The IPBES core glossary provides a standard definition for important terms of broad applicability to IPBES outputs. This core glossary does not replace the assessment-specific glossaries, but is complementary to them. It was developed by a glossary committee established for this purpose.

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Term Definition

A discipline which envisions building ecological data sets in the context of a "data life cycle" that encompasses all facets of data generation to knowledge creation, including planning, collection and organization of data, quality assurance and quality control, metadata creation, preservation, discovery, integration, and analysis and visualization.


A large area of land or water that contains a geographically distinct assemblage of natural communities that:
(a) Share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics;
(b) Share similar environmental conditions, and;
(c) Interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long-term persistence (source: WWF). In contrast to biomes, an ecoregion is generally geographically specific, at a much finer scale. For example, the “East African Montane Forest” eco-region of Kenya (WWF eco-region classification) is a geographically specific and coherent example of the globally occurring “tropical and subtropical forest” biome.

Ecological (or socio-ecological) breakpoint or threshold

The point at which a relatively small change in external conditions causes a rapid change in an ecosystem. When an ecological threshold has been passed, the ecosystem may no longer be able to return to its state by means of its inherent resilience.
Ecological community

An assemblage or association of populations of two or more different species occupying the same geographical area and in a particular time.

Ecological footprint

A measure of the amount of biologically productive land and water required to support the demands of a population or productive activity. Ecological footprints can be calculated at any scale: for an activity, a person, a community, a city, a region, a nation or humanity as a whole.

Ecological infrastructure

Ecological infrastructure refers to the natural or semi-natural structural elements of ecosystems and landscapes that are important in delivering ecosystem services. It is similar to 'green infrastructure', a term sometimes applied in a more urban context. The ecological infrastructure needed to support pollinators and improve pollination services includes patches of semi-natural habitats, including hedgerows, grassland and forest, distributed throughout productive agricultural landscapes, providing nesting and floral resources. Larger areas of natural habitat are also ecological infrastructure, although these do not directly support agricultural pollination in areas more than a few kilometers away from pollinator-dependent crops.

Economic and financial instruments

Economic and financial instruments can be used to change people’s behavior towards desired policy objectives. Instruments typically encompass a wide range of designs and implementation approaches. They include traditional fiscal instruments, including for example subsidies, taxes, charges and fiscal transfers. Additionally, instruments such as tradable pollution permits or tradable land development rights rely on the creation of new markets. Further instruments represent conditional and voluntary incentive schemes such as payments for ecosystem services. All these can in principle be used to correct for policy or/and market failures and reinstate full-cost pricing. They aim at reflecting social costs or benefits of the conservation and use of biodiversity and ecosystem services of a public good nature (“getting the price right”). Financial instruments, in contrast, are often extra-budgetary and can be financed from domestic sources or foreign aid, external borrowing, debt for nature swaps, etc. Economic instruments do not necessarily imply that commodification of environmental functions is promoted. Generally, they are meant to change behavior of individuals (e.g., consumers and producers) and public actors (e.g., local and regional governments).


A dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit.

Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992
Ecosystem degradation

A long-term reduction in an ecosystem’s structure, functionality, or capacity to provide benefits to people.

Ecosystem function

The flow of energy and materials through the biotic and abiotic components of an ecosystem. It includes many processes such as biomass production, trophic transfer through plants and animals, nutrient cycling, water dynamics and heat transfer.

Adapted from
Ecosystem health

Ecosystem health is a metaphor used to describe the condition of an ecosystem, by analogy with human health. Note that there is no universally accepted benchmark for a healthy ecosystem. Rather, the apparent health status of an ecosystem can vary, depending upon which metrics are employed in judging it, and which societal aspirations are driving the assessment.

Ecosystem management

An approach to maintaining or restoring the composition, structure, function, and delivery of services of natural and modified ecosystems for the goal of achieving sustainability. It is based on an adaptive, collaboratively developed vision of desired future conditions that integrates ecological, socioeconomic, and institutional perspectives, applied within a geographic framework, and defined primarily by natural ecological boundaries.

Ecosystem services

The benefits people obtain from ecosystems. In the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, ecosystem services can be divided into supporting, regulating, provisioning and cultural. This classification, however, is superseded in IPBES assessments by the system used under “nature’s contributions to people”. This is because IPBES recognises that many services fit into more than one of the four categories. For example, food is both a provisioning service and also, emphatically, a cultural service, in many cultures..


Sustainable travel undertaken to access sites or regions of unique natural or ecological quality, promoting their conservation, low visitor impact, and socio-economic involvement of local populations.

Endangered species

A species at risk of extinction in the wild.
Endemic species

Plants and animals that exist only in one geographic region.


The ecological state of a species being unique to a defined geographic location, such as an island, nation, country or other defined zone, or habitat type; organisms that are indigenous to a place are not endemic to it if they are also found elsewhere.
Energy security

Access to clean, reliable and affordable energy services for cooking and heating, lighting, communications and productive uses.

Environmental assets

Naturally occurring living and non-living entities of the Earth, together comprising the bio-physical environment, that jointly deliver ecosystem services to the benefit of current and future generation.
Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs)

Essential Biodiversity Variables are promoted by the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON). The idea behind this concept is to identify, using a systems approach, the key variables that should be monitored in order to measure biodiversity change. The Essential Biodiversity Variables are an intermediate layer of abstraction between raw data, from in situ and remote sensing observations, and derived high-level indicators used to communicate the state and trends of biodiversity.


A condition of an aquatic system in which increased nutrient loading leads to progressively increasing amounts of algal growth and biomass accumulation. When the algae die off and decompose, the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water becomes reduced. The term is sometimes applied more broadly than just to aquatic systems.

Nutrient enrichment of an ecosystem, generally resulting in increased primary production and reduced biodiversity. In lakes, eutrophication leads to seasonal algal blooms, reduced water clarity, and, often, periodic fish mortality as a consequence of oxygen depletion. The term is most closely associated with aquatic ecosystems but is sometimes applied more broadly.

Molles, 2016

In ecology, species evenness refers to the similarity of abundances of each species in an environment. It can be quantified by a diversity index as a dimension of biodiversity.

Ex-ante assessment

The use of policy-screening scenarios to forecast the effects of alternative policy or management options (interventions) on environmental outcomes.

Ex-post assessment

The use of policy-evaluation scenarios to assess the extent to which outcomes actually achieved by an implemented policy match those expected based on modelled projections, thereby informing policy review.

Exclusive Economic Zone

An Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is a concept adopted at the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (1982), whereby a coastal State assumes jurisdiction over the exploration and exploitation of marine resources in its adjacent section of the continental shelf, taken to be a band extending 200 miles from the shore. The Exclusive Economic Zone comprises an area which extends either from the coast, or in federal systems from the seaward boundaries of the constituent states (3 to 12 nautical miles, in most cases) to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) off the coast. Within this area, nations claim and exercise sovereign rights and exclusive fishery management authority over all fish and all Continental Shelf fishery resources.

Glossary of Environment Statistics, Studies in Methods, Series F, No. 67, United Nations, New York, 1997.
Exploratory scenario

See "scenario".

Extensive forest management

Low or no input in regeneration or site amelioration is practiced in sparsely populated regions with large forest areas, such as boreal forests (Taiga) of Canada and Siberia, and across much of the world´s major tropical forest biomes.

Extensive grazing

Extensive grazing is that in which livestock are raised on food that comes mainly from natural grasslands, shrublands, woodlands, wetlands, and deserts. It differs from intensive grazing, where the animal feed comes mainly from artificial, seeded pastures.


A positive or negative consequence (benefits or costs) of an action that affects someone other than the agent undertaking that action and for which the agent is neither compensated nor penalized through the markets.

Extinction debt

The future extinction of species due to events in the past, owing to a time lag between an effect such as habitat destruction or climate change, and the subsequent disappearance of species.