Adaptive capacity – The ability of a system (including natural and human systems and communities) to adjust to climate change including climate variability and extremes to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with consequences

Analytical unit – The area unit of analysis or description used for an ecological assessment (e.g., watersheds, ownership parcels, or regular polygon array). These units typically are intermediate in size between the spatial resolution of a map and the extent of the entire assessment area. For example, the spatial resolution of land use/land cover data for an ecological assessment of a state might be 30 x 30 m, but the analysis of those data and how they are ultimately described and reported might be done only at the level of watersheds.

Beta diversity – The change in species composition between ecosystems or along an ecosystem gradient.

Biodiversity – Life in all of its forms – plants, animals, fungi, and microbes – and at all levels of organization from the organism to ecosystems and landscapes.

Biodiversity hotspot – Geographic locations with high numbers of species.

Climate adaptation strategy – A strategy to adjust to or cope with the social and ecological changes caused by climate change. Such strategies are intended to moderate the harm caused by climate change or to take advantage of resulting beneficial opportunities.

Climate-smart – Policies and practices that incorporate consideration of the effects of climate change with respect to both mitigation and adaptation.

Connectivity – see Ecological connectivity.

Conservation plan – A description of a proposed course of action intended to achieve one or more conservation goals. Optimally, such plans are the result of a planning process that specifies ecological features – such as species, ecosystems, or such geophysical elements as land facets or ecological land units – that are the focus of conservation efforts, identifies important places to protect those features and threats to them, and describes specific strategies to be taken to achieve the conservation goals (Groves et al. 2002). Conservation plans can be developed by any number of planning processes, such as systematic conservation planning, but at a minimum should involve detailed ecological assessments so that the full scope of current and projected ecological conditions can be taken into account as plans are developed.

Conservation target – A concept central to conservation planning. The term "conservation target" is used in two distinct but related ways in different conservation planning processes. One process, developed by The Nature Conservancy, uses the term conservation target to refer to an ecological feature – such as a species, ecosystem, or ecological land unit – that is part of an ecological assessment or conservation plan. The other process, characterized by most decision support tools for systematic conservation planning, uses the term conservation target to refer to the minimum number or amount of an ecological feature that is considered acceptable for a preferred conservation plan. Thus, conservation target can refer to either the minimum amount of a feature or the feature itself.

Ecological assessment – An ecological assessment identifies important patterns and trends of ecological features, which provide foundational information on which conservation objectives and strategies would be most effective to implement. Assessments can be accomplished both by direct field measurements and predictive modeling, through which responses of ecosystems to human-induced changes can be more fully understood and management options developed.

Ecological connectivity – The degree to which a landscape facilitates movement among resource patches, from ecological to evolutionary time scales (Taylor et al. 1993). Two types of connectivity can be assessed. First, structural connectivity measures the spatial arrangement of different types of habitat or ecological systems in a landscape without reference to the likelihood of movement of particular organisms through the landscape. Second, functional connectivity incorporates at least some aspects of the behavioral response of individuals, species, or ecological processes to the physical structure of the landscape (Baudry & Merriam 1988; Crooks & Sanjayan 2006).

Ecological integrity – The ability of an ecosystem to maintain an assemblage of organisms that has a composition, structure, and function that is comparable to that of natural conditions in the region.

Ecological land unit – A characterization of locations based on topography, elevation, and bedrock geology. This concept is similar to land facets.

Ecological processes – The dynamic actions and interactions that place within any level of biological organization. Ecological processes of interest to conservation planners can take place at the species level, such as predation and pollination, or at the ecosystem and landscape levels, such as nutrient cycling and moderation of hydrological flow. This concept is the same as ecological functions.

Ecoregion – A large area within which suites of specific ecosystems reoccur in a frequent or predictable pattern.

Ecosystem – A community of organisms and the abiotic components that affect or exchange materials with the organisms.

Ecosystem-based adaptation – The use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. Ecosystem-based adaptation uses the range of opportunities for the sustainable management, conservation, and restoration of ecosystems to provide services that enable people to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Ecosystem servicesEcological processes perceived in terms that relate directly to human values and benefits. For example, the ecological process of pollination is related to the ecosystem service of pollination of agricultural crops, and the process of moderating hydrological flow relates to the service of reducing flooding and the loss of property.

Enduring features – Geological and geographical characteristics of the environment that are not likely to change quickly as a result of climate change, such as soil type, elevation, and aspect.

Extent – Extent can be used to describe either spatial (or area) extent or temporal (or time) extent. Spatial extent is the region on the Earth's surface that is the focus of an ecological assessment or conservation plan. It is often represented as a defined rectangle just large enough to include all mapped features that are of interest, but it can also be defined by a political boundary (e.g., state) or ecological region (e.g., Southern Rockies ecoregion). Temporal extent is the duration of time a plan or assessment is concerned with, which generally must take into account the duration of important or relevant ecological processes.

Gamma diversity – The total diversity of species across a large region or within a large landscape. It is a function both of the diversity of species at each location within the landscape (alpha diversity) and the diversity across ecosystems within the landscape (beta diversity).

Habitat – The area occupied by a species and/or the biophysical conditions needed to support a species.

Intensity – The precision or level of differentiation of values that are depicted on a map – such as the number of land cover classes that are contained in a dataset (e.g., 7 classes vs. 21 classes).

Invasive species – An exotic species (one that is present at a location through human action) that causes ecological or economic harm.

Land facet – A characterization of locations typically based on elevation, topography, and soil characteristics (Wessels et al. 1999, Beier and Brost 2010). This concept is similar to ecological land units.

Landscape – A central concept to describing geographic regions that are the focus of ecological assessments or conservation plans. Some authors use the term to refer to a mosaic of ecosystems, although most use the term simply to represent a large expanse of land and water.

Level of synthesis

  • DO: Direct Observation
  • SR-1: Spatial Representation, based on continuous data (e.g., satellite imagery)
  • SR-2: Spatial Representation, based on interpolation between observed points
  • CO: Composite synthesis of multiple types of data, (e.g., the Human Footprint)

Map scale – The ratio of a distance on the map to the corresponding distance on the ground. A large-scale map (e.g. 1:24,000) shows greater detail because the scale is a larger fraction than that of a small-scale map (e.g. 1:250,000). The concept of map scale differs from spatial scale, which describes altogether different characteristics of a mapped area.

Minimum mapping unit (MMU) – This is the size of the smallest feature that (a) can be mapped at a given map scale or (b) is selected to be displayed on a given map. An example of the former is that of land use/land cover maps created from satellite-based remote-sensing technology, where the smallest area that can be characterized, and therefore can be uniquely described on a map, is 30 x 30 m. An example of the latter is the choice to display major roads but not minor roads when map scale is less than 1:100,000.

Planning for land and water use – A phrase intended to be more inclusive than simply "land-use planning". In its simplest form, land-use planning is the process of making decisions on how to use land and its associated resources to achieve one or more goals, such as providing food for people and maintaining ecosystem services. It is well recognized, however, that conservation planning requires attention to aquatic ecosystems as well, hence the expansion of the concept to include water, as well.

Protected area – Area that is, for the most part, permanently protected from conversion to development.

Refugia (singular: refugium) – Locations that historically or currently protect conservation elements that are eliminated or significant degraded elsewhere.

Resolution – Resolution can be used to describe either spatial (or area) resolution or temporal (or time) resolution. Spatial resolution (or grain) is the size of the smallest amount of detail depicted on a map. It can be thought of as the pixel (or cell) on a digital image or as the smallest mapping unit on a feature-based map. For example, the highest (or finest) resolution on a land use/land cover map created by satellite-based remote-sensing technology is 30 x 30 m, so that each 30 x 30 m cell is described by one value, and all variation within that cell is ignored. Temporal resolution describes the smallest unit of time described by data (e.g., daily average, yearly minimum). Variation within that smallest unit of time can be characterized by a statistical measure of variation (e.g., standard deviation), but the actual data associated with shorter increments of time are ignored.

Scale – A general concept that can be applied to both spatial (or area) and temporal (or time) domains as spatial scale and temporal scale. Scale, whether spatial or temporal, represents a combination of separate characterizations of area or time, particularly extent, resolution, and intensity.

Scale matrix – A visual representation of the general ecological relationship that exists between spatial scale and temporal scale. At one extreme are those processes that operate only over small areas and require short periods of time. At the other extreme, certain ecological processes take place over large areas and require hundreds or even thousands of years to operate.

Spatial extent – see Extent.

Spatial scale – A general concept used to characterize aspects of an area that is the focus of an ecological assessment or conservation plan. Spatial scale includes three important descriptions of how the area is characterized: extent, resolution, and intensity. In conducting ecological assessments, it is important to explore the appropriate spatial scale(s) needed to adequately address the conservation needs of particular species, ecosystems, or ecological processes. Some ecological processes and species life histories take place over very small areas (e.g., a vernal pool, a rotting log, or a rock outcrop). These are said to operate at a "small" spatial scale (i.e. plot or stand scale; 1 m2 – 1 km2). Other species and processes (e.g., grizzly bears and forest fires) occur over broader (or "larger") regional scales (1 km2 – 10,000 km2), while still others (e.g., climate and some species migrations) operate at even greater the continental (10,000 km2 – 100,000 km2) or even global scales (>100,000,000 km2). Note that this is the opposite of the usage of map scale. It is generally felt that a general ecological relationship exists between spatial and temporal scales, described by a scale matrix.

Spatially explicit – Referring to the condition of having the specific location of something – ecological feature, process, or conservation action – specified.

Systematic conservation planning – A specific framework for developing a conservation plan intended to identify conservation goals, locations where conservation actions are priorities for achieving the goals, and strategies that will improve the chances that actions taken at those locations will succeed (cf., Margules & Pressey 2000). Ecological assessments are a critical part of such a framework.

Target – see Conservation target.

Temporal scale – A general concept used to characterize aspects of time, especially as they relate to the goals or process of conservation planning. As with spatial scale, temporal scale includes two important descriptions of how time is characterized: extent and resolution. In conducting ecological assessments, it is important to explore the appropriate temporal scale(s) needed to adequately address particular species, ecosystems, or ecological processes. Some ecological processes and species life histories take place over very short periods of time (e.g., storms, seed germination, mating, and nesting). Other processes, however, operate over longer durations (e.g., climate change, speciation, and extinction). It is generally felt that a general ecological relationship exists between spatial and temporal scales, described by a scale matrix.