The following are key terms used to describe aspects of ecoagriculture.
Adaptive management: A continuous loop between implementing field actions to manage natural resources, monitoring the affected ecosystem and human responses, comparing the results against expectations, and adjusting future actions, with each reiteration of activity based on past experience. The adaptive management approach to protecting biological resources rests on a willingness and ability to react to new information as it becomes available.
Additionality: Refers to the carbon accounting procedures being established under the Kyoto Protocol, whereby projects must demonstrate real, measurable, and long-term results in reducing or preventing carbon emissions that would not have occurred in the absence of CDM activities.
(definition adapted from the CCB Standards).
Agricultural biodiversity (synonym: agrobiodiversity): The variability among living organisms associated with the cultivation of crops and rearing of animals, and the ecological complexes of which those species are part. This includes diversity within and between species, and of ecosystems.
Agriculture: The process of modifying natural ecosystems to provide more goods and services for people through the nurturing of domesticated species of plants and animals; systems often use high inputs of energy in various forms.
Agrobiodiversity: Short term for agricultural biodiversity.
Agroecosystem: An ecological and socioeconomic system, comprising domesticated plants and/or animals and the people who husband them, intended for the purpose of producing food, fiber, and other agricultural products.
Agroforestry: A land-use system that intentionally combines the production of herbaceous crops, tree crops, and animals, simultaneously or sequentially, to take fuller advantage of resources. Agroforestry encompasses a wide variety of practices, including intercropping of trees with field crops or grasses, planting trees on field boundaries or irrigation dikes, multistory and multispecies forest gardens or home gardens, and cropping systems using bush or tree fallows.
Alien species (synonym: exotic): A species, subspecies or lower taxon introduced outside its normal past or present distribution; includes any parts, gametes, seeds, eggs,or propagules of such species that might survive and subsequently reproduce. Also called nonnative, nonindigenous or foreign species.
Allele: One of the normal alternate forms of a gene, located at a specific point on a chromosome, that accounts for a particular trait.
Biodiversity: Short for biological diversity.
Biodiversity prospecting: The search for economically valuable genetic and chemical resources in nature.
Biological diversity (sometimes shortened to biodiversity): The variability among living organisms from all sources, including 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 (Convention on Biological Diversity or CBD, article 2). More generally, the totality of genes, species and ecosystems in a particular region or the world.
Biological integrity: The capacity to support and maintain an integrated, adaptive community with a biological composition and functional organization comparable to those of the natural systems of the region. Also, the measure of a system’s wholeness, including presence of all appropriate elements and occurrence of all processes at appropriate rates. Unlike diversity, which can be expressed simply as the number of kinds of items, integrity refers to conditions under little or no influence from human actions; a biota with high integrity reflects natural evolutionary and biogeographic processes. This definition ignores the reality that human influence is now pervasive.
Biodiversity offsets: Through activities that are beneficial to the conservation of biodiversity, biodiversity offsets are intended to compensate for the residual, unavoidable harm to biodiversity caused by a development project. In the case of mining, offsets can take a variety of forms: the creation of new protected areas; the launch of conservation projects outside of the project area; projects building the capacity for conservation. At their most basic level, any activity that will be considered sufficient compensation for the damage caused by a mine or other development project may be dubbed a biodiversity offset.
Biological resources: Genetic resources, organisms or parts thereof, populations, or any other biotic component of ecosystems with actual or potential use or value for humanity. The combination of two important properties distinguishes biological resources from nonliving resources: they are renewable if conserved, and they are destructible if not conserved. The practical target of activities aimed at conserving biodiversity, they are called “components of biological diversity” in the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Bioregion: A part of the earth’s surface whose rough boundaries are determined by natural rather than human dictates. One bioregion is distinguishable from another by its flora, fauna, water, climate, soils and land-forms, and the human settlements and cultures those attributes have nurtured.
Biosafety: The safe transfer, handling and use of any living modified organism resulting from biotechnology. More broadly, managing the release of transgenic or other organisms into the environment and the potential they represent for causing environmental and economic damage.
Biosphere reserve: A site recognized under the Man and the Biosphere Programme of UNESCO, normally including a protected area, a surrounding buffer zone where resource use is limited, and a transition area where cooperation with local people and sustainable resource management practices are developed.
Biotechnology: Any procedure or methodology that uses biological systems, living organisms or derivatives thereof to make or modify products or processes for specific use. Recently, some have used the term to refer especially to genetic engineering, which is only one of many applications.
Buffer zone: An area that surrounds a protected area and either serves to provide benefits to nearby human communities or to mitigate adverse effects from human activities outside the area. For example, some buffer zones are intended to protect surrounding agricultural areas from damage by wildlife.
Cap-and-trade: A cap-and-trade program is one in which a government or regulatory body first sets a limit or “cap” on the amount of environmental degradation or pollution permitted in a given area and then allows firms or individuals to trade permits or credits in order to meet the cap.
Carbon dioxide (CO2): CO2 is a colorless, odorless, non-poisonous gas that is a normal part of the ambient air. Of the six greenhouse gases normally targeted, CO2 contributes the most to human-induced global warming. Human activities such as fossil fuel combustion and deforestation have increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2 by approximately 30 percent since the industrial revolution. CO2 is the standard used to determine the "global warming potentials" (GWPs) of other gases. CO2 has been assigned a 100-year GWP of 1 (i.e., the warming effects over a 100-year time frame relative to other gases).
Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e): The universal unit of measurement used to indicate the global warming potential (GWP) of each of the 6 greenhouse gases. It is used to evaluate the impacts of releasing (or avoiding the release of) different greenhouse gases.
Carbon sequestration: Carbon sequestration is the process of removing atmospheric CO2, either through biological processes (e.g. plants and trees), or geological processes through storage of CO2 in underground reservoirs.
Carbon sinks: The term carbon sink refers to any process that removes more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it releases. Both the terrestrial biosphere and oceans can act as carbon sinks.
Carnivore: An animal that eats the flesh of other animal species.
Carrying capacity: The maximum population that can be sustained indefinitely in a given area without changing the ecosystem in ways that will eventually reduce the sustainable population. This balance between population and resources is a dynamic one; it is influenced by changes in human technology as well as natural factors.
Climate: The long-term average weather of a region including typical weather patterns, the frequency and intensity of storms, cold spells and heat waves. Climate is not the same as weather.
Climax vegetation: The vegetation that would naturally grow in a particular habitat without human interference, natural catastrophe or climate change.
Community (biological): All of the groups of animals or plants living together in the same area or environment and usually interacting to some degree.
Comparative advantage: A principle of economic trade theory that a country will benefit by exporting the product in which it has a greater (or “comparative”) economic advantage, and import the commodity in which its advantage is relatively less, even if the country has an absolute advantage (or disadvantage) compared to its trading partner.
Compliance markets & regulatory markets: Compliance markets, also known as regulatory markets, are markets in which buyers and sellers are required to participate in order to comply with regulatory limits on environmental destruction and/or pollution. The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme is, for instance, a compliance carbon market. And, because it is based on clearly defined government regulations, it is also a regulatory market.
Connectivity: A measure of how spatially continuous a vegetative corridor, biological network or matrix is.
Conservation: The rational and prudent management of biological resources to achieve the greatest sustainable current benefit while maintaining the potential of the resources to meet the needs of future generations. In natural resource economics, conservation is a rate of use of a biological resource that ensures that the same or a greater quantity of that resource will be available in the future; thus conservation includes preservation, maintenance, sustainable utilization, restoration and enhancement of the natural environment.
Conservation banking: The application of the "mitigation" or "offset" approach to endangered species. When developers expect to harm an endangered species (whether listed at the federal or state level), they are forced to "offset" or "mitigate" the damage through the creation of habitat for a similar number of plants and animals somewhere else. Traditionally, developers mitigated for the damages by purchasing new property or modifying existing landholdings to support the impacted species. The investment required to site these areas was significant and land management responsibilities were onerous. Many developers are now finding that they would rather buy "mitigation credits" from a so-called "conservation bank" that has already achieved the mitigation and has obtained approval from the Fish and Wildlife Service to sell these "mitigation credits."
Conservation banking officially began in California in 1995 when the state released an Official Policy on Conservation Banks and approved the Carlsbad Highlands Bank in San Diego County. Established by Bank of America, the conservation bank provided coastal sage scrub habitat for the California gnatcatcher. California's Department of Transportation was the bank's first customer, buying eighty-three acres to mitigate a highway project.
Conservation easements: Conservation easements are legal contracts that restrict the use and development of a piece of land, usually in perpetuity. They have been used for a variety of purposes: to conserve valuable ecosystems, as well as to preserve farms and a rural way of life. During the past two decades, the growth in the use of easements across the US has expanded rapidly. Land trust holdings, which use easements to accomplish their goals, have mushroomed in large part because of tax incentives encouraging landowners to donate conservation easements on their land. Congress made easement donations tax-deductible in 1976, and state revenue collectors have continued to sweeten the pot ever since.
Conservation of carbon: In projects seeking carbon credits for avoided deforestation, carbon that is sequestered in biomass is conserved by activities impeding it’s loss and emission in to the atmosphere.
Corridor: A strip of a particular type of land that differs from the adjacent land on both sides. Such corridors may have important ecological functions, including conduit, barrier and habitat.
Critically endangered species: Defined by the World Conservation Union as one that has suffered a population size reduction of 80 percent or more over the past ten years or three generations, whichever is longer.
Dambo: A shallow, seasonally waterlogged depression at or near the head of a drainage network. Also called bani, vlei, marai, boli, or fadama in various parts of Africa.
Development: A process of social and economic advancement, in terms of the quality of human life. The term often implies the dominant Western world- view, involving such elements as a belief in progress, the inevitability of material growth, the solution of problems by the application of science and technology, and the assumption of human dominance over nature. Alternative philosophies are suggested by terms such as “sustainable development” or “participatory development.”
Disturbance regime: A process that periodically affects a habitat, such as fire, flooding, or insect outbreak.
DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid): The universal genetic code for all living organisms.
Domestication: The process of improving the genetic characteristics and management of wild species to make them suitable for farm production. In genetic terms, domestication is accelerated and human-influenced evolution.
Ecoagriculture: Land-use systems designed to produce both human food and ecosystem services, including habitat for wild biodiversity.
Economic externalities: Changes in human welfare due to unintended side effects, often of an environmental nature, that are not directly captured in the market transaction. Also, costs that are generated by the producer but not paid for by him or her; the effect of a project felt outside the project and not included in the valuation of that project. An example is the impact of pollution from upstream livestock operations on the water quality of downstream water consumers, where the producers do not compensate consumers for additional costs of water purification. When a beneficial or detrimental externality is quantified in monetary terms and included in market valuations, it is said to have been “internalized.”
Ecoregion: A relatively large unit of land or water containing a geographically distinct assemblage of natural communities that share a large majority of their species, dynamics and environmental conditions.
Ecosystem: A dynamic complex of plant, animal and microorganism communities and their nonliving environment interacting as a functional unit in a specific place. Applied by some to cover only major ecosystem types or biomes, such as tropical rainforests.
Ecosystem Services (also called Environmental Services): Beneficial functions that are performed by natural ecosystems, including hydrological services (water supply, filtration, flood control), protection of the soil, breakdown of pollutants, recycling of wastes, habitat for economically important wild species (such as fisheries), regulation of climate, and so forth.
Edge species: A species of plant or animal that is commonly found in the marginal zone of a biological community.
Emissions trading: Emissions trading is a market mechanism that allows emitters (countries, companies or facilities) to buy emissions from or, sell emissions to, other emitters. Emissions trading is expected to bring down the costs of meeting emission targets by allowing those who can achieve reductions less expensively to sell excess reductions (e.g. reductions in excess of those required under some regulation) to those for whom achieving reductions is more costly.
Endangered species: A species whose population has declined by 50 percent over the past ten years or three generations, whichever is longer, and where the causes of the reduction are not demonstrably reversible or not clearly understood, may not have ceased, or could recur.
Endemic: Native to, and restricted to, a particular geographical region. Highly endemic species are those with very restricted natural ranges; they are especially vulnerable to extinction if their natural habitat is eliminated or significantly disturbed.
Environmental derivatives: Financial instruments that derive their value from the value of an underlying security: e.g. futures, options. Some people use the term "environmental derivative" to refer to financial instruments whose underlying value is an environmental benefit or asset of some kind.
Environmental resources: Natural systems that produce services of potential benefit to people such as clean air, clean water, attractive scenery, and so forth.
Environmental services: See Ecosystem Services.
Epiphyte: A nonparasitic plant that grows on another plant and gets its nourishment from the air, such as certain orchids, mosses and lichens.
Establishment (of species): The process of a species in a new habitat reproducing at a level sufficient to ensure continued survival without infusion of new genetic material from outside the system.
Eutrophication: Overenrichment of a water body with nutrients, resulting in excessive growth of some organisms such as algae and depletion of dissolved oxygen, which in turn causes the death of other organisms such as fish.
Ex situ preservation: The preservation of biological resources outside their natural habitats, as in zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens as well as in tissue cultures and seed banks. Note that this is not considered conservation as defined here; compare in situ conservation.
Extinction: An irreversible process whereby a species or distinct biological population forever ceases to exist. The IUCN defines a species as extinct in the wild when it is known to survive only in cultivation, in captivity, or as a naturalized population (or populations) well outside its historic range. A taxon is presumed extinct in the wild when exhaustive surveys in known and/or expected habitat, at appropriate times (diurnal, seasonal, annual), throughout its historic range have failed to record an individual.
Fallow: A crop field left uncultivated for a period of time, so as to regain its productive capacity. Fields left uncultivated for a short period are grass fallows; longer periods involve bush fallows, and still longer resting periods involve natural forest fallows. Farmers may plant or manage vegetation to enhance its fallowing function, or for economic benefits during the fallow period.
Fauna: All of the animals found in a given area; usually, the total number of animal species in a specified period, geological stratum, geographical region, ecosystem, habitat or community.
Flora: All of the plants found in a given area.
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international network to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. Frequently, wood and paper products will be marketed as FSC certified which indicates that they have been produced and sourced in a manner that meets environmental and social standards set by the FSC.
Fragmentation: The breaking up of a habitat, ecosystem, or land-use type into smaller parcels.
Functional group: Two or more species that perform similar ecological functions and roles and may be able to replace each other to some extent.
Gene: A functional unit of heredity that controls a particular inherited characteristic. Composed of a sequence of DNA located at a specific locus or place on the chromosome, it is a stretch of DNA that tells a cell how to make a particular protein.
Genetically modified organism (GMO): An organism into which has been inserted—through genetic engineering—one or more genes from an outside source (either from the same species or from an entirely different species) that contains coding for desired characteristics, such as herbicide resistance or an antibacterial compound.
Genetic diversity: The full range of species, subspecies and distinct biological populations of plants, animals and microorganisms; within a species or population, the full range of genes contained by the species or population. Also refers to the amount of genetic information among and within individuals of a population, species, assemblage or community.
Genetic drift: Variation in the genetic makeup of a species over time, often resulting from environmental change or isolation.
Genetic resources: Species, subspecies, or genetic varieties of plants, animals, and microorganisms that currently provide important goods and services or may be capable of providing them at some time in the future. Given the rapid increase in biotechnology and limitations of current knowledge, virtually all plants, animals, and microorganisms qualify as genetic resources.
Genome: The complete complement of genes of an organism. In humans, the genome contains approximately 50,000 genes, though some estimates are far lower than this.
Global warming: The progressive gradual rise of the Earth's average surface temperature thought to be caused in part by increased concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere. (Since emission of GHGs into the atmosphere could, paradoxically, lead to cooling of some parts of the world, most people now prefer to use the term “climate change” as opposed to “global warming”)
Global Warming Potential (GWP): The GWP is an index that compares the relative potential of the 6 greenhouse gases to contribute to global warming (i.e. the additional heat/energy which is retained in the Earth’s ecosystem through the release of this gas into the atmosphere). The additional heat/energy impact of all other greenhouse gases are compared with the impacts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and referred to in terms of a CO2 equivalent (CO2eq) i.e. Carbon dioxide has been designated a GWP of 1, Methane has a GWP of 23. The latest officially released GWP figures are available from the IPCC in their publication Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis.
Globalization: Worldwide economic integration of many formerly separate national economies into one global economy, mainly through free trade and free movement of capital as by multinational companies, but also by easy or uncontrolled migration.
Greenhouse effect: The greenhouse effect is the insulating effect of atmospheric greenhouse gases (e.g., water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, etc.) that keeps the Earth's temperature about 60°F warmer than it would be otherwise.
Greenhouse Gas (GHG): Any gas that contributes to the "greenhouse effect."
Greenhouse gas offsets & carbon credits: Greenhouse gas offsets, also known as carbon credits, are marketable certificates representing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Offsets generated by emission reductions in one place, the theory goes, may be used to cancel out excess greenhouse gas emissions anywhere in the world. GHG offsets and carbon credits are generally sold as tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) or carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), with each credit representing a pollution reduction of one ton worth of CO2.
Guild: A group of species having similar ecological resource requirements and foraging strategies, and therefore having similar roles in the community.
Habitat: The physical and biological environment on which a given species depends for its survival; the place or type of site where an organism or population naturally occurs.
Hectare: Unit of land in the metric system, equivalent to 2.471 acres.
Hedgerow: A narrow corridor of woody vegetation and associated organisms that separates open areas. Examples include hedges, fencerows, shelterbelts and windbreaks.
Herbivore: A species that eats plants.
Heterozygosity: The state of a plant or animal having one or more recessive characteristics in its genetic code and therefore not breeding true to “type.” The opposite of homozygosity.
Hotspot (of global biodiversity loss): One of twenty-five terrestrial regions of the world with especially high species richness or high number of endemic species, that are highly threatened with species loss because natural habitats have already been reduced to 30 percent or less of their original land surface area. The hotspots were defined by scientists at Conservation International, an international environmental NGO.
Hypoxia: Dropping oxygen levels in deep waters characterize an environmental event known as hypoxia. Hypoxia can occur naturally, but is more frequently caused by the human-driven contamination of surface waters. There are now at least 150 man-made hypoxic dead zones in global waters. North America, South America Europe and Asia all suffer from dead zones of varying severity, and some dead zones affect an underwater territory the size of a small country...or two.
Indigenous peoples: Social groups that have resided in a region for a long period of time and whose social and cultural identity differs from that of the dominant society in a particular region. Their identity is often strongly connected to their ancestral lands in ways that influence conservation behavior. No definition of indigenous peoples has been agreed upon internationally, but the principle of self-identification has been accepted by the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the World-Wide Fund for Nature, and the World Commission on Protected Areas. They are distinctive from other vulnerable social groups insofar as they are recognized by international law and by some states as autonomous seats of power within the state, and they exercise collective rights as groups.
In situ conservation: The protection of ecosystems and natural habitats and the maintenance or 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 properties (Convention on Biological Diversity).
Individual Transferable Quotas & Individual Fishing Quotas: In the last three decades, several countries have turned to transferable quotas to manage their commercial fisheries. This system sets a maximum total allowable commercial catch, then gives fractions of the right to catch fish to members of the fishing industry. The quotas can then, depending on the individual quota management system, be bought, sold, traded, and leased on the open market. The quotas themselves -- commonly known as individual transferable quotas (ITQs), or individual fishing quotas (IFQs) -- are a form of property right, giving each fisherman the right to catch a designated portion of the total catch in perpetuity. In structure, then, fisheries quota markets resemble sulfur dioxide and other cap-and-trade systems -- with the ocean's greater uncertainty thrown into the mix.
Integrated conservation and development project (ICDP): A means to reconcile conservation and community interests through promoting social and economic development in communities adjacent to protected areas, using a bioregional approach that links the protected area to the surrounding lands, often through the mechanism of buffer zones (Wells et al.1992).
Integrated natural resource management (INRM): A conscious process of incorporating multiple aspects of natural resource use into a system of sustainable management, to meet explicit production goals of farmers and other land users (e.g., profitability, risk reduction), as well as goals of the wider community (e.g., cultural values, sustainability).
Integrated pest management (IPM): The use of all appropriate techniques of controlling pests in a coordinated manner that enhances, rather than destroys, natural controls. If pesticides are part of the program, they are used sparingly and selectively so as not to interfere with natural competitors.
Intellectual property right: A right enabling an inventor (and more recently, a discoverer) to exclude imitators (or subsequent discoverers, or prior discoverers who did not file legal claim to the intellectual property right) from the market for a limited time.
Intercropping: The growing of two or more crops simultaneously on the same piece of land. Benefits arise because crops exploit different soil, water, light, and other resources, or mutually interact with one another, to raise yields or control pests and weeds.
Intensification (agricultural): Process by which additional labor, capital or other inputs are used to increase agricultural production on a given unit of land.
Introduction: The movement, by human agency, of a species, subspecies or lower taxon (including any part, gametes, seeds, eggs or propagules that might survive and subsequently reproduce) outside its natural range (past or present). This movement can be either within a country or between countries.
Invasive alien species: An alien species whose establishment and spread threaten ecosystems, habitats or species with economic or environmental harm. These are addressed under article 8(h) of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Invertebrates: Animals lacking a backbone, such as insects.
Keystone species: A species of plant or animal that has impacts on the community or ecosystem that are disproportionately large relative to its abundance. Also called an umbrella species.
Landscape: A mosaic where a cluster of local ecosystems is repeated in similar form over a kilometers-wide area. A landscape is characterized by a particular configuration of topography, vegetation, land use and settlement pattern that delimits some coherence of natural, historical and cultural processes and activities.
Landscape connectivity: The extent to which different patches of habitat are linked together. The opposite of fragmentation.
Landscape diversity: The spatial variation of the various ecosystems within a landscape.
Leaching: A physical process by which water draining through the soil (as rainfall or irrigation water) carries away dissolved soil nutrients that are important for crop production.
Litter: The surface layer of a forest or crop field, in which the leaves and other organic material are in the process of decomposition.
Management (of biodiversity): The efforts of humans to select, plan, organize and implement programs designed to achieve specified goals. Biodiversity management activities can range from protective measures to ensure that human influences are minimized to greater interventions required to maintain diversity, install facilities, control populations, or eradicate alien species.
Marginal lands: Areas that are unable to support permanent or intensive agriculture without significant investment in land or water management. Without proper management, ecologically fragile marginal lands may degrade quickly following cultivation.
Mariculture: Saltwater aquaculture.
Matrix: The background ecosystem or land-use type in a mosaic.
Microorganisms: Organisms of microscopic or ultra-microscopic size, including bacteria, blue-green algae, yeast, protistans, viroids and viruses.
Mosaic: A pattern of patches, corridors and matrix in a landscape.
Native species (synonym: indigenous species): A species, subspecies, or lower taxon living within its natural range (past or present), including the area that it can reach and occupy using its own legs, wings and wind- or water-borne or other dispersal systems, even if it is seldom found there.
Natural capital: Natural capital is a concept closely related to that of ecosystem services. Natural capital includes the core and crust of the earth, the full complement of the world’s ecosystems, and the upper layers of the atmosphere. Just as economic capital provides steady financial return, natural capital provides steady environmental returns in the form of ecosystem services.
Natural resources: Resources supplied by nature. These are commonly sub- divided into nonrenewable resources, such as minerals and fossil fuels, and renewable natural resources that propagate or sustain life and are naturally self- renewing when properly managed, including plants and animals as well as soil and water.
Network: An interconnected system of corridors.
Nongovernmental organization (NGO): A nonprofit group or association organized outside of institutionalized political structures to realize particular social objectives (such as conserving nature) or serve particular constituencies (such as local communities).
Nutrient trading: Studies in the United States have found that non-point sources, in particular agricultural polluters, account for more than 80% of the country's nitrogen and phosphorous discharges. Clearly, if eutrophication (caused by an excess of nitrogen, phosphorous and/or silica) is to be avoided in many watersheds, non-point sources must be incorporated into schemes for curbing nutrient discharges. The idea of nutrient trading has risen to ascendancy during the last decade because it offers a cost-effective way of doing just this.
After years of regulation, many factory owners have already invested enough in pollution abatement, that further efforts to reduce their discharges (i.e. an upgrade to the next-better technology) would be prohibitively expensive. Farmers, by contrast, often can reduce their pollution levels relatively cheaply by changing tilling, planting and/or fertilization practices. Studies suggest that, in some instances, point source reductions can be up to 65 times as expensive as non-point source reductions.
Nutrient trading schemes capitalize on this cost discrepancy by setting discharge limits for point sources without stipulating how the limits must be met. The result is that industrial polluters often opt to pay farmers to reduce their pollution emissions along a river rather than invest in expensive technology to further limit their own discharges. This system allows industrial factories to operate within the watershed's overall discharge caps at a lower cost than they otherwise might. In effect, the factories are purchasing pollution permits from farmers at a market price that is amenable to both parties. Such 'cap-and-trade' systems, many argue, allow communities to meet pollution standards in the most cost-effective way possible. Trades between point sources also are feasible, but the significant cost savings associated with nutrient trading derive, at least in theory, from the non-point/point trades just described.
Offsets & mitigation: Offsets and mitigation are both used to describe the idea that environmental restoration or pollution reductions in one place can compensate for environmental degradation or pollution elsewhere. The principle in play is that environmental improvements in site A can “offset” or “mitigate” environmental loss in site B.
Opportunity cost: The benefit foregone by using a scarce resource for one purpose instead of for its best alternative use. For example, an opportunity cost of establishing protected areas may be the value of reduced agricultural production from the area.
Organic agriculture: A type of farming that relies on the earth’s own natural resources to grow and process food. Organic practices include cultural and biological pest management; they prohibit use of synthetic chemicals in crop production and antibiotics or hormones in livestock production.
Overexploitation: Unsustainable use of a natural resource leading to the depletion or degradation of the resource and consequent loss of its availability or productivity.
Parasite: An organism living in or on another living organism and obtaining part or all of its nourishment from it without providing commensurate benefits to it. Parasites often have structural modifications adapting them to this way of life.
Participatory development: An approach to “development” that empowers individuals and communities to define and analyze their own problems, make their own decisions about directions and strategies for action, and lead in those actions. The approach is contrasted with “top-down” development processes, in which outsiders, with greater socioeconomic and political power, make the key decisions about local resource use and management.
Patch: A relatively homogeneous nonlinear area in a landscape that differs from its surroundings. (The internal microheterogeneity present is repeated in similar form throughout the area of a patch.)
Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) is an umbrella term often applied to any among a wide variety of schemes in which the beneficiaries, or users, of ecosystem services provide payment to the stewards, or providers, of ecosystem services. While PES is increasingly used as a catch all phrase, the term originated (and is most often used) in the field of sustainable development. In this context, PES frequently acts as a descriptor for schemes that do not rely upon a formal market, but rather rely upon a continual series of payments to rural landowners who agree to steward ecosystem services.
Permaculture: The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems to create the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. This form of agriculture seeks the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and nonmaterial needs in a sustainable way.
Pest: Any species, strain or biotype of a plant, animal or pathogenic (disease- causing) agent injurious to plants, plant products, animals or people.
Physiognomy: The apparent characteristics, outward features, or appearance of ecological communities or species.
Point sources & non-point sources: Most watersheds contain two types of polluters - point sources and non-point sources. Point sources are industrial enterprises that emit nutrients (i.e. pollutants) directly into a watershed from a single pipe or point. Non-point sources, on the other hand, are agricultural or municipal polluters whose pollution washes into a watershed over a diffuse area. For a variety of political, social, economic and logistic reasons, point sources usually are regulated, while non-point sources are not.
Pollinators: Animals such as butterflies or bats that transfer pollen from the anther to the receptive area of a flower, enabling seed plants to reproduce.
Pollution: The contamination of an ecosystem, especially from human activities.
Population: A group of individual organisms living in a particular geographical space and sharing common ancestry that are much more likely to mate with one another than with individuals from another such group. When a population has observable characteristics that distinguish it from other populations, it is sometimes called a subspecies. Also, a group of organisms of one species, occupying a defined area and usually isolated to some extent from other similar groups, or geographically defined subdivisions of a species that form a group whose members differ genetically from other members of the species.
Primate: The order of mammals that includes humans, the apes, monkeys and lemurs, characterized by increasing perfection of binocular vision, specialization of the hands and feet for grasping, and enlargement and differentiation of the brain.
Productivity (in agriculture): The relationship between the average real output of economically usable products, divided by an index of all fixed and variable inputs. “Land productivity” is defined as total output divided by the land area where outputs were produced; “labor productivity” as total output divided by total labor input.
Protected area: A geographically defined area that is designated or regulated and managed to achieve specific conservation objectives (Convention on Biological Diversity, article 2);an area of land or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means (1992 World Congress on National Parks and Protected Areas).
Public goods: Economic goods whose consumption by any one person does not affect their potential for consumption by others. More than one person can consume a single unit of a public good at the same time, so public goods are jointly consumable. Global public goods include the maintenance of biological diversity and avoiding anthropogenic climate change.
Remnant vegetation: Small patches of native plants that remain after conversion of landscapes to agricultural or other use.
Renewable energy: Renewable, or green, energy sources produce energy without many of the associated ills -- pollution, waste and risk -- that plague more traditional sources of energy. Consequently, millions of industrial and residential consumers are now showing they are willing to pay more for green power sources such as wind, solar and biomass resources.
Resource: Anything that is used directly by people. A renewable resource can renew itself (or be renewed) at a constant level, either because it recycles quite rapidly (water), or because it is alive and can propagate itself or be propagated (organisms and ecosystems). See also natural resources and environmental resources.
Ruminant: Any mammal that chews its cud, including cattle, sheep and antelope.
Shifting cultivation: Any cyclical agricultural system that involves clearing of land—usually with the assistance of fire—followed by phases of cultivation and fallow periods. The fallow period may range from only a few years to several decades. Also called swidden agriculture.
Silvipastoral system: A land-use system combining trees with grass and other fodder species on which livestock graze. The mixture of browse, grass and herbs often supports mixed livestock species.
Species: A group of interbreeding organisms that seldom or never interbreeds with individuals in other such groups, under natural conditions; most species are made up of distinct subspecies or populations.
Species diversity: The number and frequency of species in a biological assemblage or community.
Species richness: The number of distinct species in a given site.
Stakeholder: An individual or institution having an interest (a “stake”) in how a resource is managed.
Stream mitigation banking: Stream mitigation banking began in 1996 when the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) started specifically regulating impacts to streams in its nationwide permits. Stream mitigation banking works much like wetland mitigation banking (see above) except that the banks and credits are associated with stream restoration projects rather than wetland restoration projects. And instead of acres of wetlands created, enhanced, or restored, mitigation is measured in "linear feet" of stream banks "created, enhanced or restored".
Subsidy: Economic assistance granted directly or indirectly to individuals or organizations to encourage activities designed to satisfy the needs of the public or a particular group. A subsidy is discretionary and revocable, and generally conditioned upon certain rules being observed.
Sustainable agriculture: A way of producing a stable food supply in perpetuity without degrading the natural resources that support production processes.
Sustainable development: The use of natural, human and economic resources that meets the needs and aspirations of the current generation without com- promising the ability of future generations to meet their needs and aspirations.
Sustainable use: The use of biological resources in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations.
Swidden: A cultivated field in an agricultural production system of shifting cultivation or rotational fallow.
Taxon (plural: taxa): A taxonomic group, such as a species, genus or family, in a formal system of classification.
Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL): Water-quality trading is akin to emissions trading, in that it sets limits (caps) on the amounts of pollution that enters a waterway, and then lets emitters trade to meet these limits. The TMDL for a watershed is the limit or cap on the amount of pollution allowed in the watershed. Theoretically, TMDLs represent the maximum amount of pollution that a watershed can endure without suffering any ecosystem degradation.
Transferable Development Rights (TDRs): Under a TDR program, development rights are transferred from “sending zones” which are designated for protection to “receiving zones” which are designated for future growth. Conservation easements provide permanent protection from development in the sending zone.
Trophic level: An organism’s hierarchical ranking among species in the food chain.
Use: Any human activity involving an organism, ecosystem, or nonrenewable resource that benefits people. The activities range from those having a direct impact on the organisms, ecosystems or nonrenewable resources concerned (such as fishing, farming and mining) to those having little or no impact (such as appreciation and contemplation).
Vertebrates: Animals containing a backbone, such as mammals, birds and fish.
Voluntary Carbon Market: Most published data on the carbon market reflects compliance requirements that have essentially commoditized carbon as a tradable good with a fairly standardized price and quality. In parallel with this compliance market, voluntary activity by businesses and individuals wanting to reduce GHG emissions for reasons other than statutory compliance grew substantially in 2005. This side of the market essentially represents consumer demand for action on global warming and has the potential to be an active driver of change as the international community struggles to fully implement an effective climate change framework. While maturing quickly, the voluntary market remains small, fragmented and multi-layered.
Voluntary Markets are markets in which buyers and sellers engage in transactions on a voluntary basis (i.e. not because they are forced to trade by regulation). Generally businesses and/or individual consumers engage in voluntary markets for reasons of philanthropy, risk management and/or in preparation for participation in a regulatory market.
Vulnerable: In reference to a species, one that has an observed, estimated, inferred, or suspected population size reduction of at least 30 percent over the past ten years or three generations, whichever is longer.
Watershed: The area drained by a river or river system, including upper catchments and valleys or floodplains.
Watershed catchment area: The upper area drained by a river basin, where the natural vegetation intercepts rainfall to help replenish underground water supplies as well as streams and rivers.
Wetland mitigation banking: The US Clean Water Act mandates that whenever a developer wants to build on or near a wetland, they must obtain a permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers. Before issuing the permit, the Corps is supposed to weigh whether the damage is truly necessary. If the damage is indeed necessary, the Corps is supposed to require that the developer minimize any potential harm to the wetland. Finally, where damage is unavoidable, the developer is required to compensate (or mitigate) for this damage by restoring a former wetland, enhancing a degraded wetland, creating a new wetland, or, in some very rare cases, preserving an existing wetland.
The law states that developers can fulfill this "compensatory mitigation" themselves (usually at or near the development site), or they can pay third parties to mitigate for damage in their stead. If they decide to pay someone else to do the work for them, they have several options: (1) They can buy "wetland credits" from a mitigation bank, usually a for-profit entity that "creates, enhances, or restores" a wetland and then is allowed by the Corps to sell wetlands credits -measured in acres- to needy developers; (2) They can pay "in-lieu-fees" to public entities or private not-for-profit organizations that, in agreement with the Corps, use the money to "protect, enhance, or restore" wetlands.; or (3) They can pay a third party that is neither a mitigation bank nor an in-lieu fee provider to undertake the mitigation. These are referred to as "ad-hoc" arrangements.
As a result of these requirements for wetlands mitigation, a burgeoning market for wetlands mitigation has developed in the US. A report by the Environmental Law Institute estimates that between 1992 and 2002 there has been a 376 percent increase in the number of private wetlands banks in the US. They estimate that in 2002 there were 219 approved banks, with some 95 more pending approval. No one knows for sure, but the market for environmental mitigation in the US is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Wetlands: Transitional areas between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in which the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water. Wetlands can include tidal mudflats, natural ponds, marshes, potholes, wet meadows, bogs, peatlands, freshwater swamps, mangroves, lakes,
rivers, and even some coral reefs.
Wild biodiversity: All nondomesticated plant and animal species.
Wildlife: Living things that are neither human nor domesticated, commonly used to refer to fauna.