Science & Environment

Biodiversity glossary

Use this glossary to understand the sometimes complex jargon and scientific terms employed in the biodiversity debate.

Access and benefit sharing

An agreement to share the benefits of genetic resources between rich and poor countries. Having such an agreement is an agreed aim as part of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity - but it has not yet been established.

Alien invasive species

Non-indigeneous animal or plant species which spreads rapidly through an area by exploiting a loss of natural controls.


Term used to describe the variety of life on Earth, including among plants, animals, fungi and bacteria.

Biodiversity offset

Actions by large companies, organisations or countries to compensate for their negative impact on ecosystems and biodiversity by funding or developing schemes which conserve biodiversity in other areas.

Cartagena Protocol

Regulations on the safe handling of genetically modified plants and animals which could have a negative impact on biodiversity should they be released into the wild. Agreed under the CBD.


The Convention on Biological Diversity is an international treaty which aims to conserve biodiversity and ensure both the sustainable use of natural resources, and fair and equal sharing of the benefits of genetic resources.

Commercial extinction

The point at which a particular species - usually fish - becomes so depleted that its continued consumption as food or use as a product by humans is not economically viable.


Describes all living organisms existing in a particular area as well as physical elements such as water, air, soil and sunlight, and the interactions between them.

Ecosystem service

Term for the benefits humans receive from natural processes occurring in ecosystems, such as providing clean drinking water and decomposition of waste. In 2004 the UN grouped services into four categories: provisioning - eg water supply regulating - eg influence on climate supporting - eg crop pollination and cultural eg outdoor activities.


Condition where rivers and lakes become overfilled with nutrients from sewage or agricultural fertilisers, causing algae blooms and a loss of oxygen in the water. This has a severe impact on fish and other animals.

Extinction event

A sharp decrease in the amount and variety of large scale life on Earth. The most recent occurred about 65 million years ago. Gigantic volcanic eruptions, sea level changes and asteroid impacts have all been suggested as possible causes. Some biologists say we are now living through the sixth such event.

Extinction rate

The background extinction rate is the rate at which species became extinct before human activity became the main reason for animals and plants dying out. It is used today as a baseline against which to highlight the increased extinction rate of modern times.

Genetic diversity

Means the total number of genetic characteristics of a certain species. Populations of plants and animals with greater genetic diversity are more resistant to disease and can better adapt to changes in their environment.


An example used to illustrate how an ecosystem is changing - for example in response to the the impact of humans on it. Sometimes a case study assessing the welfare and status of a particular creature within an ecosystem.

2010 target

A conservation aim to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by the end of 2010, first agreed by EU Heads of State at their summit in Gothenburg in 2001 and formally adopted at a UN summit a year later.