Conservation Glossary


Biodiversity — The variability among living organisms on the Earth, including the variability within and between species and within and between ecosystems. We might think of it as the number of different species in a given place, or the world, plus the degree of difference among them. Learn more about biodiversity.


Climate change (often called global warming) — A process occurring because the planet's atmosphere is becoming increasingly full of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which become trapped close to the Earth and interfere with our weather — often making it hotter or causing drought (and melting the Arctic), but also sometimes just messing with the weather in general, making it colder than usual, and definitely contributing to the commonness of big storms, or "superstorms" like Hurricane Sandy.

Climate change has happened naturally in the planet's history, but right now we call it "anthropogenic" climate change, which means it's caused by humans. Human activities (like driving cars and burning coal in power plants) are emitting the greenhouse gases causing this transformation. Learn more about climate change.


Ecosystem — A community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system.


Endangered species — In general, any animal or plant in danger of extinction in the relatively near future. In formal or technical use, this refers to an animal or plant protected under a federal law called the Endangered Species Act.


Endangered Species Act — Generally refers to the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the federal law enacted in 1973 to protect any species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially declares "endangered" or "threatened" (with the "threatened" designation meaning that the species in question is less at risk of extinction than a species designated as "endangered"). States also have their own Endangered Species Acts, under which a species may be protected at a state level — lesser protections than at the federal level (but still valuable).


Greenhouse gases — Sometimes shortened to "GHGs," these are the gases causing the greenhouse effect that's heating up Earth's atmosphere. The most common ones are water vaporcarbon dioxidemethanenitrous oxide and ozone


Habitat — The area or environment where species normally live or occur. The ocean, for example, is a marine habitat; a coral reef is a specific type of marine habitat.


Imperiled — This is a loose term that can be applied to most animals and plants that are in danger of extinction, whether or not they're protected under the Endangered Species Act.


Native species — An animal or plant that evolved in the location where it currently lives (as opposed to invasive species, which take over land and habitat from plants and animals that had already been living there for centuries).


Natural resources — Things humans use that come from nature. For example, we get fossil fuels like oil and coal from the Earth, and we get water from waterways and the ground (and we can also harvest rainwater). Land is a natural resource, used to build on and raise crops and livestock to eat, and species like medicinal plants are in this category, too, since we use them to make medicine for people. Even wind in a natural resource, since we can use it to spin turbines and make energy into electricity.


Species — In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification of living things. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. Find out more about some of the species the Center works to protect.


Threat — Any factor that hurts an animal or its habitat, such as climate change, pesticides, oil development or mining. You can find out about many more threats on our campaign pages.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — This is the federal agency that manages wildlife and plants across the country and has the authority to designate a species as "endangered" or "threatened" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Almost always, this agency only protects an animal or plant once an individual or group (like the Center for Biological Diversity) sends it a petition that the agency believes shows the species in need of designation, though the agency may also decide to protect a species of its own accord, through its own biologists.


Wildlands — A general term referring to any wild place that we don't want to see ruined by humans.

Snake photo courtesy Flickr Commons/Daniela Hartmann