Glossary and Definitions for

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Below is a glossary for a variety of words and terms are used throughout this website, and as such, need a place for their definition. It is the mission of to accurately communicate all information, and we wish you not to be confused. If there are any terms used on this website that you do not see listed here, please contact us, and we’ll get a definition up. Thank you!

Abiotic: The non-living portion of earth (the hydrosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere). Things like water, gases, rock–these are non-living entities and are considered ‘abiotic’. Granted, these items often are the housing for biotic lifeforms (microorganisms) and of course the constituents of microorganisms are derived from abiotic sources (such as minerals that make up plant compounds or the minerals that make up your bones). The native americans deemed that even abiotic things were indeed living, but in our modern scientific models we separate these things from metabolic-based systems. It is true that abiotic systems cycle and have dynamics (such as the carbon cycle, the water cycle, the rock cycle, etc) often assisted, or accelerated by biological processes.

Atmosphere: The gaseous portion of the earth, made up of chemical molecules. The atmosphere is often considered strictly abiotic, but the atmosphere contains minute biotic components and granular lithosphere components. These non-gaseous components are often the basis of things such as snow and raindrop formation. The atmosphere protects the fragile biosphere on our planet and allows for the products of gaseous exchange and metabolic activity. The atmosphere is sheltered from cosmic radiation and solar winds by earths magnetosphere.

Biogeochemical Cycling: A biogeochemical cycle is a circuit/pathway by which a chemical element moves through the biotic and the abiotic factors of an ecosystem. (Source:Wiki Books:Ecology) AKA, the “stirring of stuff” within an ecosystem. Biogeochemical cycling bridges the abiotic and biotic world, making compounds in either accessible and free to move about to another sphere (aka, minerals from the lithosphere may be mobilized by a decomposer and enter the biosphere as a component in bone tissue. Upon the death of that organism, that bone tissue may degrade and enter back into the lithosphere). Biogeochemical cycling relies upon decomposers and detritivores within the trophic system, thus the “bio” portion of the word. “Geochemical cycling” is another word used in science to describe the interchange and mobilization of elements without the aid of biological organisms (by mechanical means such as wind or water).

Biological Capital: Biological capital is the value of flora and fauna species assemblages that are the constituents a given ecosystem or biome in which they are endemic or native to, and of whose value are inherent to that given ecosystem or biome.

Biomagnification or Bioaccumulation: The concentration of elements, minerals, vitamins, carcinogens or toxins in life forms higher in the trophic system and food chain. As minute portions of these items enter the base of the trophic system (into plants or plankton), it becomes concentrated in the tissues of organisms which eat them (for example, the fish that eats the contaminated plankton). As a lifeform even higher in the trophic system, such as a secondary consumer, (such as a human who eats many fishes), these compounds become concentrated even further. This is why people in the Great Lakes region of North America are cautioned against eating too many fish, for fear of mercury contamination. The trace amounts of mercury that have entered polluted waters, concentrate up the food chain by ways of bioaccumulation and exist at higher levels in those tissues.

Biosphere: The living portion of the earth, protected by the atmosphere. The biosphere allows for biogeochemical cycling, and the food web and trophic system create complex assemblages and food chains within biological systems.

Biotic: Living things which contain cells and metabolic processes. Biotic lifeforms depend upon the abiotic portion of earth to derive the constituents of their construction. The intimate relationship between the biotic and abiotic world is the foundation of biology and many branches of science. Indeed, the origin of biotic life forms may have come from abiotic means, which ponders if biotic processes exist elsewhere outside of planet earth.

Decomposition: The “breaking down” of organic matter. Decomposition relies on microscopic and macroscopic lifeforms called, ‘detritivores’ or ‘saprophages’.

Detritivore: An organism which aids in the breaking down of organic matter. Detritivores can be bacteria, fungus or organisms like earth worms and potato bugs. Detritivore organisms can also have a mico-trophic system of their own, whereby the waste product of one bacterial organism is the food product of another. The complex assemblage of detritivores is what makes up the bulk sum of the biological community in most soils.

Environmental Stewardship: The proper utilization of biotic and abiotic resources in a sustainable manner towards goals which provide a holistic well-being to human and non-human forms.

Ecological Sustainability: The use of biotic and abiotic materials that does not exceed its capacity to regenerate.

Eco: ‘Eco’ comes from the latin word, ‘oeco-‘, meaning “household”, and from the Greek word,  “oik-“, “oiko-“, or “oikos” meaning “House” (1).

Ecology: a science that deals with the relationships between groups of living things and their environments (source).

Economy:  (1) archaic :  the management of household or private affairs and especially expenses. (2a) :  thrifty and efficient use of material resources :  frugality in expenditures; also :  an instance or a means of economizing : saving (2b) :  efficient and concise use of nonmaterial resources (as effort, language, or motion) (3a) :  the arrangement or mode of operation of something : organization (3b) :  a system especially of interaction and exchange <aneconomy of information> (4):  the structure or conditions of economic life in a country, area, or period; also :  an economic system (source)

Extremophile: A group of microorganisms, whom live in extreme and harsh conditions of temperature, acidity, or chemical concentration, who by which generate their energy by alternative methods than photosynthesis, or photosynthesis-derived food sources. Many extremophiles, such as bacteria, worms and many various microrganisms have been found in the most hostile places on planet Earth, such as Yellowstone’s thermal springs, hydrothermal vents in the ocean, and even deep beneath antarctic waters. Many believe the existence and variation of extremophile lifeforms on planet Earth forms the basis for astrobiology, that is, the belief of life existing in conditions on other planets. If life forms can exist and feed off of hydrothermal vents in Earth’s oceans, it is possible, that elsewhere in the universe, hostile conditions may still too yield life. Read more at Wikipedia.

Fauna: Of or relating to macro animal-based organisms. Usually a generalized term in regard to what one can see with the bare eye.

Flora: Of or relating to macro plant-based organisms. Usually a generalized term in regard to what one can see with the bare eye.

Food Web: The association of organisms to one another by diet and predation. By studying the food web, we can understand the pressures on any given ecosystem or the importance of any given organism in the entirety of the ecosystem.

Keystone Species: A keystone species is a plant or animal that plays a unique and crucial role in the way an ecosystem functions. Without keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether. (Source:National Geographic)

Hydrosphere: The water portion of planet earth, which contains the hydrologic cycle. Water from the ocean evaporates and enters the atmosphere and into watersheds. The hydrosphere is our ice sheets, aquifers, lakes, rivers, streams, snow and rain.

Lithosphere: Simply stated, the “rock” or ‘mineralized’ portion of the earth, but this includes plate tectonics, and the mineral components in soil, beaches, the hard stuff beneath your feet that is non-living. Of course, all material in the lithosphere originates from the core of the earth’s mantle, and cycles by means of plate tectonics back into the earths’s core. The complexities of mineral varieties and geomorphic features are all the combination of this process, coupled by mechanical, chemical and biological weathering agents (such as wind, water, root pressure, etc).

Magnetosphere: The magnetic shell protecting our earth, generated by the motion of earth’s inner liquid core. The magnetosphere shields our atmosphere from solar winds and cosmic radiation. If the inner core was to cease its dynamics, our magnetosphere would be lost, and our atmosphere eaten away.

Saprophage: See Detritivore

Scientific Models: Scientific models are representations of objects, systems or events and are used as tools for understanding the natural world. Models use familiar objects to represent unfamiliar things. Models can help you visualize, or picture in your mind, something that is difficult to see or understand. (Source:Project Share Texas)

Trophic System: The classification by which energy and matter move through biological systems. Energy enters at the base of the tropic system into “primary producers” and moves its way up through consumers, secondary consumers, and then is recycled back down by detritivores and decomposers. Energy is lost as it moves up the system (roughly 10% has been estimated to be conserved with each step upwards).

Volatize or Volitization: The process of being converted to a gas or vapor, often by which the gas will ‘volatize out’ leaving behind its parent source.