Environmental Ethics

Biodiversity Glossary

May 20, 2013, 4:41 am
Source: Environment Canada
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A biodiversity glossary is presented herein, to aid in understanding the many facets of a topic important to scientists, policy makers and the public. Scientists have been studying —and warning of— a global biodiversity crisis for decades. The decline of biodiversity is arguably the most significant global environmental threat now facing humanity.

Loss of biodiversity is not only important from the standpoint of ecological integrity, but also for loss of ecosystem services and valuable genetic material instrumental in pharmaceutical advances; furthermore, many people have strong moral issues associated with being part of a generation who is ushering in a period of greatly eroded species composition. Scientific research suggests that as a result of human activities, ecosystem, species and genetic diversity are declining at a rate that far exceeds natural processes—and natural recovery. Scientists have reported that an accelerating decline in diversity threatens the ecological, economic, spiritual, recreational and cultural benefits that we currently derive from the Earth's living organisms.

What is Biodiversity?

Biological Diversity is referred to often as Biodiversity, a term connoting the variety of species and ecosystems on Earth and the ecological processes of which they are a part. There are three components of biodiversity:

  • Ecosystem diversity;
  • Species diversity; and
  • Genetic diversity.

Biodiversity is part and parcel of the notion that ecological systems perform functions that are essential to human existence as water supply, food resources, oxygen and soil production and purification.


Aquatic Biodiversity - includes both marine and freshwater biodiversity including wetlands, bogs, marshes.

Alien Species - a taxon which has been introduced into a new habitat, usually by human intervention

Biodiversity Indicators - indicators or measures which allow the determination of the degree of biological or environmental changes within ecosystems, populations or groups of organisms over time.

Biological Diversity or Biodiversity - the variability among living organisms from all sources including—inter alia—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.

Biological Corridor - pathways that allow natural—and man-assisted—immigration and emigration of populations and species. This may be a physical corridor such as a terrestrial or marine migration route, a flyway, or it may refer to particular management practices that allows species and populations to continue patterns of movement.

Biological Resources - includes genetic resources, organisms or parts thereof, populations, or any other biotic component of ecosystems with actual or potential use or value for humanity.

Biotechnology - the application of science and engineering in the direct or indirect use of living organisms, or parts or products of living organisms, in their natural or modified forms.

Conservation - the maintenance or sustainable use of the Earth's resources in a manner which maintains ecosystems, species and genetic diversity and the evolutionary and other processes that shaped them. Conservation may or may not involve the use of resources.

Conservation Status - a category designation indicating the degree of risk of a given species faces with regard to extinction. Typical categories are: Extinct, Vulnerable, Threatened, Least Concern and Data Deficient.

Ecological Management - the management of human activities so that ecosystems, their structure, function, composition, and the physical, chemical, and biological processes that shaped them continue at appropriate temporal and spatial scales. Such action requires integrated policy development and management and learning to develop resources with the capacity of ecosystems to renew themselves. This is sometimes called ecosystem management or an ecological approach to management.

Ecological Services - services which humans derive from such ecological functions as photosynthesis, pollination, oxygen production, or water purification.

Ecosystem - a dynamic complex of plants, animals and micro-organisms and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit. The term ecosystem is used here to describe such small scale units as a drop of water as well as such large scale units as the biosphere.

Endangered Species - species which are threatened with immediate extinction or extirpation if the factors which are threatening them continue to operate. Included are species whose numbers have been reduced to a critical level or whose habitats have been so drastically reduced that they are deemed to be in immediate danger of extinction.

Endemic Species - species which are documented to exist only in a specific area.

Ex-situ Conservation - the conservation of components of biological diversity outside their natural habitats. This includes such institutions as zoos, museums, botanical gardens, aquariums or gene banks.

Extinction - the process by which all individuals of a given organism cease to exist

Extinction Vortex - the end phase of an organism extinction process, in which time frame extinction becomes a mathematical certainty

Extirpated Species - species which are no longer found in the wild but exist elsewhere in the world.

Genetic Drift -   is the change in the relative frequency in which a gene variant or allele occurs within a population; this change is often due to chance

Genetic Engineering - the technique involving the transfer of specific genetic information from one organism to another.

Genetically Modified Organism - an organism whose genetic information has been altered by any technique including natural processes, mutagenesis, genetic engineering or others.

Genetic Pollution -  the process of modifying the gene pool of a taxon, usually by introduction of an alien species capable of interbreeding with the subject taxon

Genetic Resources - genetic material of actual or potential value.

Germplasm - genetic material (with a definite chemical and molecular constitution) that forms the physical basis of inherited qualities and is transmitted from generation to generation by the germ cells.

Global Environment Facility (GEF) - a financial mechanism that provides grant and concessional funds to developing countries for projects and activities that aim to protect the global environment. It is jointly implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank. In 1994, 73 participating governments agreed to replenish the GEF with over US$2 billion to be committed over a three-year period. GEF resources are available for projects and other activities addressing biodiversity, climate change, international waters and depletion of the ozone layer.

Habitat - the place or type of site where an organism or population naturally occurs. Species may require different habitats for different uses throughout their lifecycles.

Harmful Organisms - members of species which enter an ecosystem where they are not naturally known to exist—that is, invasive species—through deliberate or inadvertent introduction by humans and pose a threat to native species.

In-situ Conditions - conditions where genetic resources exist within ecosystems and natural habitats, and, in the case of domesticated or cultivated species, in the surroundings where they have developed their distinctive properties.

In-situ Conservation - the conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats and the maintenance and recovery of viable populations of species in their natural surroundings and, in the case of domesticated or cultivated species, in the surroundings where they have developed their distinctive characteristics.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) - a holistic or integrated approach to controlling the risks and damage associated with natural predators, diseases and pests. It involves using site-specific information to determine the most effective combination of physical, chemical, biological, or cultural practices to reduce damage while reducing impacts on the environment, biological diversity and human health. In agriculture, this means a farmer can use a combination of tillage practices or crop rotations, intercropping, crop mixes, or strip isolation, with certain chemical or biological control products, to effectively control damage to crops and animals while having minimal impact on humans and the environment.

Invasive Species - An alien species which has aggressive characteristics that impair the propagation and/or fitness of native species in a given habitat

Landscape - a complex of terrestrial ecosystems in geographically defined areas.

Landscape permeability - the property of mobility of a species through an environment which is not typically a natural habitat, but which can support movement among metapopulations

Living Modified Organisms - those organisms that have been genetically modified through the application of biotechnology including organisms that have been modified by novel recombinant DNA techniques as well as those that have been modified by mutagenesis or classical breeding and selection techniques.

Metapopulation - one of several spatially discrete populations of an organism, which populations often have some ability to achieve migration amongst the discrete colonies

Micro-organism - any organism that can be seen only with the aid of a microscope.

Mutagenesis - a process whereby the genetic information of an organism is changed in a stable, heritable manner, either in nature or induced experimentally via the use of chemicals or radiation. In agriculture, these genetic changes are used to improve agronomically useful traits.

Natural Resources Accounting - accounting for the state and quality of the environment and the natural resource base by bringing the environment into national accounting through deductions from the gross domestic product for various aspects of environmental degradation such as the value of pollution abatement and control expenditure, the value of environmental damage during the accounting period and the depletion of natural resources.

Non-renewable Resources - such resources as minerals, metals, natural gas and oil, whose reserves are depleted by their use.

Organism - a lifeform which includes more broad defintion than the conventional plant and animal kingdoms; organisms include fungi, bacteria, archaea and often viruses.

Pest Control Products - those classes of substances which are generally referred to as insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, germicides, nematicides, bactericides, viricides that are either of a chemical or biological nature.

Population Bottleneck - a phenomenon in population biology where a species has been reduced to sufficiently small numbers of individuals that the gene pool lacks robustness to combat environmental fluctuations in predators, climate or other factors.

Population Dynamics - the study of temporal and spatial changes in an organism's populations

Protected Area - geographically defined areas that are designed or regulated and managed to achieve specific conservation objectives.

Rare Species - small populations of species that are not currently endangered or vulnerable, but that are at risk. These species are usually localized within restricted geographical areas or habitats or are thinly scattered over a more extensive range. Their rarity can be defined locally, regionally, provincially, territorially, nationally or globally.

Rehabilitation - the return of a species, population or ecosystem to a healthy, functioning state.

Resource Harvesting - the harvesting of biological resources for the purpose of subsistence or economic gain. Includes both aquatic and terrestrial resources.

Restoration - the return of a species, population or ecosystem to its state prior to disturbance or degradation caused by human activities.

Speciation - the process of species formation.

Species - a fundamental taxonomic unit of organism classification

Sustainable Development - development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainable Harvest Rate - the rate of harvest that is within an ecosystem's natural ability to recover and regenerate.

Sustainable Use - the use of components of biodiversity in a way and at a rate that does not lead to their long-term decline, thereby maintaining the potential for future generations to meet their needs and aspirations.

Threatened Species - species that are likely to become endangered if the pressures from human or natural causes making them vulnerable are not reversed.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge - knowledge of the conservation and sustainable use of an environment gained from generations of living and working within that environment. Such knowledge may relate, among other things, to the harvest of resources, the planting of agricultural crops or the use of natural herbs and other material for medicinal purposes.

Vulnerable Species - species that are at risk because of low numbers or because they exist within restricted ranges due to over-exploitation, extensive habitat destruction or other environmental factors.

Waterscapes - complexes of aquatic ecosystems in geographically defined areas.

Wild Flora and Fauna and other Wild Organisms - includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, invertebrates, plants, protists, viruses, fungi, algae, bacteria and other wild organisms.

Further Reading

Disclaimer: This article contains some information that was originally published by Environment Canada. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth have substantially modified its content and added new information. The use of information from the Environment Canada should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.




(2013). Biodiversity Glossary. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbed137896bb431f68f8a3


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