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.

Displaying 1 - 27 of 27
Term Definition

The process of increasing the salt content in soil is known as salinization. Salinization can be caused by natural processes such as mineral weathering or by the gradual withdrawal of an ocean. It can also come about through artificial processes such as irrigation.


Ecosystem characterized by a continuous layer of herbaceous plants, mostly grasses, and a discontinuous upper layer of trees that may vary in density.


The spatial, temporal, quantitative and analytical dimensions used to measure and study any phenomenon.

  • The temporal scale is comprised of two properties:
    1. temporal extent – the total length of the time period of interest for a particular study (e.g. 10 years, 50 years, or 100 years);
    2. temporal grain (or resolution) – the temporal frequency with which data are observed or projected within this total period (e.g. at 1-year, 5-year or 10-year intervals).
  • The spatial scale is comprised of two properties:
    1. spatial extent – the size of the total area of interest for a particular study (e.g. a watershed, a country, the entire planet);
    2. spatial grain (or resolution) – the size of the spatial units within this total area for which data are observed or predicted (e.g. fine-grained or coarse-grained grid cells).

Representations of possible futures for one or more components of a system, particularly for drivers of change in nature and nature’s benefits, including alternative policy or management options.

  • Exploratory scenarios (also known as “explorative scenarios” or “descriptive scenarios”) are scenarios that examine a range of plausible futures, based on potential trajectories of drivers – either indirect (e.g. socio-political, economic and technological factors) or direct (e.g. habitat conversion, climate change).
  • Target-seeking scenarios (also known as “goal-seeking scenarios” or “normative scenarios”) are scenarios that start with the definition of a clear objective, or a set of objectives, specified either in terms of achievable targets, or as an objective function to be optimized, and then identify different pathways to achieving this outcome (e.g. through backcasting).
  • Intervention scenarios are scenarios that evaluate alternative policy or management options – either through target seeking (also known as “goal seeking” or “normative scenario analysis”) or through policy screening (also known as “ex-ante assessment”).
  • Policy-evaluation scenarios are scenarios, including counterfactual scenarios, used in ex-post assessments of the gap between policy objectives and actual policy results, as part of the policy-review phase of the policy cycle.
  • Policy-screening scenarios are scenarios used in ex-ante assessments, to forecast the effects of alternative policy or management options (interventions) on environmental outcomes.

Seascape can be defined as a spatially heterogeneous area of coastal environment (i.e. intertidal, brackish) that can be perceived as a mosaic of patches, a spatial gradient, or some other geometric patterning. The tropical coastal “seascape” often includes a patchwork of mangroves, seagrass beds, and coral reefs that produces a variety of natural resources and ecosystem services.

Boström et al. 2011

A distinct part of society, or of a nation's economy.
Semi-natural habitat(s)

An ecosystem with most of its processes and biodiversity intact, though altered by human activity in strength or abundance relative to the natural state.

Socioecological system

An ecosystem, the management of this ecosystem by actors and organizations, and the rules, social norms, and conventions underlying this management.

Soil compaction

Defined as an increase in density and a decline of porosity in a soil that impedes root penetration and movements of water and gases.

Soil degradation

The diminishing capacity of the soil to provide ecosystem goods and services as desired by its stakeholders.

Soil organic matter (SOM)

Matter consisting of plant and/or animal organic materials, and the conversion products of those materials in soils.

ISO, 2013
Soil quality

Soil quality is a measure of the soil's ability to provide ecosystem and social services through its capacities to perform its functions under changing conditions. Soil quality reflects how well a soil performs the functions of maintaining biodiversity and productivity, partitioning water and solute flow, filtering and buffering, nutrient cycling, and providing support for plants and other structures

Spatial downscaling

See “downscaling”.


An interbreeding group of organisms that is reproductively isolated from all other organisms, although there are many partial exceptions to this rule in particular taxa. Operationally, the term species is a generally agreed fundamental taxonomic unit, based on morphological or genetic similarity, that once described and accepted is associated with a unique scientific name.

Species composition

The array of species in a specific sample, community, or area.

Species distribution models

Species distribution models relate field observations of the presence/absence of a species to environmental predictor variables, based on statistically or theoretically derived response surfaces, for prediction and inference. The predictor variables are often climatic but can include other environmental variables.
Species richness

The number of species within a given sample, community, or area.


Any individuals, groups or organizations who affect, or could be affected (whether positively or negatively) by a particular issue and its associated policies, decisions and action.

Statistical downscaling

Downscaling based on interpolation of statistical relationships between specific model or scenario metrics and predictors with higher resolution data.

Storylines (or scenario storylines)

Qualitative narratives which provide the descriptive framework from which quantitative exploratory scenarios can be formulated.

Summary for policymakers

Is a component of any report, providing a policy-relevant but not policy prescriptive summary of that report.

Supporting material

Consists of four categories:

(a) Intercultural and interscientific dialogue reports that are based on the material generated at the ecoregional level by discussions between members of academic, indigenous and social organizations and that take into account the diff erent approaches, visions and knowledge systems that exist as well as the various views and approaches to sustainable development;

(b) Workshop proceedings and materials that are either commissioned or supported by the Platform;

(c) Software or databases that facilitate the use of the Platform’s reports;

(d) Guidance materials (guidance notes and guidance documents) that assist in the preparation of comprehensive and scientifically sound Platform reports and technical papers.


A characteristic or state whereby the needs of the present and local population can be met without compromising the ability of future generations or populations in other locations to meet their needs.

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment,
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

A set of goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Sustainable use (of biodiversity and its components)

The use of components of biological diversity 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.

Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992

See "trade-off".

Synthesis reports

Synthesis reports further distil and integrate materials drawing from assessment reports, are written in a non‑technical style suitable for policymakers and address a broad range of policy-relevant questions. They are to be composed of two sections: a summary for policymakers, and a full report.