Glossary of Biodiversity Terms

Ancestor : an organism from which later individuals or species has evolved.
Aquaculture : the science, art and business of cultivating aquatic species, especially fish, shellfish and seaweed in natural or controlled marine and freshwater environments.
Archeologist : a person who studies the history of people and their culture.
Biodiversification : the process by which the diversity of plants or animals develops or is increased within a particular region or group of organisms.
Biodiversity : the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic systems and the ecological complexes of which they are part of; this includes diversity within species (genetic), between species and of ecosystems.
Breed : a grouping of animals of the same species having a common ancestor and the same set of characteristics. Farmers use selective mating to produce offspring (a breed) with the desired characteristics.
Carnivore : a species that primarily eats protein. Carnivorous animals include dogs, cats, wolves, seals and sharks. Also, insectivorous plants are considered carnivores.
Cell : a usually microscopic structure surrounded by a membrane or cell wall in plants and consisting of one or more nuclei, cytoplasm, and various organelles. It is the basic building block of all organisms. A single-celled organism is capable of independent functioning, whereas a multi-cellular organism, such as plants and animals, are composed of tissues with different types of cells.
Community : a group of associated individuals of any size sharing a space or locality.
Community supported agriculture : strategy of connecting local farmers with local consumers; developing a regional food supply and local economy; maintaining a sense of community; encouraging land stewardship; and honoring the knowledge and experience of growers and producers working with small to medium farms. (
Compost : a mixture of decaying organic matter, as in leaves and manure, used to provide nutrients to crops and improve soil structure.
Crop : a cultivated plant or the yield of cultivated plant for a given season or harvest.
Crop pest : insect, fungus, microorganism or animal that eats or damages crops, trees and garden plants.
Domesticated : species trained or adapted by humans, especially through generations of breeding. All domesticated species originated from wild ancestors.
Ecosystem : A dynamic complexity of plant, animal, and microorganism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit.
Ecosystem service : The benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual and recreational benefits; and supporting services such as nutrient cycling that maintain the conditions for life on Earth. The concept “ecosystem goods and services” is synonymous with ecosystem services.
Ecology : the branch of biology dealing with the relations and interactions between organisms and their environment, including other organisms.
Endangered species : a species at risk of extinction because of environmental changes such as from human activity or climate change.
Environment : the circumstances or set of conditions—land, organisms and climate—that surrounds where one lives or where a group of organisms or a community lives.
Epiphyte : a plant, such as a moss, that grows directly on another plant for support but not food. Epiphytes get moisture and nutrients from the air or from small pools of water that can collect on the host plant, such as a tree.
Fertilization : the second step in plant reproduction that unites the male and female gametes to form a zygote, which will develop into a seed. In a flower the pollen travels down the stigma and joins with the ovary; the genes of both are combined in the zygote.
Fertilizer : Any of a large number of natural and synthetic materials, including manure and nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium compounds, spread on or worked into soil to increase its capacity to support plant growth.
Food chain : The sequence of the transfer of food energy from one organism to another in an ecological community. A food chain begins with a producer, usually a green plant or alga that creates its own food through photosynthesis. In the typical predatory food chain, producers are eaten by primary consumers (herbivores), which are eaten by secondary consumers (carnivores), some of which may in turn be eaten by tertiary consumers (the top carnivore in the chain).
Food web : The complex system of interrelated food chains in an environment.
Fungus : any of a diverse group of organisms ranging from a single cell to a mass of branched filamentous hyphae (looks like the roots of a plant), such as molds, mildews, smuts, rusts, and yeasts, that live by decomposing and absorbing the organic material in which they grow. Fungi lack chlorophyll and vascular tissue and produce specialized fruiting bodies, such as mushrooms.
Genes : the variation of genes for all individuals within a species; it determines the uniqueness of each individual within the species, or a population. The expression of DNA into traits, such as the ability to tolerate drought or frost, facilitates adaptation to changing conditions.
Grain : a small, hard seed, esp. the seed of a food plant such as wheat, corn, rye, oats, rice, or millet.
Herbivore : an animal that feeds mainly or only on plants. In a food chain, herbivores are primary consumers.
Indicator : a plant, animal, or species that is a sign of — by its presence in a given area — the existence of certain environmental conditions.
Industrial farming : form of farming that mass-produces products using machines and other resources that must be bought.
Livelihood : a means of supporting one’s existence, either through a paying job or by growing, producing and/or gathering everything you need to survive.
Macroorganism : a small creature that can be seen with the naked eye.
Microorganism : An organism of microscopic or submicroscopic size, especially a bacterium.
Mixed farming system : type of farming that combines farming with another type of activity, such as herding, fishing or forestry.
Nutrient cycling : the reusing of nitrogen, carbon and other nutrients in ecosystems.
Omnivore : a kind of animal that eats either other animals or plants.
Organic or ecological farming : type of sustainable farming where on-farm renewable resources are used as much as possible.
Organism : a living individual, such as a maize plant, a bird, a fish or a human.
Pasture : an area covered with grass or other plants, usually surrounded by a fence, used or suitable for the grazing of livestock; grassland.
Pollination : the completion of the sexual phase of reproduction in some plants by the transportation of pollen. In the context of ecosystem services, pollination generally refers to animal assisted pollination, such as that done by bees, rather then wind pollination.
Pollinator : insect or animal that fertilizes a flower.
Recycle : to treat or process used or waste materials so as to make suitable for reuse: recycling paper to save trees.
Reduce : to bring down to a smaller extent, size, amount, number, etc. For example, buying goods with less packaging or buying fewer goods.
Renewable resource : any natural resource that can replenish itself naturally over time, as wood or solar energy; also called natural renewable resources.
Resource : a source of supply (e.g. natural resources), support (e.g. financial resources), or aid (e.g. manual labour), esp. one that can be readily drawn upon when needed.
Rethink : the act of reconsidering.
Reuse : to use again, especially after salvaging or special treatment or processing.
Small-scale farming : farmers grow food for themselves, their family and sometimes the local market on a small piece of land with limited resources. Often, these farmers do not have the money to buy resources they need.
Species : a species is a group of morphologically similar organisms that are able to interbreed and produce fertile offspring.
Sustainability : a characteristic or state whereby the needs of the present and local population can be meet without compromising the ability of future generations or populations in other locations to meet their needs.
Sustainable farming : type of farming that can make use of nature’s goods and services while producing a sufficient yield in an economically, environmentally, and socially rewarding way, preserving resources for future generations.
Traditional (or local) knowledge : information and learning processes developed over many years and passed down from one generation to the next. Traditional knowledge is not static; it evolves or changes over time.

Definitions compiled from:
  • Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Ecosystem Health and Well-being: A Framework for Assessment. Washington: Island Press, 2003.
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