Do you want to be an ecologist? – Find your passion!


The world we are living in

We all cannot deny that impacts of human activities on global environment and different ecosystems became the more recognisable than ever. Stephen Jay Gould (1985) describes this situation saying “We have become, by the power of a glorious evolutionary accident called intelligence, the stewards of life’s continuity on earth. We did not ask for this role, but we cannot abjure it. We may not be suited to it, but here we are.” What ecologists do is studying how living things interact with each other and surrounding environment, what their structure and functions are. Ecologists contribute to society by making society understand how natural environment works and lead it to manage and protect the environment and biodiversity in more efficient and sustainable way. I believe anyone who has a passion and love for the natural or even artificial environment can be an ecologist.

Figure 1. Poster for Convention on Biological Diversity. available at:

Figure 1. Poster for Convention on Biological Diversity (Convention on Biological Diversity, n.d.)


Work Experience: Beetle sorting and bird-watching

I worked as a lab assistant for PhD research conducted by Ding Li Yong of Fenner School at ANU. It was a fascinating experience of my life to get inspired by this young passionate ecologist, and also a professional bird-watcher. Ding Li took me to explore quite various fields of ecology. First work I was assigned to was sorting beetles out of pitfall trapped samples using light microscope (figure 2). In biodiversity conservation, surrogate species (often referred to ecological indicator) are often used as proxies to represent other taxonomic groups because of their ecosystem functions. Ding Li chose beetles to find out how effective beetles can be in representing other invertebrates and also their associated ecosystem roles. Beetles can be very significant ecological indicators as they are one of the biggest majority of biodiversity with important key ecosystem functions such as predation, herbivory, and decomposition (Nichols et al., 2008). Often captured invertebrates included cryptic species, so use of microscope was necessary for accurate sorting (figure 2 a) and c)).

Figure 1. a) light microscope used for beetle sorting

Figure 2. a) light microscope used for beetle sorting

Figure 1. b) samples sorted by site and trap number. one or two containers were assigned for one trap

Figure 2. b) samples sorted by site and trap number. one or two containers were assigned for one trap

Figure 1. c) lab tweezers used to sort beetles.

Figure 2. c) lab tweezers used to sort beetles.

On a second day, I explored whole different part of ecological studies. I went for a birdwatching to Black Mountain in Canberra. Even though it was not the season for bird watching, we could observe quite diverse species of avifauna including Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen), pied currawang (Strepera graculina) and silvereye (Zosterops lateralis). Different techniques of birdwatching is used for different target species or habitats. The simplest bird-watching skill which is using binoculars to observe fast moving passerines or honeyeaters in woodlands and tropical forests was done.


Finding what you want to do!

During this experience, I spent a lot of time with Ding Li sharing what our passions and interests are in this nature. If I were asked what I learned from these couple days of work experience, I would say I learned to think about bigger yet specific picture of my career as an ecologist. As this world is such a big place full of wonder, there are lots to protect and lots to be studied. It is the most important thing as an ecologist to find your own interest! It could be a specific species, a population, a community or even a whole ecosystem.



Convention on Biological Diversity, (n.d.). Convention on Biological Diversity, Asean centre for biodiversity. [image] Available at: [Accessed 27 Apr. 2015].

Gould, S. (1985). The flamingo’s smile. New York: Norton.

Nichols, E., Spector, S., Louzada, J., Larsen, T., Amezquita, S. and Favila, M. (2008). Ecological functions and ecosystem services provided by Scarabaeinae dung beetles. Biological Conservation, 141(6), pp.1461-1474.

About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
This entry was posted in biodiversity conservation, Introduction to ecology, Volunteer work. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Do you want to be an ecologist? – Find your passion!

  1. Chloe says:

    Looks like you were treated to a diversity of experiences! It would have been interesting to know more about how Ding Li’s work fits into the bigger ecological picture (why do we use indicators? why is Ding Li evaluating beetles in particular? what evidence is there that beetles are good/bad indicators) and how you could tie in the bird watching experience with ecological indicators (e.g. how do birds compare to beetles as ecological indicators?)

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