Environmental System and Societies: Definitions

Abiotic Factor
A non-living, physical factor that may influence an organism or ecosystem; i.e. temperature, sunlight, pH, salinity, precipitation.
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Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD)
A measure of the amount of dissolved oxygen required to break down the organic material in a given volume of water through aerobic biological activity.
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Capable of being broken down by natural biological processes; i.e. the activities of decomposer organisms.
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The amount of biological or living diversity per unit area. It includes the concepts of species diversity, habitat diversity and genetic diversity.
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Biomass/Standing Crop
The mass of organic material in organisms or ecosystems, usually per unit area. Sometimes the term "dry weight biomass" is used where mass is measured after the removal of water.
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A collection of ecosystems sharing similar climatic conditions; i.e. tundra, tropical rainforest, desert.
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That part of the Earth inhabited by organisms, that is, the narrow zone (a few km thick) in which plants and animals exist.
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Biotic Factor
A living, biological factor that may influence an organism or ecosystem; i.e. predation, parasitism, disease, competition.
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Carrying Capacity
The maximum number of species or "load" that can be sustainably supported by a given environment.
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Climax Community
A community of organisms that is more or less stable, and that is in equilibrium with natural environmental conditions such as climate; the end point of ecological succession.
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A group of populations living and interacting with each other in a common habitat.
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A common demand by 2 or more organisms upon limited supply of a resource; i.e. food, water, light, space, mates, nesting sites. It may be intraspecific or interspecific.
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A measure of the association between 2 variables. If 2 variables tend to move up or down together, they are said to be positively correlated. If they tend to move in opposite directions, they are said to be negatively correlated.
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Crude Birth Rate
The number of births per thousand individuals in a population per year.
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Crude Death Rate
The number of deaths per thousand individuals in a population per year.
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Demographic Transition Model
A general model describing the changing levels of fertility and mortality in a human population over time.
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A generic term for heterogeneity. The scientific meaning of the diversity becomes clease from the context in which it is used; it may refer to heterogeneity of species of habitat, or to genetic heterogeneity.
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Genetic Diversity
The range of genetic material present in a gene pool or population of a species.
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Habitat Diversity
The range of different habitats or numbers of ecological niches per unit area in an ecosystem, community or biome. Conseravtion of habitat diversity usually leads to the conservation of species and genetic diversity.
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Diversity Index
A numerical measure of species diversity that is derived from both the number of species (variety) and their proportional abundance.
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Species Diversity
The variety of species per unit area. This includes both the number of species present and their relative abundance.
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Doubling Time
The number of years it would take a population to double its size at its current growth rate. A natural increase rate of 1% will enable a human population to double in 70 years.
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Ecological Footprint
The area of land and water required to support a defined human population at a given standard of living. The measure takes account of the area required to provide all the resources needed be the population, an the assimilation of all wastes.
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A community of interdependent organisms and the physical environment they inhabit.
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A measure of the amount of disorder, chaos or randomness in a system; the greater the disorder, the higher the level of entropy.
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Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
A method of detailed survey required, in many countries, before a major development. Ideally it should be independent of, but paid for by, the developer.
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A state of balance among the components of a system.
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The natural or artificial enrichment of a body of water, particularly with respect to nitrates and phosphates, that result in depletion of the oxygen content of the water.
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The cumulative, gradual change in the genetic characteristics of successive generations of a species or race of an organism, ultimately giving rise to species or races different from the common ancestor.
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The return of part of the output from a system as input, so as to affect succeeding outputs.
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Negative Feedback
Feedback that tends to damp down, neutralize or counteract any deviation from an equilibrium, and promotes stability.
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Positive Feedback
Feedback that amplifies or increases change; it leads to exponential deviation away from an equilibrium.
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In the context of human populations, this refers to the potential for reproduction exhibited in a population. It may be measured as fertility rate, which is the number of births per thousand women of child- bearing age.
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Hypothesis developed by James Lovelock and named after an ancient Greek Earth goddess. It compares the Earth to a living organism in which feedback mechanisms maintain equilibrium.
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Global Warming
An increase in average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere.
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Gross National Production (GNP)
The current value if all goods and services produced in a country per year.
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Greenhouse Gases
Those atmospheric gases which absorb infrared radiation, causing world temperatures to be warmer than they would otherwise be.
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The environment in which a species normally lives.
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Halogenated Organic Gases
Usually known as halocarbons and first indentified as depleting the ozone layer in the stratosphere. Now known to be potent greenhouse gases. The most well known are chlorofluorocarbons.
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The process by which 2 populations become separated by geographical, behavioral, genetic ore reproductive factors. If gene flow between the 2 subpopulations is prevented, new species may evolve.
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K- Strategist
Species that usually concentrate their reproductive investment in a small number of offspring, thus increasing the survival rate and adapting them for living in long- term climax communities.
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The angular distance from the equator (that is, north or south of it) as measured from the centre of the Earth (in degrees).
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Less Economically Developed Country
A country with low to moderate industrialization and low to moderate GNP per capita.
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More Economically Developed Country
A highly industrialized country with high average GNP per capita.
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A simplified description designed to show the structure or workings of an object, system or concept.
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A relationship between individuals of 2 or more species in which all benefit and none suffer.
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Natural Capital
A term sometimes used by economists for natural resources. If properly managed, renewable and replenishable resources are forms of wealth that can produce 'natural income' indefinitely in the form of valuable goods and services.
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Non- Renewable Natural Capital
Natural resources that cannot be replenished within a timescale of that same order as that at which they are taken from the environment and used; i.e. fossil fuels.
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Replenishable Natural Capital
Non-living natural resources that depend on the energy of the Sun for their replenishment; i.e. groundwater.
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Rate of Natural Increase
The form in which human population growth rates are usually expressed: crude birth rate- crude death rate/ 10 (inward and outward migration are ignored)
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A species' share of a habitat and the resources in it. Depends on where the specie lives and what it does.
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A relationship between 2 species in which one species lives in or on another, gaining all or much of its food from it.
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Plate Tectonics
The movement of the 8 major and several minor internally rigid plates of the Earth's lithosphere in relation to each other and to the partially mobile asthenosphere below.
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The addition to an environment of a substance or an agent (such as heat) by human activity, at a rate greater than that at which it can be rendered harmless by the environment, and which has an appreciable effect on the organism within it.
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Non- Point Source Pollution
The release of pollutants from numerous, widely dispersed origins; i.e. gases from exhaust systems in vehicles.
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Point Source Pollution
The release of pollutants from a single, clearly identifiable site; i.e. a factory chimney.
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A group of organisms of the same species living in the same area at the same time, and which are capable of interbreeding.
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Gross Productivity (GP)
The total gain in energy or biomass per unit area per unit time, which could be through photosynthesis in primary producers or absorption in consumers.
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Gross Primary Productivity (GPP)
The total gain in energy or biomass per unit area per unit time fixed by photosynthesis in green plants.
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Gross Secondary Productivity (GSP)
The total gain by consumers in energy or biomass per unit area per unit time through absorption.
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Net Productivity (NP)
The gain in energy or biomass per unit area per unit time remaining after allowing for respiratory losses (R).
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Net Primary Productivity (NPP)
The gain by producers in energy or biomass per unit area per unit time remaining after allowing for respiratory losses (R).
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Net Secondary Productivity
The gain by consumers in energy or biomass per unit time remaining after allowing for respiratory losses (R).
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Primary Productivity
The gain by producers in energy or biomass per unit area per unit time. Can refer to either net or gross productivity.
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Secondary Productivity
The biomass gained by heterotrophic organisms, through feeding and absorption, measured in units of mass or energy per unit area per unit time.
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R- Strategist
Species that tend to spread their reproductive investment among a large number of offspring so that they are well adapted to colonize new habitats rapidly and make opportunistic use of short- lived resources.
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The set of communities that succeed one another over the course of succession at a given location.
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The tern now used for any haziness in the atmosphere caused by air pollutants.
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An arbitrary group of individuals who share some common characteristics such as geographical location, cultural background, historical time frame, religious perspective, value system, etc.
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A mixture of mineral particles and organic material that covers the land, and in which terrestrial plants grow.
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Soil Profile
A vertical section through a soil , from the surface down to the parent material, revealing the soil layers of horizons.
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The process through which new species form.
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A group of organisms that interbreed and produce fertile offspring.
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Stable Equilibrium
The condition of a system in which there is a tendency for it to return to a previous equilibrium condition following disturbance.
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Steady- State Equilibrium
The condition of an open system, where there are continuing inputs and outputs of matter and energy, but the system as a whole remains in a more or less constant state.
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The orderly process of change over time in a community. Changes in the community of organisms frequently cause changes in the physical environment that allow another community to become established and replace the former through competition.
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Use of global resources at a rate that allows natural regeneration and minimizes damage to the environment.
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An assemblage of parts and the relationship between them, which together constitute an entity or whole.
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Closed System
A system in which energy, but not matter, is exchanged with its surroundings.
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Isolated System
A system that exchanges neither matter nor energy with its surroundings.
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Open System
A system in which both matter and energy are exchanged with its surroundings.
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Trophic Level
The position that an organism occupies in a food chain, or a group of organisms in a community that occupy the same position in food chains.
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The arrangement or patterning of plant communities or ecosystems into parallel or sub- parallel bands in response to change, over a distance, in some environmental factor.
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First Law of Thermodynamics
"Energy may be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed."
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Second Law of Thermodynamics
"In an isolated system, entropy tends to increase spontaneously."
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Static Equilibrium
The condition in which there is no change in the system over time. A static equilibrium is a condition to which natural systems can be compared.
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The processes that move through a system and produce a change in location but not a change in state or form. For example: run-off of water from a leaf to the ground.
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Processes that lead to an interaction within a system in the formation of a new end product, or involve a change of state. For example: evaporation.
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The inputs and outputs of a system.
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Renewable Natural Capital
Natural resources that have a sustainable yield or harvest equal to or less than their natural productivity; for example, food crops, timber.
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Sustainable Development (1987 Definition)
'Development that meets current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.'
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Sustainable Yield
The rate of increase in natural capital which can be exploited without depleting the original stock or its potential for replenishment.
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Maximum Sustainable Yield
The largest yield (or catch) that can be taken from the stock of a species over an indefinite period.
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Natural Increase Rate
The crude birth rate minus the crude death rate, excluding migration. A natural increase rate of 1% will make the doubling time of a human population 70 years.
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Graphical models of the quantitative differences that exist between the trophic levels of a single ecosystem.
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Pyramid of Numbers
A pyramid that represents the numbers of individual plants and animals present in a food web.
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Pyramid of Biomass
A pyramid that represents the standing stock of each trophic level measured in units such as grams of biomass per square meter (gm-2) or energy per square meter (Jm-2). A pyramid of biomass represents storages.
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Pyramid of Productivity
A pyramid that represents the flow of energy through a trophic level and invariably show a decrease along the food chain.
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The interaction between two organisms - the predator (which has a higher trophic level) and the prey (which has a lower trophic level). Predators differ from parasites in that they kill their prey before eating it.
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Herbivory/Grazer Interactions
The interaction between a primary consumer (herbivore) and a producer.
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Soil Degradation
The decline the quantity and quality of soil.
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Environmental Value System
A particular world view or set of paradigms which shape the way an individual or group of people perceive and evaluate environmental issues. This will be influenced by cultural, economic and socio-political context.
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Card 2


Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD)


A measure of the amount of dissolved oxygen required to break down the organic material in a given volume of water through aerobic biological activity.

Card 3




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Card 4




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Card 5


Biomass/Standing Crop


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