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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.

Correlative model

See "models".


A geographically defined area which allows species to move between landscapes, ecosystems and habitats, natural or modified, and ensures the maintenance of biodiversity and ecological and evolutionary processes.


A vision of reality that places the highest importance or emphasis in the universe or nature, as opposite to an anthropocentric vision, which strongly focuses on humankind as the most important element of existence.


A land cover/use category that includes areas used for the production of crops for harvest.

Cross-scale analysis

Cross-scale effects are the result of spatial and/or temporal processes interacting with other processes at another scale. These interactions create emergent effects that can be difficult to predict.


Relating to interactions between sectors (that is, the distinct parts of society, or of a nation's economy), such as how one sector affects another sector, or how a factor affects two or more sectors.

Customary law

Law consisting of commonly repeated customs, practices and beliefs that are accepted as legal requirements or obligatory rules of conduct.


Breakdown of complex organic substances into simpler molecules or ions by physical, chemical and/or biological processes.


Human-induced conversion of forested land to nonforested land. Deforestation can be permanent, when this change is definitive, or temporary when this change is part of a cycle that includes natural or assisted regeneration.

Degraded land

Land in a state that results from persistent decline or loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services that cannot fully recover unaided.


Reduction of nitrates and nitrites to nitrogen by microorganisms.


Desertification means land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities. Desertification does not refer to the natural expansion of existing deserts.

Direct driver

See "driver".


The transformation of information from coarser to finer spatial scales through statistical modelling or spatially nested linkage of structural models.


In the context of IPBES, drivers of change are all the factors that, directly or indirectly, cause changes in nature, anthropogenic assets, nature’s contributions to people and a good quality of life.

  • Direct drivers of change can be both natural and anthropogenic. Direct drivers have direct physical (mechanical, chemical, noise, light etc.) and behaviour-affecting impacts on nature. They include, inter alia, climate change, pollution, different types of land use change, invasive alien species and zoonoses, and exploitation.
  • Indirect drivers are drivers that operate diffusely by altering and influencing direct drivers, as well as other indirect drivers. They do not impact nature directly. Rather, they do it by affecting the level, direction or rate of direct drivers.
  • Interactions between indirect and direct drivers create different chains of relationship, attribution, and impacts, which may vary according to type, intensity, duration, and distance. These relationships can also lead to different types of spill-over effects.
  • Global indirect drivers include economic, demographic, governance, technological and cultural ones. Special attention is given, among indirect drivers, to the role of institutions (both formal and informal) and impacts of the patterns of production, supply and consumption on nature, nature’s contributions to people and good quality of life.

Drylands comprise arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. The term excludes hyper-arid areas, also known as deserts. Drylands are characterised by water scarcity and cover approximately 40 % of the world's terrestrial surface.

Dynamic downscaling

Downscaling based on mechanistic models, which may be more appropriate than statistical downscaling in systems where the relationship between coarse scale and fine scale dynamics are complex and non-linear, or observational data are insufficient.

Dynamic model

See "models".


A discipline which envisions building ecological data sets in the context of a "data life cycle" that encompasses all facets of data generation to knowledge creation, including planning, collection and organization of data, quality assurance and quality control, metadata creation, preservation, discovery, integration, and analysis and visualization.


A large area of land or water that contains a geographically distinct assemblage of natural communities that:
(a) Share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics;
(b) Share similar environmental conditions, and;
(c) Interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long-term persistence (source: WWF). In contrast to biomes, an ecoregion is generally geographically specific, at a much finer scale. For example, the “East African Montane Forest” eco-region of Kenya (WWF eco-region classification) is a geographically specific and coherent example of the globally occurring “tropical and subtropical forest” biome.

Ecological (or socio-ecological) breakpoint or threshold

The point at which a relatively small change in external conditions causes a rapid change in an ecosystem. When an ecological threshold has been passed, the ecosystem may no longer be able to return to its state by means of its inherent resilience.

Ecological community

An assemblage or association of populations of two or more different species occupying the same geographical area and in a particular time.

Ecological footprint

A measure of the amount of biologically productive land and water required to support the demands of a population or productive activity. Ecological footprints can be calculated at any scale: for an activity, a person, a community, a city, a region, a nation or humanity as a whole.

Ecological infrastructure

Ecological infrastructure refers to the natural or semi-natural structural elements of ecosystems and landscapes that are important in delivering ecosystem services. It is similar to 'green infrastructure', a term sometimes applied in a more urban context. The ecological infrastructure needed to support pollinators and improve pollination services includes patches of semi-natural habitats, including hedgerows, grassland and forest, distributed throughout productive agricultural landscapes, providing nesting and floral resources. Larger areas of natural habitat are also ecological infrastructure, although these do not directly support agricultural pollination in areas more than a few kilometers away from pollinator-dependent crops.

Economic and financial instruments

Economic and financial instruments can be used to change people’s behavior towards desired policy objectives. Instruments typically encompass a wide range of designs and implementation approaches. They include traditional fiscal instruments, including for example subsidies, taxes, charges and fiscal transfers. Additionally, instruments such as tradable pollution permits or tradable land development rights rely on the creation of new markets. Further instruments represent conditional and voluntary incentive schemes such as payments for ecosystem services. All these can in principle be used to correct for policy or/and market failures and reinstate full-cost pricing. They aim at reflecting social costs or benefits of the conservation and use of biodiversity and ecosystem services of a public good nature (“getting the price right”). Financial instruments, in contrast, are often extra-budgetary and can be financed from domestic sources or foreign aid, external borrowing, debt for nature swaps, etc. Economic instruments do not necessarily imply that commodification of environmental functions is promoted. Generally, they are meant to change behavior of individuals (e.g., consumers and producers) and public actors (e.g., local and regional governments).


A dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit.

Ecosystem degradation

A long-term reduction in an ecosystem’s structure, functionality, or capacity to provide benefits to people.

Ecosystem function

The flow of energy and materials through the biotic and abiotic components of an ecosystem. It includes many processes such as biomass production, trophic transfer through plants and animals, nutrient cycling, water dynamics and heat transfer.

Ecosystem health

Ecosystem health is a metaphor used to describe the condition of an ecosystem, by analogy with human health. Note that there is no universally accepted benchmark for a healthy ecosystem. Rather, the apparent health status of an ecosystem can vary, depending upon which metrics are employed in judging it, and which societal aspirations are driving the assessment.

Ecosystem management

An approach to maintaining or restoring the composition, structure, function, and delivery of services of natural and modified ecosystems for the goal of achieving sustainability. It is based on an adaptive, collaboratively developed vision of desired future conditions that integrates ecological, socioeconomic, and institutional perspectives, applied within a geographic framework, and defined primarily by natural ecological boundaries.

Ecosystem services

The benefits people obtain from ecosystems. In the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, ecosystem services can be divided into supporting, regulating, provisioning and cultural. This classification, however, is superseded in IPBES assessments by the system used under “nature’s contributions to people”. This is because IPBES recognises that many services fit into more than one of the four categories. For example, food is both a provisioning service and also, emphatically, a cultural service, in many cultures..


Sustainable travel undertaken to access sites or regions of unique natural or ecological quality, promoting their conservation, low visitor impact, and socio-economic involvement of local populations.

Endangered species

A species at risk of extinction in the wild.

Endemic species

Plants and animals that exist only in one geographic region.


The ecological state of a species being unique to a defined geographic location, such as an island, nation, country or other defined zone, or habitat type; organisms that are indigenous to a place are not endemic to it if they are also found elsewhere.

Energy security

Access to clean, reliable and affordable energy services for cooking and heating, lighting, communications and productive uses.