Nature Encyclopedia

Nature Encyclopedia

If you would like to prepare for school subjects or simply increase your general knowledge, then enjoy our nature encyclopedia. We tried to focus only on very important terms and definitions. We also kept our terminology very brief so that you absorb the concept more quickly and easily.

Nature Glossary (Page 1)


ABIOTIC: Not associated or derived from living organisms. Abiotic factors in an environment include sunlight, temperature and precipitation.
ACCIPITERS: Small to medium-sized hawks, of the genus Accipiter, characterized by short-broad wings and a long tail, i.e., Cooper's Hawk.
AGROFORESTRY: A system of land use in which harvestable trees or shrubs are grown among or around crops as a means of preserving or enhancing the productivity of that land.
ALLUVIUM: Sediment or soil that is deposited by a river or running water.
AMPHIBIANS: Cold-blooded, smooth-skinned vertebrae of the class Amphibia, such as a frog or salamander, that characteristically hatch as aquatic larva with gills. The larva then transforms into an adult having air-breathing lungs.
ANIMISM: Seeing natural objects and phenomena as "animated" by personal spirits. Natural forces like thunder and lightning, streams, trees, the ocean, are given personal existence and treated as gods or demi-gods.
ANTHROPOCENTRISM: Seeing the universe as centering on humankind, so that everything in the universe is for human beings. Everything is for us.
ANTHROPOMORPHISM: Seeing animals or the world itself as having human characteristics, particularly as having feelings and motives like those of human beings. Everything is like us. See Pathetic fallacy.
AQUACULTURE: The cultivation of aquatic animals and plants, esp. Fish, shellfish, and seaweed, in natural or controlled marine or freshwater environments; underwater agriculture.
ARGILLITE: Fine-grained sedimentary rock consisting mostly of hardened clay particles.
ASSEXUAL REPRODUCTION: A form of reproduction that involves a single cell multiplying without the process of meiosis, mitosis or fertilisation.
BALANCE OF NATURE: The idea that nature, undisturbed by human beings, achieves an ideal balance of different species, that, until it is disturbed, it remains in balance, and that it returns to that state after the disturbance. This is connected to the notion, left over from the time of belief in The Great Chain of Being, that every creature has its place in the harmonious workings of nature and is well adapted to its niche. "Nature, left undisturbed, so fashions her territory as to give it almost unchanging permanence of form, outline, and proportion, except when shattered by geologic convulsions; and in these comparatively rare cases of derangement, she sets herself at once to repair the superficial damage, and to restore, as nearly as practicable, the former aspect of her domain" (George Perkins Marsh, cited in Botkin, 54).To References The mythic notion of constancy survived into a more scientific age, according to Botkin, because ecologists were unconsciously applying to ecosystems the physicists' and mathematicians' notions of the stability of mechanical systems. See Carrying Capacity.
BASIC (WARBLER PLUMAGE): Refers to birds in non-breeding plumage. Warblers begin to molt their bright breeding plummages to duller plumages in late-summer early-fall, making identification more challenging.
BIODIVERISTY MANAGEMENT PLAN: A plan which outlines activities that will help to protect or enhance biodiversity.
BIODIVERSITY: This term comprises of two separate words - Biological and Diversity and refers to the number, size and health of flora and fauna life.
BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOT: A region that is a significant reservoir of biodiversity and is threatened with destruction.
BIOLOGICAL REPRODUCTION: The biological process through which a new and individual organism is produced. There are two methods of biological reproduction - sexual and assexual reproduction.
BIOLOGIST: A scientist that studies biology.
BIOLOGY: A branch of science dealing with the study of living organisms.
BIOME: An ecossystem usually identified in terms of characteristic forms of vegetation.
BIOSPHERE: The global realm of all living things.
BIOTIC: Characterised by the presence of life.
BIOTOPE: This is an area of uniform environmental conditions suitable for sustaining certain habitats for a specific group of plants and animals.
BIRDS DIRECTIVE: EU Directive 79/409 EEC, which provides a framework for the conservation and management of, and human interactions with, wild birds in Europe.
BLIND: A structure used by wildlife watchers and hunters to prevent themselves from being seen by wildlife.
BOG: A permanently wet area that gets water only from precipitation. Bogs usually lack drainage and are characterized by a high content of organic matter, extreme acidity and low fertility.
BOREAL: Typically the northern region of North America characterized by long harsh winters and short summers. The Boreal Forest, an extensive band of coniferous trees, stretches across the northern latitude of North American and Eurasia.
BRACKISH: Water that is a mixture of both fresh and salt water.
BRAIDED CHANNEL: A braided channel is formed when a stream channel is divided into several smaller ones by the accumulation of in-channel deposits.
BROOD: The eggs or young of birds and reptiles that are hatched and cared for at one time.
BRUNTLAND REPORT: Report produced by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in 1987, which provided a key statement on sustainable development.
BUFFER ZONES: A natural or undisturbed strip or 'green belt' surrounding a development or land disturbance activity or bordering a stream or permanent water body.
CACHE: The collection and storage of food to last through winter by animals such as squirrels and other rodents.
CANOPIES: The highest layer of foliage provided by trees and shrubs in forests and woodlands.
CARNIVORES: Species that consume animal protein.
CARRYING CAPACITY: The constant number that, left to itself, a natural population will achieve in a given ecosystem. The idea there is a constant number is, according to some ecologists, an unwarranted assumption. See Balance of Nature.
CATADROMOUS: Describes fish that live in fresh water but migrate to salt water to breed.
CATASTROPHISM: One side of a nineteenth-century geological argument about the forces that have shaped the earth. Catastrophism proposes that the earth was shaped by sudden, cataclysmic upheavals (such as the "Flood" or "Deluge" of Noah in the Bible) and that the laws of nature in the periods between these cataclysms are not the same, that is, "uniform." The issue is this: if the laws are not uniform, we cannot really see back beyond the last major cataclysm and so cannot reliably talk about millions of years in the past. Compare Uniformitarianism.
CAVITY: A hollowed out space in a tree typically used as a nest area by owls and woodpeckers.
CETACEANS: The group of marine animals with teeth including dolphins, whales and porpoises.
CHROMOSOMES: A threadlike linear strand of DNA and associated proteins in the nucleus of eukaryotic cells that carries the genes and functions of that cell.
CHRYSALIS: The pupal or transformatory stage of a butterfly's life; also the protective covering of the pupa.
CLASS: The subdivision of a phylum, for example, under Phylum Cordata, the Class Mammalia (animals that incubate their young within the womb) lies.
CLIMATE: The prevailing weather conditions of a region over a year, averaged over several years.
CLIMATE CHANGE: Climate change refers to the build up of man made gases in the atmosphere that trap the suns heat causing changes in the weather pattern on a global scale.
CLIMAX: An assumed final state of stability in the reconstitution of a destroyed ecosystem.
COMMONS: The global commons: Those resources we all have to use to survive but which we do not have to pay for. The term is based on the idea of the village commons: a plot of land owned by no one where all had the right to graze their stock. Because its use was without cost, people overused it, not respecting its fragility or limits or expending any effort or resources to preserve it. The inevitable result was the destruction of the commons. By application, the "global commons" are threatened with overuse precisely because we do not figure in a cost for them. There is a cost, of course, that we are paying all the time, in the diminution or damaging of the commons.
COMPOSITES: Rocks that are made up of two or more distinct materials that retain their original compositions.
CONIFEROUS: Trees and shrubs that do not shed their leaves.
CONSERVATION: The protection and management of a predetermined cause, such as biodiversity.
CONSERVATIONIST: A person that works towards conserving a predetermined cause, such as biodiversity.
CONTIGUOUS: Lands that share a common border.
CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY: This is an International Treaty that was adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The Convention has three main goals: 1. Conservation of biological diversity (or biodiversity); 2. Sustainable use of its components; and 3. Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources.
COPSES: The plural for a dense grouping of small trees and shrubs, also known as a thicket or coppice.
CREATION: The divine act by which God brought all things into being from nothing. The idea is both philosophical and religious. Philosophically, the notion of an original creative act is not inherently antipathetic to evolution or to physics, nor is it refutable by science (see the conclusion of Hawking's Brief History of Time along with Harrison's Masks of the Universe).To References It is, however, a matter of belief, not science. Religiously, however, the Western notion of creation roots itself in the first two chapters of Genesis; and these accounts are, of course, incompatible with scientific accounts, though early scientists tried valiantly to reconcile scientific discoveries with a literal interpretation of Genesis.
CREATION SCIENCE: The claim that special creation is not merely a belief but a scientific hypothesis, a rival hypothesis to evolution.
CREATIONISM OR SPECIAL CREATION: Affirms that God created each form of life as it is, and denies the idea that the various forms of life evolved from earlier forms.
CREPUSCULAR: Refers to animals that are primarily active during twilight hours including both dusk and dawn.
CROP: An expanded muscular pouch near the throat where food is temporaily stored and then digested.
CULTURE: The totality of ways of acting and thinking which a group acquires by experience and interpretation and then passes down by teaching and training. Roughly, culture is the learned behavior which is passed on, as opposed to the instinctual behavior which evolves.
DABBLING: Refers to ducks that feed mostly on vegetable matter by submerging their upper bodies enabling them to graze below the surface; rarely will they dive for food. Some examples are Mallard, American Black Duck, Gadwall and Northern Pintail.
DECIDUOUS: Trees and shrubs that shed their leaves annually.
DEEP TIME: The discovery that the universe has been around for more than the few thousand years recorded in the Bible, that it has been in existence for billions of years.
DEFORESTATION: To fell or clear an area of trees.
DESIGN: An argument for the existence of God. Here, for instance, is Thomas Jefferson's version: "I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the universe, in its parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of its composition. The movement of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces, the structure of our earth itself, with its distribution of lands, waters and atmosphere, animal and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutest particles, insects mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organized as man or mammoth, the mineral substances, their generation and uses, it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their preserver and regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, and their regenerator into new and other forms." (Letter to John Adams, cited in Miller, 32)To References.
DETRITUS: Organic waste material produced by the decomposition of dead plants and animals.
DIABASE: A crystalline igneous rock rich in magnesium & iron content; equivalent to volcanic basalt.
DIURNAL: Refers to a species that is active during the day, rather than at night.
DIVERSITY: Diversity is the presence of a wide range of variation in the qualities or attributes under discussion.
DOMAIN: The first major grouping of organisms in biological/taxonomical data, for example the Domain Eukaryote, meaning organisms with complex cell structures.
DREDGE SPOIL: Material that is removed from an area, usually waterways, and placed elsewhere.
EARLY SUCCESSIONAL: A habitat consisting of plant species that are the first to take root and grow back after an area has been cleared. Early successional birds live in habitats that consist mostly of grasses and small shrubs.
EARTH: The third planet in the Solar System from the Sun and the only planet in the universe that is known by human beings to support life.
ECOLOGICAL COMMUNITY: A set of interacting natural populations.
ECOLOGICAL SCIENCE: This is the study of the distribution and abundance of living organisms, as well as their interactions with each other, other organisms and their environment.
ECOLOGICAL SUCCESSION: Predictable or orderly changes to the composition or structure of an ecological community.
ECOLOGY: Ecology, or ecological science, is the scientific study of the distribution and abundance of living organisms and how the distribution and abundance are affected by interactions between the organisms and their environment.
ECOREGIONS: According to the World Wildlife Fund, these are "relatively large units of land or water containing a distinct assemblage of natural communities and species, with boundaries that approximate the original extent of natural communities prior to major land-use change".
ECOSYSTEM: This term comprises of two separate words - ecological and system and refers to all biotic and abiotic components, their interactions with each other; in some defined area, with no conceptual restrictions on how large or small that area can be.
ECOSYSTEM DIVERSITY: The variability within an ecosystem and the varying ecosystems on Earth.
ECOTONES: The area where two adjacent ecosystems transition, i.e, woodlands transition to meadow.
ECO-TOURISM: Tourism involving travel to areas of natural or ecological interest, typically under the guidance of a naturalist, for the purpose of observing wildlife and learning about the environment.
EDEN: The mythic place where Adam and Eve lived before their "fall" into sin, which some interpret as their discovery of self, of consciousness, of self-consciousness, and so, their alienation. It is connected to the Pastoral Ideal.
EDGE HABITAT: An area in which habitats transition such as where a field transitions to a woodland. Many species of birds take advantage of edge habitats such as Gray Catbird, Eastern Kingbird and Eastern Towhee.
EMERGENT WETLANDS: Wetlands characterized by the colonization of erect, rooted plants that are able to live in water or very moist soils.
EMPIDONAX: A group of small insect-eating passerines commonly called tyrant flycatchers whose genus Empidonax falls within the family order Tyrannidae.
EMPIRICISM: In its naive form, the belief that one can examine "the facts" without any beliefs or assumptions at all to guide the examination and a hypothesis will emerge. In most cases it appears that scientists begin with a theory, test it empirically, find it wanting, and move toward new theory.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: A population of an organism (usually a species) which because it is either (a) few in number or (b) threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters, is at risk of becoming extinct.
ENVIRONMENT: Land, air, climate, water, minerals, organisms and any other external factor surrounding and affecting an organism at any given time.
ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEM: Environmental Management Systems (EMS) are management approaches which enable an organisation to identify, monitor and control its environmental aspects.
EPHEMERALS: Lasting for one day only or lasting for a short period of time.
ERRATICS: Seemingly out of place rocks and boulders carried to their present day location by glacial ice and deposited when the ice melted.
ESTUARY: The point at which a river meets the sea; where salt water and fresh water mix.
EUTROPHICATION: Over-enrichment of a water body with nutrients, resulting in excessive growth of organisms and depletion of oxygen concentration.
EVOLUTION: The change in the gene pool of a population from generation to generation by such processes as mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift.
EXTINCTION: The end of existence of a species.
EXTIRPATE: To eliminate completely.
EYRIES: The nests of birds of prey such as the Peregrine Falcon usually built in high places such as trees or cliffs.
FALLOW: Describes lands that are plowed, then left unseeded for a season.
FAMILY: The further subdivision of a species after their Order. For example, in Order Carnivora, the Family Canidae exists. This Family is that of the carnivorous and omnivorous mammals commonly known as dogs.

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