As interpreted and used by World Land Trust
Altiplano means High Plains in Spanish. It refers to a region also known as the Andean or Bolivian Plateau, which spans the countries of Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. With an average altitude of 3750 metres above sea level, this region is high, dry, and cold, and is sparsely vegetated by grasses and shrubs which can tolerate these conditions.
An archipelago is a group or chain of islands. The largest archipelago in the world is the Indonesian archipelago, which includes the islands of Borneo and Papua New Guinea. Other large archipelagos include Japan, the Philippines and the British Isles.
The Atlantic forest, Mata Atlântica in Portuguese, extends 4000 km along the Atlantic coast of Brazil, from the state of Rio Grande do Norte down to Rio Grande do Sul in the south, and inland into Paraguay and Argentina. It is a diverse region which contains a range of different ecosystems, including tropical and sub-tropical moist forest and dry forest, rainforest, shrublands and mangroves. Isolated from the Amazon rainforest, it features high levels of endemism. High human population density has reduced the extent of the Atlantic forest to less than 7 per cent of its original size. It is now one of the most endangered tropical forest habitats in the world.
AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) are areas of high scenic quality that have statutory protection in order to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of their landscapes. For example, the Cotswolds is the largest of the UK’s 49 AONBs and includes Kites Hill Reserve.
Biodiversity refers to the variety of life on earth. As defined by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity it includes the diversity of ecosystems in the biosphere, the number and variety of species within an ecosystem, the genetic variation within these species, and the ecological processes that support them.
A biodiversity hotspot, as defined by Conservation International, is an area which contains an exceptionally high number of different species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. Although the remaining habitat in these areas covers just 2.3 per cent of the world’s land surface, they contain 50 per cent of all endemic plant species and 42 per cent of all terrestrial vertebrates. Habitat in these areas is extremely threatened. Much of WLT’s work is based in biodiversity hotspots, including projects in Armenia, Malaysian Borneo, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Paraguay and the Philippines.
Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP)
A Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) is an internationally recognised programme designed to protect and restore biological systems. The original impetus derives from the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). In the UK, BAPs are the UK Government’s response to the CBD and provide plans for the protection of the UK's biological resources at both national and local levels. For example, there is a local Biodiversity Action Plan for amphibians in Gloucestershire, the location of Kites Hill Reserve.
A Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) ratified site, which seeks to balance biodiversity conservation with sustainable economic development for local people. It is an entirely voluntary programme which must be proposed by the residents themselves.
Broadleaf forests are dominated by broadleaf trees like Oak, Beech and Ash, which have wide flat leaves, in contrast to the narrow, needle like leaves of conifer trees such as pines and firs. Broadleaf trees are also known as hardwood trees. In temperate regions they are mostly deciduous, but in many tropical regions broadleaf trees grow leaves all year round.
A buffer zone is an area that is managed in order to increase the protection provided to a Protected Area. An effective buffer zone can prevent negative edge effects from impacting the core area, including the incursion of non-native species, hunting, and climatic changes such as reduced humidity in rainforests.
Information about carbon and restoration ecology terms used on our website can be found in the Ecosystem Services section of WLT’s website.
Centres for endemism are home to an unusually high number of endemic species or species of restricted range. Centres for endemism are likely to be priority conservation areas.
CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments aimed at regulating and preventing illegal trade in threatened species.
Cloud forests are found in tropical and sub-tropical regions. They occur within a small altitude band (which varies with latitude and local climate) at which the forest is under persistent, low-lying cloud cover. They are characterised by low levels of direct sunlight, an abundance of mosses, ferns and orchids, and high levels of endemism. They are being lost at a very high rate, and it is predicted they will be strongly impacted by future climate change.
The level of connectivity in a landscape is the extent to which species are able to move from one area to another. Connectivity is reduced by fragmentation, in which barriers such as human developments and agriculture prevent some animals from moving across the landscape. Connectivity can be increased by the protection of wildlife corridors. Different species require different levels of connectivity. Some of the highest demands come from animals, such as big cats, which are wary of human activity, or those, like many primates, which require continuous forest cover to move across the landscape.
Conservation is the preservation of threatened wildlife habitats and WLT does this by funding the purchase of vulnerable land and working with local project partners to protect it as private nature reserves. WLT also assists conservation by restoring habitats which have been lost in the past, as far as possible back to the natural habitat.
Deciduous trees are those that lose their leaves in order to conserve resources. In temperate or polar regions, this occurs during the winter months when there is too little sunlight for efficient photosynthesis, while in some parts of the tropics trees drop their leaves during the dry season. Forests in which the majority of trees lose their leaves are called deciduous forests.
Deforestation is the process of clearing naturally occurring forests by logging or burning for purposes such as agriculture, fuel or urban development. Deforestation also occurs naturally or unintentionally though wildfires and overgrazing. This results in loss of habitat and biodiversity and is a significant contributor to soil erosion.
Environments can be degraded through both natural processes (such as severe weather events or volcanic eruptions) and human processes (such as pollution or logging). It can result in the destruction of natural habitats, species extinctions and the loss of ecosystem services.
Tropical and sub-tropical dry forests, though they may receive high levels of annual rain, have extended annual dry seasons. They are typically dominated by deciduous trees, which shed leaves during drought periods. WLT partners protect dry forest in Venezuela, Ecuador and Paraguay.
The ecology of an area refers to all the living organisms in that area, their interactions with each other, and with their physical environment. The word also refers to the scientific study of organisms, their interactions and environments.
An ecoregion is an ecologically and geographically defined area that covers large areas of land or water sharing similar environmental conditions, species and ecological dynamics which interact ecologically in ways that are critical to their long-term survival. For example, the terrestrial ecoregions of Borneo’s lowland and montane rainforests are classed as a Global Ecoregion. Madagascar is considered the world’s most threatened ecoregion, with the Atlantic Rainforest coming second.
An ecosystem is a community of all living organisms within a particular area, their interactions with each other and with their physical environment. Some of the most biodiverse ecosystems include coral reefs and tropical rainforests. Major ecosystems are also referred to as biomes.
Ecosystem services are often defined as the benefits humans derive from natural ecosystems. The United Nations 2004 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment defines four broad categories.
- Provisioning services refer to products obtained from ecosystems, such as food, pharmaceuticals and energy.
- Regulating services include air and water purification, pollination and carbon sequestration.
- Supporting services, such as seed dispersal and nutrient cycling, are necessary for other ecosystem services
- Cultural services covers recreation, as well as the spiritual and cultural value of ecosystems. Find out more about Ecosystem Services.
Ecotourism is promoted as a low-impact, more sustainable alternative to standard tourism. Many of WLT’s partners partially support their organisations through revenue generated from ecotourism activities. Other important benefits of an ecotourism approach include raising environmental awareness in both tourists and local communities, and providing financial benefits for local people by including them in tourism enterprises. Unfortunately, the popularity of ecotourism has encouraged some companies to ‘greenwash’ their tours, promoting commercial tours to wildlife areas without ensuring that they are fully sustainable.
The Earth’s land mass is divided into eight ecozones, as defined by WWF, in which organisms have been evolving in relative isolation over long periods of time. They are separated from one another by geographic features, such as oceans, broad deserts, or high mountain ranges, which constitute barriers to migration. Each ecozone may include a number of different biomes.
The eight ecozones are:
- Palearctic (most of Eurasia and North Africa)
- Nearctic (most of North America)
- Afrotropic (including Sub-Saharan Africa)
- Neotropic (including South America, Central America and the Caribbean)
- Australasia (including Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, and neighbouring islands - the northern boundary of this zone is known as the Wallace line)
- Indo-Malaya (including the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and southern China)
- Oceania (including Polynesia – but not New Zealand - Micronesia, and the Fijian Islands)
- Antarctic (including Antarctica)
Edge effects are the changes that occur at the border between one habitat and another. The term is most often used to refer to the edges of forest habitats. Edge effects include climatic changes, such as increased wind speed and reduced humidity, increased levels of human disturbance such as hunting and tree removal, the incursion of non-native species, and the spread of diseases from domestic to wild animals.
This term refers to a particular type of montane forest. Because temperature falls as elevation increases, at high altitudes conditions are tougher and the growing season is shorter. In Elfin forests trees grow slowly and never reach the heights of their lowland counterparts. High speed winds may force trees to grow into strange, twisted shapes, sheltering behind rocks.
A plant which grows using the support of another host plant or object is called an epiphyte. Unlike a parasite, epiphytes do not take any nutrients from the host. Instead they collect water and nutrients directly from the humid atmosphere around them. Many orchid species are epiphytes.
Equatorial simply means on the equator. Equatorial countries do not have seasons; instead, the climate is similar all year round, although local geography and vegetation can create slight fluctuations in rainfall and temperature. Daily average high temperatures along the equator are above 30°C, with average low temperatures between 22 and 25°C.
This term is used for conservation which does not take place directly on site. For example, the work of zoos’ captive breeding programmes is ex situ conservation. WLT's Wild Spaces programme provides an opportunity for zoos and aquariums to become more involved with in situ conservation.
Species representative of an environmental cause, such as a whole ecosystem in need of conservation are referred to as flagship species. For example, the Eco Club in the Chaco-Pantanal in Paraguay use the Jaguar as their flagship species to represent the need of conservation in Paraguay.
A floodplain is the area adjacent to a river or stream which floods when the water level rises and overflows the river's banks. They provide an important ecosystem service by preventing flooding in other areas, and can be very important sites for biodiversity, since flooding leaves behind high levels of nutrients.
Fragmentation is the separation of areas of wildlife habitat into smaller parts, surrounded by land unsuitable for wildlife. Habitat destruction such as deforestation can create ‘islands’ of suitable land, which may no longer be large enough to support a viable population of animals or plants. Fragmentation is one of the main causes of extinction.
WWF scientists identified the 200 ecoregions which have the highest levels of biodiversity and endemism in the world. These areas are known as the Global 200, and are targeted as priorities for conservation.
Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas, as designated by BirdLife International, usually contain significant numbers of a globally threatened bird species, or of a species with a highly restricted distribution. WLT has supported land purchase and protection in many IBAs including San Rafael Reserve in Paraguay and Kinangop Grasslands in Kenya.
Conservation work carried out on site, for example through protected reserves. The work of World Land Trust's partners is in situ conservation.
Seasonally flooded forests (known as Várzea in the Amazon basin) are highly productive as a result of the annual renewal of soil nutrients. WLT projects support inundated tropical forest in Guatemala and Malaysian Borneo.
IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) is the largest global environmental network and in its own words is working to help societies across the world find pragmatic solutions to the most pressing environment and development challenges. World Land Trust is a member of IUCN.
The IUCN Red List provides information on the classification, range and conservation status of a species, with an aim of identifying those at most risk of extinction. Species on the list have been scientifically assessed and assigned a category according to their threat of extinction.
Categories range from ‘not evaluated’ to ‘extinct’. The criteria for the categories are detailed but a simple summary is provided below, for further information about the Red List and the criteria see the IUCN Red List.
Categories used to describe IUCN Red List species:
- Least Concern – After its risk of extinction has been assessed, the species is found to have a low risk of extinction. These species are usually widespread and abundant.
- Near Threatened – A species is close to or likely to qualify in the threatened categories in the future
- Vulnerable – A species is categorised as Vulnerable if the reduction in population size is 50 per cent or more over the past 10 years and/or there is a population size of fewer than 10,000 mature individuals.
- Endangered – A species is categorised as Endangered if the reduction in population size is 70 per cent or more over the past 10 years and/or there are fewer than 2,500 mature individuals.
- Critically Endangered – A species is categorised as Critically Endangered if the reduction in population size is 90 per cent or more over the past 10 years and/or there are fewer than 250 mature individuals
A keystone species is one which has a disproportionately large impact on its ecosystem, and its presence affects many other organisms by helping determine the types and numbers of other species in the community. If a keystone species is removed the delicate balance of an ecosystem would be dramatically changed, and the ecosystem itself could collapse.
Important pollinators, such as hummingbirds, bats or butterflies, can be keystone species, as so many other species are reliant on them for survival. Predators such as Jaguar, are often keystone species. Jaguars are present in very small numbers in Central and South America, but they play a critical role in keeping populations of other mammals in check. Identifying and protecting keystone species is important for the long term survival of an ecosystem.
Mangrove forests, or swamps, are coastal areas dominated by salt-tolerant trees known as mangroves. The global coverage of mangroves has reduced dramatically in recent years, but they are known to provide a number of ecosystem services, such as providing spawning grounds for fish, flood defences and reducing coastal erosion. WLT works with project partners to protect and regenerate mangroves in India, the Philippines and Malaysian Borneo.
Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)
Generally referred to as an MoU, this is a document of agreement between two or more parties, without the binding power of a contract. When WLT initiates on a formal relationship with a new partner organisation, a joint MOU will be drawn up to outline the basis of the relationship and the expectations. WLT also has an MoU with most of its corporate supporters.
This is a broadly defined term which includes several different forest types, all of which have high levels of precipitation and do not have a long dry season. Tropical rainforest, cloud forest and inundated forest are all types of moist forest.
A monoculture is the planting of a single crop species over a large area for intensive agriculture. This leads to large areas with little biodiversity. For example, oil palm plantations are monocultures.
Montane habitats are those found on mountains. Because climate changes with altitude, montane habitats tend to be very different to neighbouring lowland areas. As the elevation increases, the habitat may change from dense forest, to sparser elfin forest, to tundra or grassland, and eventually to bare rock or ice.
The Neotropics is one of the six terrestrial Ecozones. It covers South and Central America, the Caribbean islands and southern Florida. For millions of years, this region was separate from the other land masses, and so developed a distinct set of plants and animals. Between two and three million years ago, it came into contact with North America, and since then many species of flora and fauna have moved between the two ecozones.
New World refers to those parts of the world that were unknown to Europeans until the early 16th Century; the Americas, Australasia, and many Oceanic Islands. In a biological context, however, it refers only to the Americas. Many animal species in the New World are evolutionarily distinct from their Old World counterparts. For example, the ‘New World monkeys’ of South and Central America, such as capuchins, spider monkeys and tamarins, are all more closely related to each other than they are to the ‘Old World Monkeys’ found in Eurasia and Africa.
A species which is not originally found in an area or country is non-native. The term ‘introduced species’ tends to refer to those deliberately brought into a country, for example, foreign plants introduced for gardens, or crop plants, while others arrive by accident, such as rats transported by ships. Some non-native species can pose a threat to native species, for example the non-native Grey Squirrel competes with Red Squirrels and spreads the squirrel pox virus.
A Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) is an organisation, which operates independently from any government. World Land Trust is an example of an NGO.
Although native to West Africa the oil palm is now farmed for the production of palm oil across the world. The oil is used in many household foods and products and is currently a threat to forests with trees being cut down and replaced by oil palm plantations.
This term refers to tropical montane vegetation, found above the tree line but below the snow line. It is usually used to refer to the relevant biome in the northern Andes and southern Central America. It is considered to be an evolutionary hot spot, and is currently under threat from climate change and overgrazing. Páramo supported by WLT can be found in Colombia and Ecuador.
Intentional planting of a crop on a large scale, usually applied to trees or shrubs. The result is a large area with usually just one major plant species growing, a monoculture. Examples include tea and coffee plantations, and pine forests grown for timber.
A plateau is an area of high altitude land that is usually fairly flat. In Brazil, these areas are known as Chapada, in the USA they are called mesas, and are also referred to as tablelands.
These are usually fast growing species which are the first to colonise an ecosystem which has been damaged or degraded by humans, or by natural processes. They are able to survive in nutrient poor conditions, and often improve the quality of the ecosystem, for example by increasing nitrogen levels or preventing soil erosion.
Pollution is the release of harmful substances into the environment.
Protected areas, including Marine Protected Areas, are protected for their natural, ecological or cultural value. The level of protection varies from site to site. IUCN has developed six categories of protected area. The highest level of protection, Strict Nature Reserves, limits human disturbance to scientific research and education, while the lowest category allows ‘sustainable use of natural resources’. Protected areas are vital to national and international conservation efforts.
A rain shadow is a dry area on one side of a mountain or range of mountains. The mountain forms a barrier for moist air, which is pushed upward until it condenses and falls as rain. The remaining drier air is pushed over on to the other side of the mountain, into the rain shadow. As a result of this process, the two sides of a mountain can have very different climates.
Rainforests are defined by high levels of rainfall, receiving between 250 and 450 centimetres of rain per year. Most of the world’s rainforests are found in the tropics, and tropical rainforests are thought to contain more than 50 per cent of the world’s biodiversity. Many WLT projects, including those in Ecuador, the Philippines and Malaysian Borneo, protect tropical rainforest.
The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the protection and sustainable use of wetlands around the world. Initially signed in 1971, there are now 168 signatories. The treaty protects over 200million hectares of wetland in more than 2,000 ‘Ramsar sites’, and is named after the Iranian city in which it was agreed.
An area of land which is protected because of its importance for wildlife and/or habitat is generally referred to as a reserve. Together with its project partners, WLT has helped to fund and create reserves in many areas, for instance, the Jorupe Reserve in Ecuador and the Ranch of Hopes Reserve in Patagonia.
Riparian habitats are found along the edges of streams and rivers. They perform important ecosystem services: the plants in the riparian zone prevent soil erosion and can reduce water pollution. They also provide important habitat for many species. In many countries riparian habitats are protected, and they can act as wildlife corridors through a deforested landscape.
Areas of savanna feature low tree or scrub density, which allows for continuous ground cover of grasses. A broad term, savannas (or savannahs) occur all over the world, including the Beni Savanna, Bolivia, supported by WLT. Savannas receive irregular levels of rainfall and are susceptible to dry season wildfires.
Slash and burn is a method of clearing the forest for agriculture. The trees are first cut then left to dry out and then burnt to clear the area of forest. The land is then used for agriculture for a few years until there are not enough nutrients left in the soil to grow crops. Although it is a destructive process, over time and if left alone the forest can begin to regrow.
On mountains or mountain ranges, the snow line is the point above which snow or ice covers the ground all year round, although at certain times of the year the snow may extend well beyond the snow line.
The term species is usually defined as a group of organisms, within which individuals are capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. Usually, individuals within a species look and behave alike. However, evolution is a process of continuous change and the distinction between one species and another is not always clear cut.
The term SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) denotes a protected area in the United Kingdom that is important for its wildlife, geology or overall biodiversity. An example is the beech woodland on WLT’s Kites Hill Reserve, which is designated as a SSSI.
Largely treeless grassland plains, steppes are usually semi-arid. WLT’s Coastal Steppe project in Patagonia, Argentina, protects a large expanse of steppe, grazed by Guanacos and Mara.
Being sustainable means using natural resources in a way in which they can continue to survive and be used in the future, rather than becoming depleted. Sustainable methods also less damaging to the environment.
Transpiration is the process of water evaporating through the leaves of plants.
The tree line marks the edge of a habitat in which trees are able to grow. It is usually determined by cold temperature or lack of water. Tree lines occur high up on mountains or mountain ranges, at high latitudes (where forest gives way to tundra), and at the edge of drier areas such as savannas or deserts. Trees tend to become smaller as they approach the tree line (as in elfin forests), and the tree line region will be dominated by hardy species with special adaptations.
A viable population of any species contains enough individuals, and a sufficient level of genetic diversity, for the population to survive in the long term. Identifying whether or not a population is viable involves an analysis of rates of reproduction, survival and migration, as well as considering irregular events such as storms, fires and disease outbreaks.
WLT uses this term to denote a corridor of land which connects larger areas of protected or natural habitat. Wildlife corridors between protected areas allow species to move safely over larger distances and larger habitats mean that more animals can live safely; they prevent isolated populations of species also. WLT has projects that protect wildlife corridors in India and Malaysian Borneo.
This is a term commonly used in North America to describe a restricted area of woodland usually privately maintained as a source of fuel, fencing materials and timber for construction. In general, the size of the woodlot and the quality of wood on the woodlot do not justify the costs of commercial timber extraction, although well managed, small scale forestry on woodlots can create a sustainable source of products.
WWF, the World Wide Fund for Nature, is the largest independent conservation organisation in the world. WWF’s work is focused on protecting endangered species and threatened habitat, and on mitigating the impact of climate change. Scientists from WWF defined the world’s ecological Ecozones, Biomes and Ecoregions, as well as the Global 200.