Glossary of Terms

Africanized honeybee

Descendants of bees imported into Brazil from Africa in 1957. Through dispersal and mixing with honeybees originally imported from Europe, the offspring remain over 90% dominated by African genetic materials.

apparent diversity

Range of organisms observed in a space.


Short for biological diversity. A broad term indicating the variety in organisms, characteristics of a population, species, genetic material, and habitats.


A subfield of geography that tries to explain why organisms occur the way they do, where they do. For that purpose, biogeography produces inventories of organisms, investigates spatial distribution patterns of organisms, and studies the interactions among organisms and between organisms and their environment.


A large region that exhibits similar plant types, animals, soils, and climate.

The totality of all regions on the earth that support life and are affected by life, including parts of the atmosphere (air), hydrosphere (water), and the lithosphere (solid portions of the earth, rocks).

boundary conditions

In order to study an ecosystem, a researcher must delimit the system spatially, temporarily, and often structurally and functionally. These limits describe the boundary conditions of the system and the study.


The first product in the sequence of biochemical reactions involved in the photosynthesis of such plants has three carbon atoms. Examples include wheat, rice, and soybeans. C3-plants respond readily to an increase in atmospheric CO2 with increased productivity (compare C4-plants).


The first product in the sequence of biochemical reactions involved in the photosynthesis of such plants has four carbon atoms. Examples include maize (corn), sorghum, millet, and sugarcane. C4-plants are likely to be less efficient photosynthesizers in a carbon-enriched atmosphere (compare C3-plants).


Meat eater.

carrion eater

Animal, like the vulture, that consumes dead animals it did not kill.

causes of global change

See human driving forces.


Where rows and columns intersect in a spreadsheet, they create a cell. Each cell is identified by a unique cell address; it contains data (a cell entry) or a cell formula.

cell address

The unique way to identify a cell, consisting of a letter (indicating the column) and a number (indicating the row).

cell entry

The data found in a cell.

cell formula

A mathematical procedure or calculation entered into a cell.


A systematic method of placing objects (e.g., plants, animals) into groups/classes based on a set of similarities (origin, genetic make-up, population characteristic, etc.). The aim of a classification is simplification.

climate change

A change in the average, long-term climate conditions characteristic of a region or the earth. (See also global warming.)


The vertical partition in a spreadsheet.

cool-season plants

Plants that use the C3 photosynthetic processes, which optimize the conversion of atmospheric carbon dioxide to plant carbon at about 20o C. (See C3-plants.)


An area particularly conducive to the dispersal or spread of organisms.


Observations made of a phenomenon. The fundamental inputs into scientific analysis.

disease organisms

Bacteria and viruses that may kill or injure the host they depend upon for life and dispersal.


The study of the interactions among species, and between species and their environment. The term derives from the Greek word oikos which means house or home.


All living organisms together with the physical environment in which they live and which they affect through a complex set of mutual interactions.

effective diversity

The range in types of organisms that use a space.

energy transfer

The moving of energy from one storage unit to another. In the process of feeding, an animal transfers energy (measurable in calories) from the plant to its body.

field capacity

The amount of water that soils can hold against the pull of gravity and that can be used by plants.

food chain (food web)

A metaphor for the hierarchical interrelationship among organisms in an ecosystem that describes the uptake and transfer of mass and energy (nutrients) from primary producers, to herbivores, to carnivores, omnivores, and scavengers/carrion eaters, to decomposers which close the nutrient cycle.

geographic distribution

The differential occurrence of a phenomenon across space. (See also geographic pattern.)

geographic pattern

The way in which something happens, moves, develops, or is arranged in space. Many phenomena display typical patterns. For example, rivers in lowlands typically become wide and often meander, creating typical landforms that are associated with specific types of vegetation (e.g., wetland or river bank habitats). (See also

global warming

A change in global average temperatures as a result of an accumulation of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere (see also climate change.)


Seeds of domesticated grasses, used to feed livestock or humans.


Titles or labels for columns in a spreadsheet.


Plant eater.

human driving forces

Large societal changes that are thought to be causally linked to changes in the global environment. Human driving forces are commonly identified as (1) population, (2) technology, (3) economy, and (4) human values, beliefs, and institutions.

impacts of global change

The effects of global (climatic) changes on humans or the environment.

isarithmic lines

Lines of equal value. An example is in a contour line that represents equal elevation on a topographic map.

limiting factor

A characteristic of the environment (e.g., light, water availability, soil type, or abundance of predators) that restrict the growth or abundance of a plant or animal species.

mass transfer

The moving of mass from one storage unit to another. In the process of soil erosion, masses of soil are moved from a topographically higher point downslope.


The process of combining and thereby diversifying the genetic characteristics of members of species that are able to interbreed.


What we discern our senses tell us about our surroundings. The principle process from which we derive data for scientific research.


An animal, (e.g., a bear, crow, and some rodents), that eats both plants and animals.


The study of previous animal and plant populations and their spatial patterns and dynamics in geologic time.


An organism that provides no benefit for the host animal or plant and gains no benefit from its death. Examples include fleas, lice, schistosomes, and parasitic plants (e.g., orchid, mistletoe).


The state of permanently frozen ground (i.e., for the greater part of the year).


The process by which plants fix carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide into plant organic matter and release oxygen and water vapor back into the atmosphere.


A group of organisms coexisting at the same time in the same place and capable of interbreeding.


The conversion of geophysical resources (water, nutrients, CO2, light) into biomass (primary production) (see primary producers), and of that biomass into biomass at higher trophic levels.

primary producers

Plants that use sunlight to fix atmospheric carbon into organic matter through photosynthesis.

resistance barrier

An obstacle to the dispersal of organisms.


The exchange of gasses between the atmosphere and an organism.

responses to global change

All forms of haphazard or intentional human adaptations to a changed environment.


The horizontal partition in a spreadsheet.

sampling (design)

The technique of selecting a subset of members of a larger population when it is (as is commonly the case) impossible to study the entire population. Depending on the purpose of the study (e.g., to get a sample that represents the entire population), a researcher chooses individual members in a particular fashion (the sampling design).


A biome of wet tropical forests composed of a wide variety of broad leaf, evergreen trees and animals adapted to the climatic and vegetation setting.

sensitivity analysis

A method that tests the responsiveness (sensitivity) of a system to changes in one variable (an element that varies) of the system.


A category of closely related and similar organisms. More narrowly defined, a population of individuals capable of interbreeding but not of breeding with members of another species.


A computerized table. The spreadsheet appears as a grid made up of columns and rows that contain data or formulas.


A biome dominated by grasses, grazers adapted to open landscapes, and a semi-arid climate.


The mutually beneficial interrelationship (symbiotic interaction) of two or more organisms that is essential to the organisms' survival and reproduction.

swidden agriculture

The practice of clearing small plots of forested land for growing a mixed planting of crops, followed by a long period of abandonment.


The vegetative reproduction and replication of a plant by increasing the number of emergent reproductive and vegetal shoots.

tool bar

The row of symbols, each indicating a function of the computer software, near the top of the computer screen.

trophic levels

The position of an organisms in the food chain (or food web).


A biome underlain by permanently frozen ground which prevents nutrient leaching; the tundra vegetation consists of low perennial herbs, shrubs, lichens, and grasses adapted to a very short growing season and tolerant of wet soils.


The tendency to vary or fluctuate around an average or expected value, or around a specific average pattern.

warm season plants

Plants that use the C4 photosynthetic processes, which optimizes the conversion of atmospheric carbon dioxide to plant carbon at about 35o C (see C4-plants).


A generated or earned output (result, profit, or production outcome).