Fragile Ecosystem Additional Glossary
  • Acclimation - adjustment to slowly changing new conditions.

 

  • Adaptation - any genetically controlled structural, physiological, or behavioral characteristic that enhances members of a population's chances of surviving and reproducing in its environment. It usually results from a beneficial mutation.

 

  • Adaptive radiation - period of time (usually millions of years) during which numerous new species evolve to fill vacant and new ecological niches in changed environments, usually after a mass extinction.

 

  • Autotrophic succession- most common type in nature; begins in a predominantly inorganic environment and is characterized by early and continued dominance of green plants.

 

  • Barrier islands - Long, thin, low, offshore islands of sediment that generally run parallel to the shore along some coasts.

 

  • Biological diversity - variety of different species (species diversity), genetic variability among individuals within each species (genetic diversity), and variety of ecosystems (ecological diversity).

 

  • Biome - terrestrial regions inhabited by certain types of life, especially vegetation. Examples are various types of deserts, grasslands, and forests.

 

  • Bioregion - a unique life-place with its own soils, landforms, watersheds, climates, native plants and animals, and many other distinct natural characteristics.

 

  • Biotic potential - maximum rate at which the population of a given species can increase when there are no limits of any sort on its rate of growth.

 

  • Carrying capacity (K) - maximum population of a particular species that a given habitat can support over a given period of time.

 

  • Clear-cutting - method of timber harvesting in which all trees in a forested area are removed in a single cutting.

 

  • Coastal wetland - Land along a coastline, extending inland from an estuary that is covered with salt water all or part of the year. Examples are marshes, bays, lagoons, tidal flats, and mangrove swamps.

 

  • Competition - two or more individual organisms of a single species (intraspecific competition) or two or more individuals of different species (interspecific competition) attempting to use the same scarce resources in the same ecosystem.

 

  • Consumer - organism that cannot synthesize the organic nutrients it needs and gets its organic nutrients by feeding on the tissues of producers or of other consumers; generally divided into primary consumers (herbivores), secondary consumers (carnivores), tertiary (higher-level) consumers, omnivores, and detritivores (decomposers and detritus feeders).

 

  • Consumption overpopulation - situation in which people in the world or in a geographic region use resources at such a high rate and without sufficient pollution prevention and control that significant pollution, resource depletion, and environmental degradation occur.

 

  • Controlled burning - deliberately set, carefully controlled surface fires to reduce flammable litter and decrease the chances of damaging crown fires.

 

  • Coral reef - formation produced by massive colonies containing billions of tiny coral animals, called polyps, which secrete a stony substance (calcium carbonate) around themselves for protection. When corals die, their empty outer skeletons form layers that cause the reef to grow. They are found in the coastal zones of warm tropical and subtropical oceans.

 

  • Crown fire - extremely hot forest fire that burns ground vegetation and tree tops.

 

  • Debt-for-nature-swap - agreement in which a certain amount of foreign debt is cancelled in exchange for local currency investments that will improve natural resource management or protect certain areas from harmful development in the debtor country.

 

  • Deforestation - removal of trees from a forested area without adequate replanting.

 

  • Desert - biome where evaporation exceeds precipitation and the average mount of precipitation is less than 25 centimeters (10 inches) a year. Such areas have little vegetation or have widely spaced, mostly low vegetation.

 

  • Desertification - conversion of rangeland, rain-fed cropland, or irrigated cropland to desertlike land, with a drop in agricultural productivity of 10% or more. It is usually caused by a combination of overgrazing, soil erosion, prolonged drought, and climate change.

 

  • Ecological diversity - the variety of forests, deserts, grasslands, oceans, streams, lakes, and other biological communities interacting with one another and with their nonliving environment.

 

  • Ecological niche - total way of life or role of a species in an ecosystem. It includes all physical, chemical, and biological conditions a species needs to live and reproduce in an ecosystem.

 

  • Ecology - study of the interactions of living organisms with one another and with their nonliving environment of matter and energy; study of the structure and function of nature.

 

  • Environmental degradation - depletion or destruction of a potentially renewable resource such as soil, grassland, forest, or wildlife by using it at a faster rate than it is naturally replenished. If such use continues, the resource can become nonrenewable on a human time scale or nonexistent (extinct).

 

  • Environmental science - study of how we and other species interact with each other and with the nonliving environment of matter and energy. It is a holistic science that uses and integrates knowledge from physics, chemistry, biology (especially ecology), geology, geography, resource technology and engineering, resource conservation and management, demography (the study of population dynamics), economics, politics, and ethics.

 

  • Estuary - partially enclosed coastal area at the mouth of a river where its fresh water, carrying fertile silt and runoff from the land, mixes with salty seawater.

 

  • Extinction - complete disappearance of a species from the earth. This happens when a species cannot adapt and successfully reproduce under new environmental conditions or when it evolves into one or more new species (speciation).

 

  • Food web - complex network of many interconnected food chains and feeding relationships.

 

  • Forest - biome with enough average annual precipitation (at least 76 centimeters,or 30 inches) to support growth of various species of trees and smaller forms of vegetation.

 

  • Gene pool - the sum total of all genes found in the individuals of the population of a particular species.

 

  • Grassland - biome found in regions where moderate annual average precipitation (25 to 76 centimeters, or 10 to 30 inches) is enough to support the growth of grass and small plants, but not enough to support large stands of trees.

 

  • Habitat - place or type of place where an organism or a population of organisms lives.

 

  • Heterotrophic succession- characterized by early dominance of heterotrophs; occurs in cases where environment is primarily organic.

 

  • Immature community - community at an early stage of ecological succession. It usually has a low number of species and ecological niches and cannot capture and use energy and cycle critical nutrients as efficiently as more complex, mature ecosystems.

 

  • Indicator species - species that serve as early warnings that a community or an ecosystem is being degraded.

 

  • Inland wetland - land away from the coast, such as a swamp, marsh, or bog, that is covered all or part of the year with fresh water.

 

  • Keystone species - species that play roles affecting many other organisms in an ecosystem.

 

  • Limiting factor - single factor that limits the growth, abundance, or distribution of the population of a species in an ecosystem.

 

  • Mature community - fairly stable, self-sustaining community in an advanced stage of ecological succession; usually has a diverse array of species and ecological niches; captures and uses energy and cycles critical chemicals more efficiently than simpler, immature communities.

 

  • Native species - species that normally live and thrive in a particular ecosystem.

 

  • Natural selection - process by which a particular beneficial gene or set of genes is reproduced more than others in a population, through adaptation and differential reproduction. It is the major mechanism leading to biological evolution.

 

  • Old-growth forest - virgin and old, second-growth forests containing trees that are often hundreds, sometimes thousands, or years old.

 

  • Overpopulation - state in which there are more people than can live on Earth or in a geographic region in comfort, happiness, and health and still leave the planet or region a fit place for future generations. It is a result of growing numbers of people, growing affluence (resource consumption), or both.

 

  • Pioneer community - first integrated set of plants, animals, and decomposers found in an area undergoing primary ecological succession.

 

  • Pioneer species - first hardy species, often microbes, mosses, and lichens, that begin colonizing a site as the first stage of ecological succession.

 

  • Primary succession - sequential development of communities in a bare area that has never been occupied by a community of organisms.

 

  • Riparian zones - thin strips and patches of vegetation that surround streams. They are very important habitats and resources for wildlife.

 

  • Secondary succession - sequential development of communities in an area in which natural vegetation has been removed or destroyed but the soil is not destroyed.

 

  • Successional Theory - Current theory holds that ecosystem development results from modification of the physical environment by the biotic community acting as a whole (the holistic component); the interaction of competition and coexistence between component populations (the individualistic component); and a shift in energy flow from production to respiration as more and more of the available energy is required to support the increasing organic structure (the community metabolic component).
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