Abiotic — The non-living components of the environment, including sun, air, water and soil; not involving or produced by living organisms.
Adaptation — The process of making changes in the structure, behavior or metabolism of an organism that adjusts it to the environment.
Biotic — The living components of the environment, including producers, consumers, and decomposers; involving or produced by living organisms.
Camouflage — A behavior, coloration or shape that is designed to deceive or hide.
Carnivore — Any animal that eats primarily meat.
Carrying Capacity — The number of animals that a given area can support for a specific period of time, usually the most critical season of the year
Chlorophyll — A group of pigments that produce the green hue of plants; essential to photosynthesis.
Climax, Climax Community — The relatively stable association of plants and animals that represents the final stage of ecological succession under existing conditions of soil and climate; regenerates and replaces itself without marked and further change.
Community — An association of plants and animals, inhabiting a common environment, and interacting with each other; bound together by a food web and other interrelations.
Conifer, Coniferous — A plant that bears its seeds in cones. Usually refers to needleleaf trees, although some needleleaf plants, such as yew, do not bear cones.
Conservation — The use of natural resources in such a way as to ensure their continuing availability, see Preservation.
Consumer — An organism that obtains its food by eating other organisms.
Crepuscular — Animals active at dawn and dusk.
Deciduous — A plant that periodically loses all its leaves, usually in autumn. Most North American broadleaf trees are deciduous. A few conifers, such as larch and cypress, also are deciduous.
Decomposer — A plant or animal that feeds on dead material and causes its mechanical or chemical breakdown; convert dead organic matter into inorganic materials.
Diurnal — Animals active during the day.
Ecology — The scientific study of living things’ relationships to one another and to their environment. A scientist who studies these relationships is called a ecologist.
Ecosystem — An area of any size that includes living and nonliving things and their environment. All are linked together by energy flow and nutrient cycling.
Energy — That which does or is capable of doing work.
Environment — The sum of all external conditions affecting the life, development, and survival of an organism.
Eutrophication — The enrichment of soils and water because of fertilization, sewage, effluent or other waters that carry a high plant-nutrient component, especially nitrogen‚ and phosphorus. Eutrophication can be accelerated by many human activities.
Evaporation — The process of converting a liquid into a gas or vapor.
Evolution — The theory that all species of plants and animals developed from earlier forms by hereditary transmission of slight variations to successive generations.
Food Chain — A series of plants and animals linked by their food relationships. A green plant, a leaf-eating insect and an insect-eating bird would form a simple food chain. Any one species is usually included in many food chains.
Food Web — The sum of interacting food chains in an ecological community.
Ground Water — The supply of fresh water under the Earth’s surface that forms a natural reservoir.
Habitat — The natural environment of an animal or plant that includes food, water, shelter and space, in the proper arrangement.
Herbivore — An animal that eats plants.
Home Range — The area in which an animal travels during its normal activities (see territory).
Interaction — The relationship of one organism to another. Some interactions are positive, some are negative, some are neutral.
Interdependence — Interrelationships of organisms with one another and with their environment; mutual dependence on one another for survival.
Life Cycle — The continuous sequence of changes undergone by an organism from one primary form to the development of the same form again.
Microhabitat — A “small habitat” within a larger one in which environmental conditions differ from those in the surrounding area. A hole in a tree trunk and a decomposing animal carcass are examples of microhabitats within a forest habitat.
Natural Selection — The natural process of survival of the fittest by which the organisms best adapted to their environment survive and those less well adapted are eliminated.
Niche — The role of an organism in the environment, its activities and relationships to the other living and non-living parts in the environment; the “job” an organism does, in contrast to the “place” it lives.
Nocturnal — Animals active at night.
Nutrient — A substance that provides nourishment, such as vitamins and minerals.
Omnivore — An organism that eats both plants and animals.
Organism — A living thing; a form of life composed of mutually dependent parts that maintain various vital processes.
Photosynthesis — The process by which green plants convert carbon dioxide and water into simple sugar. Chlorophyll and sunlight are essential to the series of complex chemical reactions involved.
Pioneer Species or Pioneer Community — Any species or community that develops in barren areas, disturbed areas or newly created soils.
Pollution — Harmful substances deposited in the air, water or land, leading to a state of dirtiness, impurity or unhealthiness; the presence of matter or energy whose nature, location or quantity produces undesired environmental effects.
Population — The number of individuals of a particular species in a defined area.
Precipitation — A deposit of water in some form, such as rain, sleet, hail, snow, fog or mist, onto the Earth.
Predator — An animal that eats other animals.
Preservation — Protection that emphasizes nonconsumptive values and uses, including not direct use be humans, see Conservation.
Prey — Animals that are killed and eaten by other animals.
Producer — An organism that produces its own organic compounds from simple substances such as carbon dioxide, inorganic nitrogen, and water.
Scavenger — An organism that habitually feeds on refuse or dead animals.
Species — A biological classification that follows the genus or subgenus; individuals of the same species are potentially capable of interbreeding.
Succession — The gradual replacement of one kind of community by another kind; the progressive changes in vegetation and in animal life that culminates in the climax community.
Territory — An area defended by an animal against others of the same species; territories are used for breeding, feeding or both (see home range).
Transpiration — The passage of water vapor from a living plant into the air, through specialized leaf cells.
Understory — The layer of plants growing under another higher layer of plants, such as grass, herbs, and brush growing under forest trees.