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Research and applied research are the primary tasks of botanists. Literally every aspect of plant life is studied: cell structure, anatomy, heredity, reproduction, and growth; how plants are distributed on the earth; how rainfall, climate, soil, elevation, and other conditions affect plants; and how humans can put plants to better use. In most cases, botanists work on a specific problem or set of problems in their research. For example, they may develop new varieties of crops that will better resist disease. Some botanists focus on a specific type of plant species, such as fungi (mycology), or plants that are native to a specific area, such as a forest or prairie. A botanist working in private industry, for example, for a food or drug company, may focus on the development of new products, testing and inspection, regulatory compliance, or other areas.
Research takes place in laboratories, experiment stations (research sites found at many universities), botanical gardens, and other facilities. Powerful microscopes and special mounting, staining, and preserving techniques may be used in this sort of research.
Some botanists, particularly those working in conservation or ecological areas, also go out into the field. They inventory species, help re-create lost or damaged ecosystems, or direct pollution cleanup efforts.
Nonresearch jobs in testing and inspection or as lab technicians/technical assistants for universities, museums, government agencies, parks, manufacturing companies, botanical gardens, and other facilities also are available.
Botany is an extremely diverse field with many specialties. Ethnobotanists study the use of plant life by a particular culture, people, or ethnic group to find medicinal uses of certain plants. Study of traditional Native American medicinal uses of plants is an example.
Forensic botanists collect and analyze plant material found at crime scenes.
Forest ecologists focus on forest species and their habitats, such as forest wetlands. Related studies include forest genetics and forest economics. Jobs in forestry include work in managing, maintaining, and improving forest species and environments.
Mycologists study fungi and apply their findings in agriculture, medicine, and industry for development of drugs, medicines, molds, and yeasts. They may specialize in research and development in a field such as antibiotics.
Toxicologists study the effect of toxic substances on organisms, including plants. Results of their work may be used in regulatory action, product labeling, and other areas.
Other botanical specialists include morphologists, who study macroscopic plant forms and life cycles; palynologists, who study pollen and spores; pteridologists, who study ferns and other related plants; bryologists, who study mosses and similar plants; and lichenologists, who study lichens, which are dual organisms made of both alga and fungus.