Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Wetlands and Water: Reader’s Guide and Acknowledgments

This report uses the Ramsar Convention definitions of several key terms related to wetlands. (See Box on Key Terms.) All of the MA authors and Review Editors have contributed to this draft through their contributions to the underlying assessment chapters on which this material is based.

Five additional synthesis reports were prepared for ease of use by other audiences: general overview, UNCCD (desertification), CBD (biodiversity), business, and the health sector. Each MA sub-global assessment will also produce additional reports to meet the needs of its own audience. The full technical assessment reports of the four MA Working Groups will be published in 2005 by Island Press. All printed materials of the assessment, along with core data and a glossary of terminology used in the technical reports, will be available on the Internet at Appendix A lists the acronyms and abbreviations used in this report and includes additional information on sources for some of the Figures.

References that appear in parentheses in the body of this report are to the underlying chapters in the full technical assessment reports of each Working Group. (A list of the assessment report chapters is provided in Appendix B.) To assist the reader, citations to the technical volumes generally specify sections of chapters or specific Boxes, Tables, or Figures, based on final drafts of the chapter. Some chapter subsection numbers may change during final copyediting, however, after this report has been printed.

In this report, the following words have been used where appropriate to indicate judgmental estimates of certainty, based on the collective judgment of the authors, using the observational evidence, modeling results, and theory that they have examined: very certain (98% or greater probability), high certainty (85–98% probability), medium certainty (65–85% probability), low certainty (52–65% probability), and very uncertain (50–52% probability). In other instances, a qualitative scale to gauge the level of scientific understanding is used: well established, established but incomplete, competing explanations, and speculative. Each time these terms are used they appear in italics.

Throughout this report, dollar signs indicate U.S. dollars and tons mean metric tons.

This report would not have been possible without the extraordinary commitment of the more than 2,000 authors and reviewers worldwide who contributed their knowledge, creativity, time, and enthusiasm to the development of the assessment. Thanks are due to the MA Assessment Panel, Coordinating Lead Authors, Lead Authors, Contributing Authors, Board of Review Editors, Expert Reviewers, and the members of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel of the Ramsar Wetlands Convention who contributed to this process and to the institutions that provided in-kind support enabling their participation. The current and past members of the MA Board (and their alternates), the members of the MA Exploratory Steering Committee, the Convention on Wetlands secretariat staff, and the MA secretariat staff, interns, and volunteers all contributed significantly to the success of this process.

The MA received major financial support from the Global Environment Facility; United Nations Foundation; David and Lucile Packard Foundation; World Bank; Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research; United Nations Environment Programme; Government of China; Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Norway; Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; and the Swedish International Biodiversity Programme. The full list of organizations that provided financial support to the MA is available at

Key Terms Used in This Report

Wetlands: As defined by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, wetlands are “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres” (Article 1.1 of the Convention text).

Ecological character of wetlands: As defined by the Ramsar Convention, this is “the sum of the biological, physical and chemical components of the wetland ecosystem, and their interactions, which maintain the wetland and its products, functions and attributes” (Ramsar COP7, 1999). In February 2005, the STRP proposed updating the definition of ecological character, drawing on the MA’s ecosystem terminology: “Ecological character is the combination of the ecosystem components, processes and services that characterise the wetland at a given point in time.” This includes replacing “products, functions and attributes” with “services.” This proposal will be formally considered by the Ramsar Convention’s Contracting Parties in November 2005.

Ecosystem services: As defined by the MA, ecosystem services are “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as regulation of floods, drought, land degradation, and disease; supporting services such as soil formation and nutrient cycling; and cultural services such as recreational, spiritual, religious, and other non-material benefits.” This term corresponds with the usage by the Convention of the terms “products, functions and attributes” (as shown in the definition of ecological character). The classification of water as a provisioning service rather than a regulating service is debated, but this does not affect its general meaning within the context of this report.

Wise use of wetlands: This involves “their sustainable utilisation for the benefit of humankind in a way compatible with the maintenance of the natural properties of the ecosystem” (Ramsar COP3, 1987). The STRP has proposed updating the definition to: “the maintenance of their ecological character within the context of sustainable development, and achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches.” This proposal will be formally considered by the Ramsar Convention’s Contracting Parties in November 2005.

Waterbirds: These are “birds ecologically dependent on wetlands” (Article 1.2 of the Ramsar Convention text). This includes any wetland-dependent bird species and at the broad level includes penguins; divers; grebes; wetland-related pelicans; cormorants; darters and allies; herons; bitterns; storks; ibises and spoonbills; flamingos; screamers; swans, geese, and ducks (wildfowl); wetland-related raptors; wetland-related cranes; rails and allies; Hoatzin; wetland-related jacanas; waders (or shorebirds); gulls, skimmers, and terns; coucals; and wetland-related owls.

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Disclaimer: This chapter is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally written for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment as published by the World Resources Institute. The content has not been modified by the Encyclopedia of Earth.

This is a chapter from Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Wetlands and Water (full report).
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Institute, W. (2008). Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Wetlands and Water: Reader’s Guide and Acknowledgments. Retrieved from


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