Other sites

Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Home > Resources > Glossary


© iStock Taylor Hinton


Strategies, policies and measures designed to reduce the current and future impacts of global environmental changes.


Managing resources under uncertainty to reduce it. AEM's management experiments involve both people and institutions affected by the management strategy in designing the experiments and in interpreting the results.


All crops and animal breeds, their wild relatives, and the species that interact with and support these species, e.g. pollinators, symbionts, pests, parasites, predators, decomposers, and competitors, together with the whole range of environments in which agriculture is practiced, not restricted to crop lands or fields.


Mosaics of agricultural and non-agricultural ecosystems.


Effects or processes that are derived from human activities, as opposed to effects or processes that occur in the natural environment without human influences


The Convention on Biological Diversity defines biological diversity as ‘the variability among living organisms from all sources including... terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems’.


Appropriation, generally by means of patents, of biological resources, both species and genetic (including human genes), by foreign entities (including corporations, universities and governments) without compensatory payment.


Biotechnology means any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use (UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Article 2).


Area of uniform environmental (physical) conditions providing habitat(s) for a specific assemblage of plants and animals. Just as a habitat is the place where a species is found, so a biotope is the place where a specific biological community is found (Wikipedia).


Encompasses the country’s human, scientific, technological, organisational, institutional and resource capabilities. A fundamental goal of capacity building is to enhance the ability to evaluate and address the crucial questions related to policy choices and modes of implementation among development options, based on an understanding of environment potentials and limits and of needs perceived by the people of the country concerned. (Capacity Building - Agenda 21’s definition (Chapter 37, UNCED, 1992))


Scientific classification or biological classification is how biologists group and categorise extinct and living species of organisms (species, genus, families, orders, classes, phylum, and kingdoms). Scientific classification can also be called scientific taxonomy or biological systematics. Molecular systematics, which uses DNA sequences as data, has driven many recent revisions and is likely to continue to do so.


The term climax community, also described as a climatic climax community is an ecological term for a biological community of plants and animals which, through the process of succession--the development of vegetation in an area over time--has reached an equilibrium or steady state. Climax vegetation is the vegetation which establishes itself on a given site for given climatic conditions in the absence of anthropogenic action after a long time (it is the asymptotic or quasi-equilibrium state of the local ecosystem). Nowadays, the notion of climax is very controversial: the existence of natural equilibrium is put into doubt by many scientists.


The periodic meeting of those signatory States to a United Nations convention such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).


Multidisciplinary science that deals with the conservation of genes, species, communities, and ecosystems that make up Earth's biodiversity. It generally investigates human effects on biodiversity and tries to develop practical approaches to preserving biodiversity and ecological integrity.


Literally means, "off-site conservation". It is the process of protecting an endangered species of plant or animal by removing it from an unsafe or threatened habitat and placing it or part of it under the care of humans. Zoos, botanical gardens and arboretums are the most conventional methods of ex-situ conservation, all of which house whole, protected specimens for breeding and reintroduction into the wild when necessary and possible. Gene banks, seedbanks or germplasm banks are also part of the ex-situ conservation tools to protect endangered biodiversity.


Literally means "on-site conservation". It is the process of protecting an endangered plant or animal species in its natural habitat, either by protecting or cleaning up the habitat itself, or by defending the species from predators. The benefit to in-situ conservation is that it maintains recovering populations in the surrounding where they have developed their distinctive properties. Wildlife conservation is mostly based on in situ conservation, involving the protection of wildlife habitats.


Term describing the relational position of a species or a population in an ecosystem: the full range of environmental conditions (biological and physical) under which an organism can exist describes its fundamental niche. As a result of pressure from, and interactions with, other organisms (e.g. superior competitors) species are usually forced to occupy a niche that is narrower than this and to which they are mostly highly adapted. According to the competitive exclusion principle, no two species can occupy the same niche in the same environment for a long time. More formally, the niche includes how a population responds to the abundance of its resources and enemies and how it affects those same factors. The abiotic or physical environment is also part of the niche as it influences how populations affect, and are affected by, resources and enemies.


Literally means the "study of the household [of nature]". Ecology, or ecological science, is the scientific study of the distribution and abundance of living organisms and how the distribution and abundance are affected by interactions between the organisms and their environment. The environment of an organism includes both physical properties, which can be described as the sum of local abiotic factors such as insolation, climate and geology, as well as the other organisms that share its habitat.


Cross-cutting discipline aiming to understand the interrelations between people and their environment, for indicators of sustainability, and for ways of bringing individual human behavior into conformity with collective human goals. This disciple uses ecletic methodologies.


Dynamical complex formed by the community of plants, animals and micro-organisms and by their non-living environment and their interactions, which together form a functional unit.


Collective term for biogeochemical and biotic processes operating in an ecosystem.


The biogeochemical processes that transfer energy and matter within and between ecosystems (e.g. primary production is the process that fixes solar energy into ecosystems via photosynthesis).


Benefits derived by humans as a result of ecosystem processes and functioning. Ecological goods are typified by the production of food and fiber. Ecosystem services include carbon storage and the reduction of greenhouse gases, the maintenance of water quality and soil fertility, resistance to climate and other environmental changes, or the maintenance of ecological conditions favorable for human health. Ecosystem services can be classified in four categories (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005):

  • provisioning services: food, fiber, fuel, genetic resources, biochemicals, fresh water
  • cultural services: spiritual and religious values, knowledge system, education and inspiration, recreation and aesthetic values, sense of place.
  • supporting services: primary production, provision of habitat, nutrient cycling, soil formation and retention, production of atmospheric oxygen, water cycling
  • regulating services: species invasion resistance, herbivory, pollination, seed dispersal, climate regulation, pest regulation, disease regulation, natural hazard protection, erosion regulation, water purification.


Environment refers to "everything that is around". Environment is the complex of physical, chemical, and biotic factors that surround and act upon an organism or ecosystem (Wikipedia).


This discipline addresses how environmental problems arise, how market mechanisms can be used to improve environmental quality, and the level of quality that most efficiently balances preferences for material goods and for environmental services.


This is a hypothesised inverted ‘U’ shaped relationship between a measure of inequality in the distribution of income (e.g. the pollutant sulfur dioxide) and the level of that income (e.g. GNP per capita). If this is the case it implies that economic growth may be a means to environmental improvement. See bioSUSTAINABILITY Science Plan.


An externality exists when an activity by one person/party causes a gain (positive) or loss (negative) of welfare to another person/party (ecoSERVICES Science Plan).


Taxonomic category that groups several genus: e.g. in botany, rosaceae, brassicaceae, gramineae, etc.


All continental waters and terrestrial habitats that receive ‘subsidies’ of water from surface and groundwater flow systems, such as groundwater-fed wetlands, river-fed floodplain forests, karst aquifer springs, and so forth (freshwaetBIODIVERSITY Science Plan).


Unit of heredity in living organisms. Genes are encoded in the organism's genetic material (usually DNA or RNA), and control the physical development and behaviour of the organism. Genes encode the information necessary to construct the chemicals (proteins etc.) needed for the organism to function.


Mean of preserving animal and plant genetic material to guarantee their future reproduction. In plants, this could be freezing cuts from the plant, or the seeds themselves. In animals, this is the freezing of sperm and eggs, tissues in zoological freezers until further need.


In biology, a genus (pl. genera, from the Greek word γενος) is a taxonomic grouping. It has one or more species: if it has more than one species these are likely to be morphologically more similar than species belonging to different genera.


The set of biophysical transformation of states and flows of land, oceans and atmosphere, driven by an interwoven system of human and natural processes; these are intimately connected with processes of socio-economic and cultural globalization.


A specific inducement designed and implemented to influence government bodies, business, non-governmental organizations, or local people to conserve biological diversity or to use its components in a sustainable manner. Incentive measures usually take the form of a new policy, law or economic or social programmes. See agroBIODIVERSITY Science Plan

- Direct incentives can encourage the conservation of the flow of ecosystem services provided by biodiversity (e.g., compensation payments for organic farming, wildlife friendly farming, or more generally payments for environmental services).

- Indirect incentives which generate general enabling conditions, such as land use rights, can alter the economic behavior of users towards greater conservation.


This hypothesis proposes that biodiversity buffers ecosystem processes against environmental changes because different species or phenotypes respond differently to these changes, leading to functional compensations among species or phenotypes, and hence more predictable aggregate or community ecosystem properties (See Yachi and Loreau 1999).


Species that has a disproportionate effect on its environment relative to its abundance. An ecosystem may experience a dramatic shift if a keystone species is removed, even though that species was a small part of the ecosystem by measures of biomass or productivity. It has become a very popular concept in conservation biology (Wikipedia).


Organisms that can be seen only through a microscope. They typically include bacteria, protists, fungi and algae in the broad sense. Traditionally, viruses are not considered as micro-organisms because they lack metabolic activity, but they are explicitly included among the micro-organisms herein.


Strategies, policies and measures designed to stop detrimental environmental changes.


Reserve of land or sea, usually declared and owned by a national government, protected from most human development and pollution. National parks are a protected area of IUCN category II (Wikipedia).


Term describing the relational position of a species or population in an ecosystem: the full range of environmental conditions (biological and physical) under which an organism can exist describes its fundamental niche.


It relates to an individual’s willingness to pay to guarantee the availability of a particular service for use in the future. See bioSUSTAINABILITY Science Plan.


The pelagic zone is the part of the open sea or ocean comprising the water column, i.e. all of the sea other than that near the coast or the sea floor (Wikipedia).


Asynchronous fluctuations in the populations of different species, which can buffer ecosystem level variation through an averaging effect, just as a diverse portfolio of investments is thought to give greater stability in the face of stock market fluctuations (ecoSERVICES Science Plan).


The World Conservation Union (IUCN) defines a protected area as an area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means.


Zones where fauna and flora may persist during unfavourable periods and act as sources for recolonization when conditions are favourable - a critical aspect for the long term viability of species (Lancaster and Beleya 1997).


Rate at which a system returns to its former state after being displaced from it by a perturbation.


Capacity of a system to remain in the same state at the face of perturbation.


Reproductively isolated population that shares a common gene pool and a common niche. So, two animals are of two different species when they cannot reproduce, or when their descendents are sterile. For example, the horse and the donkey can produce mules, which are sterile. In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biodiversity


Development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (Brundtland Report, 1987). Sustainable development uses biological resources at a rhythm that does not entail their impoverishment, even their depletion but, on the contrary, that preserves their potential over the course of time. On an even bigger scale, a development is "sustainable" when decisions aim to preserve the maximum choice possible for generations to come.


The use of components of biological diversity in ways and at rates that support their long-term availability. Emphasis is placed on maintaining biodiversity’s potential to meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations.


In biology systematics is the study of the diversity of organism characteristics, and especially how they relate evolutionarily, that is establishing their phylogeny. The term "systematics" may or may not overlap with "taxonomy" which concerns itself with scientific classification of species and other taxa. Recent developments are cladistics and molecular systematics.

TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE, indigenous knowledge, and local knowledge

Generally refer to the matured long-standing traditions and practices of certain regional, indigenous, or local communities. Traditional knowledge also encompasses the wisdom, knowledge, and teachings of these communities. In many cases, traditional knowledge has been orally passed for generations from person to person. Such knowledge typically distinguishes one community from another and becomes their "identity." It can also reflect a community's interests and some communities even depend on their traditional knowledge for survival. Subsequently, communities argue that traditional knowledge warrants respect and sensitivity.


  • DIRECT USE VALUES: include food, fiber, fuel, biochemicals, genetic material, and medicinal and other pharmaceutical products. The value of aesthetic and recreational experiences also falls in this category.
  • INDIRECT USE VALUES: include the value of ecosystem services supported by biodiversity (e.g., nutrient cycling).
  • OTHER TYPE OF VALUES: include the value of knowing that biodiversity exists now and for future generations. The quantification of the value of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes is difficult.


In botanical nomenclature, it is a rank below that of species: As such, it gets a ternary name (a name in three parts). A variety will have an appearance distinct from other varieties, but can hybridize freely with those other varieties. Usually varieties will be geographically separate from each other. In zoology, the only rank below that of species is that of subspecies. (Wikipedia)

Document Actions
Personal tools