The IPBES core glossary provides a standard definition for important terms of broad applicability to IPBES outputs. This core glossary does not replace the assessment-specific glossaries, but is complementary to them. It was developed by a glossary committee established for this purpose.

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Term Definition

Organisms that live in the water column.

Brown, C. 2010. Nutrients in Estuaries

See "annual".


Perennially frozen ground that occurs wherever the temperature remains below 0°C for several years.

Aquatic organisms that drift or swim weakly. Phytoplankton are the plant forms of plankton (e.g., diatoms), and are the dominant plants in the sea. Zooplankton are the animal forms of plankton.


Within the context of IPBES – the decision-making body comprising all of the members of IPBES.

Policy instrument

Set of means or mechanisms to achieve a policy goal.

Policy support tools

Approaches and techniques based on science and other knowledge systems that can inform, assist and enhance relevant decisions, policy making and implementation at local, national, regional and global levels to protect nature, thereby promoting nature’s contributions to people and a good quality of life.

Adapted from IPBES/4/INF/14

Poverty is a state of economic deprivation. Its manifestations include hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services. Other corollaries of poverty are social discrimination and exclusion as well as the lack of participation in decision-making.

Precautionary principle

Pertains to risk management and states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action. The principle is used to justify discretionary decisions when the possibility of harm from making a certain decision (e.g., taking a particular course of action) is not, or has not been, established through extensive scientific knowledge. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk or if a potential plausible risk has been identified.

Preventive responses

Refer to conservation measures that maintain land and its environmental and productive functions.

Principle of compatibility

This principle limits the level of restoration of polluted sites to the quality required for the next use that would have been planned by industrial companies, in accordance to land planning documents.

Prior informed consent (PIC), or free prior and informed consent (FPIC)

Consent given before access to knowledge or genetic resources takes place, based on truthful information about the use that will be made of the resources, which is adequate for the stakeholders or rights holders giving consent to understand the implications.

Process-based model

See "models".

Protected area

A protected area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.

Lopoukhine, N. and de Souza Dias, F. 2012. What does Target 11 really mean? PARKS 18: 5-8
Ramsar site(s)

A Ramsar site is a wetland site designated of international importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat under the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental environment treaty established in 1975 by UNESCO, coming into force in 1975.
Ramsar site refers to wetland of international significance in terms of ecology, botany, zoology, limnology or hydrology. Such site meets at least one of the criteria of Identifying Wetlands of International Importance set by Ramsar Convention and is designated by appropriate national authority to be added to Ramsar list.


Natural grasslands used for livestock grazing.

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+)

Mechanism developed by Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It creates a financial value for the carbon stored in forests by offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. Developing countries would receive results-based payments for results-based actions. REDD+ goes beyond simply deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Regime shift(s)

Substantial reorganization in system structure, functions and feedbacks that often occurs abruptly and persists over time.


Rehabilitation refers to restoration activities that move a site towards a natural state baseline in a limited number of components (i.e. soil, water, and/or biodiversity), including natural regeneration, conservation agriculture, and emergent ecosystems.

Relational value

See "values".


Any action taken to rehabilitate ecosystems.


“Reports” shall mean the main deliverables of the Platform, including assessment reports and synthesis reports, their summaries for policymakers and technical summaries, technical papers and technical guidelines.


The level of disturbance that an ecosystem or society can undergo without crossing a threshold to a situation with different structure or outputs. Resilience depends on factors such as ecological dynamics as well as the organizational and institutional capacity to understand, manage, and respond to these dynamics.

Resolution (spatial or temporal)

See “scale”.


Any intentional activities that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem from a degraded state.

Decision IPBES-3/1, annex VIII

The number of biological entities (species, genotypes, etc.) within a given sample. Sometimes used as synonym of species diversity.


The process of increasing the salt content in soil is known as salinization. Salinization can be caused by natural processes such as mineral weathering or by the gradual withdrawal of an ocean. It can also come about through artificial processes such as irrigation.


Ecosystem characterized by a continuous layer of herbaceous plants, mostly grasses, and a discontinuous upper layer of trees that may vary in density.


The spatial, temporal, quantitative and analytical dimensions used to measure and study any phenomenon.

  • The temporal scale is comprised of two properties:
    1. temporal extent – the total length of the time period of interest for a particular study (e.g. 10 years, 50 years, or 100 years);
    2. temporal grain (or resolution) – the temporal frequency with which data are observed or projected within this total period (e.g. at 1-year, 5-year or 10-year intervals).
  • The spatial scale is comprised of two properties:
    1. spatial extent – the size of the total area of interest for a particular study (e.g. a watershed, a country, the entire planet);
    2. spatial grain (or resolution) – the size of the spatial units within this total area for which data are observed or predicted (e.g. fine-grained or coarse-grained grid cells).

Representations of possible futures for one or more components of a system, particularly for drivers of change in nature and nature’s benefits, including alternative policy or management options.

  • Exploratory scenarios (also known as “explorative scenarios” or “descriptive scenarios”) are scenarios that examine a range of plausible futures, based on potential trajectories of drivers – either indirect (e.g. socio-political, economic and technological factors) or direct (e.g. habitat conversion, climate change).
  • Target-seeking scenarios (also known as “goal-seeking scenarios” or “normative scenarios”) are scenarios that start with the definition of a clear objective, or a set of objectives, specified either in terms of achievable targets, or as an objective function to be optimized, and then identify different pathways to achieving this outcome (e.g. through backcasting).
  • Intervention scenarios are scenarios that evaluate alternative policy or management options – either through target seeking (also known as “goal seeking” or “normative scenario analysis”) or through policy screening (also known as “ex-ante assessment”).
  • Policy-evaluation scenarios are scenarios, including counterfactual scenarios, used in ex-post assessments of the gap between policy objectives and actual policy results, as part of the policy-review phase of the policy cycle.
  • Policy-screening scenarios are scenarios used in ex-ante assessments, to forecast the effects of alternative policy or management options (interventions) on environmental outcomes.

Seascape can be defined as a spatially heterogeneous area of coastal environment (i.e. intertidal, brackish) that can be perceived as a mosaic of patches, a spatial gradient, or some other geometric patterning. The tropical coastal “seascape” often includes a patchwork of mangroves, seagrass beds, and coral reefs that produces a variety of natural resources and ecosystem services.

Boström et al. 2011

A distinct part of society, or of a nation's economy.
Semi-natural habitat(s)

An ecosystem with most of its processes and biodiversity intact, though altered by human activity in strength or abundance relative to the natural state.

Socioecological system

An ecosystem, the management of this ecosystem by actors and organizations, and the rules, social norms, and conventions underlying this management.

Soil compaction

Defined as an increase in density and a decline of porosity in a soil that impedes root penetration and movements of water and gases.

Soil degradation

The diminishing capacity of the soil to provide ecosystem goods and services as desired by its stakeholders.

Soil organic matter (SOM)

Matter consisting of plant and/or animal organic materials, and the conversion products of those materials in soils.

ISO, 2013
Soil quality

Soil quality is a measure of the soil's ability to provide ecosystem and social services through its capacities to perform its functions under changing conditions. Soil quality reflects how well a soil performs the functions of maintaining biodiversity and productivity, partitioning water and solute flow, filtering and buffering, nutrient cycling, and providing support for plants and other structures

Spatial downscaling

See “downscaling”.


An interbreeding group of organisms that is reproductively isolated from all other organisms, although there are many partial exceptions to this rule in particular taxa. Operationally, the term species is a generally agreed fundamental taxonomic unit, based on morphological or genetic similarity, that once described and accepted is associated with a unique scientific name.

Species composition

The array of species in a specific sample, community, or area.

Species distribution models

Species distribution models relate field observations of the presence/absence of a species to environmental predictor variables, based on statistically or theoretically derived response surfaces, for prediction and inference. The predictor variables are often climatic but can include other environmental variables.
Species richness

The number of species within a given sample, community, or area.


Any individuals, groups or organizations who affect, or could be affected (whether positively or negatively) by a particular issue and its associated policies, decisions and action.

Statistical downscaling

Downscaling based on interpolation of statistical relationships between specific model or scenario metrics and predictors with higher resolution data.

Storylines (or scenario storylines)

Qualitative narratives which provide the descriptive framework from which quantitative exploratory scenarios can be formulated.

Summary for policymakers

Is a component of any report, providing a policy-relevant but not policy prescriptive summary of that report.

Supporting material

Consists of four categories:

(a) Intercultural and interscientific dialogue reports that are based on the material generated at the ecoregional level by discussions between members of academic, indigenous and social organizations and that take into account the diff erent approaches, visions and knowledge systems that exist as well as the various views and approaches to sustainable development;

(b) Workshop proceedings and materials that are either commissioned or supported by the Platform;

(c) Software or databases that facilitate the use of the Platform’s reports;

(d) Guidance materials (guidance notes and guidance documents) that assist in the preparation of comprehensive and scientifically sound Platform reports and technical papers.


A characteristic or state whereby the needs of the present and local population can be met without compromising the ability of future generations or populations in other locations to meet their needs.

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment,
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

A set of goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.