes coursework in topics like chemistry, physics, mathematics and computer science, in addition to biology.

Some biologists also pursue certification through the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). To earn this credential, professionals must have a bachelor’s degree, complete an AIBS-approved training program and pass an exam. The AIBS also offers a certified professional biologist (CPB) credential for those with a master’s degree or higher.

Work Environment

Both naturalists and biologists work in a variety of environments, depending on the species they study. For example, a biologist who studies marine life may spend time at sea or on a boat to observe their subjects. A biologist who studies birds may travel to different locations to find new species to study.

Naturalists often work outdoors, so they can easily access the environment where they study their subject. They also typically work alone or with small teams, which means they don’t need large laboratories or offices to complete their research.


Both naturalists and biologists use scientific skills to study and understand the natural world. This includes skills like observing, measuring and recording data. They also need to be able to identify patterns and trends in their data and develop hypotheses about why these patterns exist.

Both professionals also need to have strong communication skills. Naturalists often work with the public, leading tours, giving talks or working as interpreters at parks or nature centers. They need to be able to explain complex scientific concepts in a way that is easy for laypeople to understand. Biologists typically communicate their findings through writing scientific papers or presenting their research at conferences.

Naturalists tend to focus their studies on a specific area of interest, like plants, animals or ecosystems. They may also have expertise in a particular geographical region. Biologists, on the other hand, often take a more broad approach to their studies, investigating topics like genetics, evolution or cell biology.


The average salary for a naturalist is $46,517 per year, while the average salary for a biologist is $65,472 per year. The salary for both positions may vary depending on the type of work you’re doing, your location and your experience level.


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