Wood turtle (Photo by Joe Crowley)

Wood turtle (Photo by Joe Crowley)


Definitions on some of our key terms. Note: this list is not meant to be exhaustive.

  • alien species

    Alien species are species of plants, animals and micro-organisms introduced by human action outside their natural past or present distribution. (See also, "exotic species")

  • alvar

    Naturally open habitats with either a thin covering of soil or no soil over a base of limestone or dolostone. Globally, alvars are restricted to islands off the coast of Sweden, the eastern European Baltic region, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the North American Great Lakes basin, and small portions of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories.

    More on alvars >

  • at risk

    A designation under the Species at Risk Act. See also, "species at risk"

  • Atlantic Coastal Plains Flora (ACPF)

    A group of 90 species of taxonomically unrelated wetland plants that inhabit lake and river shores, bogs, fens and estuaries. Some of these plants occur nowhere else in Canada, except in Nova Scotia. Eleven of these plants are species at risk, which means that without conservation and recovery efforts they are at risk of going extinct. These 11 plants are legally protected under federal and provincial legislation.

  • barachois

    A salt marsh (“barachois”), or lagoon, is a body of water separated from the sea by a spit (a thin strip of sand or gravel). This spit protects the salt marsh’s fragile natural environment from the turbulent waters of surrounding areas.

  • baseline inventory

    A list detailing the plants, animals and other notable elements on a property, such as human activity or natural disturbances, at the time (or soon after) of the legal purchase of a property.

    More on baseline inventories >

  • bioblitz

    A defined period of biological surveying by scientists and volunteers to document all species in a defined area.

  • biodiversity

    The variety of living organisms. Biological diversity also includes the variety of habitats, ecosystems and natural processes that occur within.

    More on biodiversity >

  • biodiversity target

    An element of biodiversity selected as a focus for conservation planning or action. The three principle types of targets are species, ecological communities and ecological systems.

  • bioindicator

    A species that can tell us about the health of an ecosystem.

  • biome

    A distinct ecological community of plants and animals living together in a particular climate.

  • biotic

    Related to, produced by or caused by a living organism.

  • bog

    Peat-accumulating wetlands that trap precipitation as their only water source. They typically have acidic soils and water and often contain sphagnum mosses. Bogs are common in the north and rare in southern Canada. They are commonly zones of groundwater recharge and are low in nutrients required for plant growth. (See also, "wetland.")

  • Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)

    A committee of experts that assesses and designates which wildlife species are in some danger of disappearing from Canada.

  • community

    Populations of plants and animals that live and interact with one another at the same site (e.g. sand beach, oak forest).

  • conservation agreement

    A conservation agreement (sometimes called a conservation easement, covenant or servitude) is a voluntary, legal agreement between a landowner and conservation organization or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values.

  • conservation blueprint

    A comprehensive plan that identifies, documents and maps sites for each of Canada's natural geographic ecoregions that are required for the long-term survival of all viable native species and ecological systems of the ecoregion (also known as an ecoregional plan or ecoregional assessment).

  • conservation easement
  • conservation servitude
  • corridor

    Protected bands of land that link two or more patches of habitat in highly fragmented areas. They enable animals to move to new areas if faced with threats such as overpopulation, fire or food scarcity. In particular, these corridors are critical to the survival of wide-ranging mammals that require larger expanses of habitat in order to survive.

    More on natural corridors.

  • covenant

    A term used in the province of British Columbia to mean conservation agreement. See also, "conservation agreement"

  • deciduous

    Trees in which the leaves fall off in autumn and re-grow in spring.

  • disjunct

    Those species of closely related classifications that are widely separated geographically.

  • easement
  • Eastern Habitat Joint Venture

    Part of a unique collaborative waterfowl conservation strategy, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP). Canada and the United States signed the plan in 1986 in reaction to critically low numbers of waterfowl. Mexico joined in 1994, establishing a truly continental effort to assure the survival of waterfowl populations primarily by preserving and restoring quality wetland and upland habitats. (See also, "North American Waterfowl Management Plan")

  • ecodistrict

    Part of an ecoregion, ecodistricts are characterized by distinctive groups of geology, landform and soils, vegetation, water, species and land use.

  • ecological significance

    The ecological significance of an area is determined by the diversity and quality of the ecosystems, communities and species that are present. This can include elements that are rare (e.g. alvar habitat), at-risk (e.g. woodland caribou), representative (e.g. high quality wetland) or important for ecosystem functions (e.g. wildlife corridors).

  • Ecological succession

    The process of change in an ecosystem through the progressive replacement of one vegetation community by another until a relatively stable climax system is established.

  • ecoregion

    Part of a larger ecozone, ecoregions are large units of land and water that contain a geographically distinct combination of natural communities and species, share similar characteristics (such as climate and soils) and interact in ways that are critical for their long-term viability.

  • ecoregional plan, assessment or blueprint
  • ecosystem

    A biological environment consisting of all the organisms living in a particular area, as well as all the non-living, physical components of the environment with which the organisms interact, such as air, soil, water and sunlight (example: forest, river or wetland).

  • ecozone

    Areas of the Earth's surface representative of large and very generalized ecological units characterized by physical and biological factors. These ecozones can be subdivided further into ecoregions and ecodistricts. Canada is divided into 15 separate terrestrial and five aquatic ecozones.

  • endangered

    A species that is facing imminent extirpation or extinction.

  • endemic

    A species native to, and restricted to a particular geographical region.

  • ENGO

    Environmental non-governmental organization.

  • exotic species

    Species that have been moved beyond their natural range as a result of human activity. (See also, "invasive alien species")

  • extant

    Existing or living at the present time.

  • extinct

    A species that no longer exists anywhere on Earth.

  • extirpated

    A species that no longer exists in the wild in a particular region, but is still living in other areas of the world.

  • fen

    Peat-accumulating wetland with groundwater as its dominant water source. Fens support a variety of specialized plant species, including orchids, sedges, and grasses. (See also, "wetland")

  • field guide

    Field guides are used to take notes about a specific species, habitat or environment. These notes are used as a documentation for scientists to reference when evaluating an area of conservation. Visit our field guides 101 for more information.

  • forest inventory plot

    Sample plots are put within the various forest types. The purpose of the inventory is to classify forests using aerial photos based on ground samples. It requires walking long distances to get to a randomly selected location prior to crews being sent in to the field. The crew measures the distance along the prescribed bearing to the spot where the first of six plots were established. At each plot location, the crew collects information such as tree species, numbers, diameters and heights (to determine the volume of wood in the forest) and the health of the trees and understory.

  • Gap dynamics

    Gap dynamics is the pattern of tree growth that occurs following the creation of a gap in the forest canopy. These gaps allow more sunlight to penetrate the canopy and stimulate the growth of younger trees that eventually fill in the gap.

  • Geographic Information System (GIS)

    Computer software that allows electronic spatial data to be viewed, manipulated and analyzed.

  • Gifts of Canadian Nature

    An alternative gift-giving program run by NCC, in which donors make donations in lieu of gifts to friends and family.

  • grassland

    Information to be posted shortly!

  • habitat

    The site and particular type of local environment occupied by a species or group of species.

  • habitat fragmentation

    The process of dividing a continuous habitat into non-continuous, smaller sub-units.

  • Habitat Stewardship Program

    This program, by Environment Canada, allocates up to $10 million per year to projects that conserve and protect species at risk and their habitats.

  • hibernaculum

    The shelter of a hibernating animal.

  • indigenous species

    Species and communities that occur naturally, not as accidental or deliberate introductions, in an area.

  • interventions

    The management of species or of ecological processes in order to repair, restore or replace functioning ecosystems. Interventions could include burning, grazing or other techniques that favour particular target species or communities over others.

  • introduced species
  • invasive alien species

    Invasive alien species are species whose introduction or spread threatens the environment, the economy or society, including human health. They can originate from other continents, neighbouring countries or other ecosystems within Canada.

    More on invasive alien species >

  • invasive species
  • keystone species

    Keystone species play a major role in shaping the ecosystems where they live. When a keystone species is removed, the abundance and diversity of other species is drastically altered.

  • landscape-scale conservation

    Takes a holistic view of conservation, focusing not on one element such as a species or ecosystem but on an entire assemblage of ecosystems and species that interact within a given area.

  • marsh

    Characterized by a mixture of cattails, bulrushes and other types of emergent aquatic vegetation. They may be seasonal or permanent and are used by a large number of birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals due to the diversity of vegetation, high food availability and nutrient-rich waters. (See also, "wetland")

  • migration

    Periodic or seasonal movement of an individual or group from one habitat or location to another, typically of relatively long distance from one area to another.

  • native species

    See also, "indigenous species"

  • natural area

    A physical and biological unit that exemplifies typical or unique vegetation, species, geological and aquatic features. At NCC the term is used to describe a land mass where adjacent and nearby properties contain the same or similar species or habitats. Much of our work is focused in priority natural areas that have both high ecological value and strong opportunities for conservation.

  • Natural Area Conservation Plan (NACP)

    A comprehensive landscape scale conservation plan developed for a Natural Area that NCC has determined to be a priority to achieve conservation based on biodiversity, opportunities and threats. NACPs set priorities for the acquisition of properties, identify key actions to achieve conservation success in the natural area and present a five-year implementation plan and budget for conservation action.

  • Natural Areas Conservation Program

    The Government of Canada's Natural Area Conservation Program is a unique public-private partnership that helps non-government organizations secure ecologically sensitive lands to ensure the protection of our country's diverse ecosystems, wildlife and habitat.

  • natural diversity

    Includes a site's features, its structures and its ecological functions, at the scales of genes, species, communities and landscapes.

  • natural heritage

    Natural resources that are passed on to future generations.

  • Nature Destinations

    Nature Destinations is program by the Nature Conservancy of Canada that invites the general public to journey through some of the greatest examples of Canada’s natural areas.

    More on Nature Destinations >

  • Nature Legacy Society

    Donors who have left gifts to the Nature Conservancy of Canada in their Will/estate planning.

  • Nature-based solutions

    According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, nature-based solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits. Learn more >

  • NGO

    Non-governmental organization.

  • North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP)

    An international action plan that aims to return waterfowl populations to their 1970s levels through the conservation of wetland and upland habitat.

  • North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA)

    A U.S. act passed in 1989 to conserve North American wetlands, waterfowl and the other migratory birds and fish and wildlife that rely on these habitats.

  • old-growth forest

    Forests that have not been subjected to a significant disturbance such as wildfire or clear-cutting for a century or more. Depending on the climate, geography and soil, a forest's composition and lifespan will vary drastically.

    More on old-growth forests.

  • organism

    Any living system (such as an animal, plant, fungus, or micro-organism).

  • permitted uses and activities

    Those uses and activities that are appropriate to the feature and functions of a site, or are needed to manage a site properly. For example, while hunting or the use of herbicides may be considered inappropriate activities at some sites, they can also be necessary in natural areas where the levels of browse or the impacts of non-native plant species are considered detrimental to a site's conservation values. See also, "prohibited"

  • Pit and mound micro topography

    Pit and mounds are microtopographical features in a forest that develop when large trees fall. The pit is formed where root mass and attached soil used to be, while the mound forms from the soil and roots that were pulled out of the ground.

    More on pits and mounds >

  • planned giving

    A general term used to refer to donor estate planning.

  • polynya

    A polynya, pronounced “pol-en-ya,” is defined as a large area of open water surrounded on all sides by sea ice and is a vital habitat for marine mammals, such as narwhal and walruses.

    More on polynyas > 

  • population

    A group of organisms of one species, occupying a defined area and usually isolated to some degree from other similar groups.

  • population trend

    An estimate of the change in the number of individuals in an area over time.

  • prescribed burn

    When a fire is set intentionally to aid in conservation and stewardship. In some ecosystems fire can be a critical and even indispensable stewardship tool. In savannah and tall grass prairie habitats, early spring burns promote fire adapted species and are essential to maintain this unique habitat and the species that depend on it. Fire opens up the understory, clearing away non-native and other woody plants, letting in sunlight, stimulating the germination of seeds and releasing nutrients into the ground.

  • prohibited uses and activities

    Those uses and activities that may have negative effects on the species, vegetation, landforms or site conditions, that are prohibited to safeguard the natural features and ecological functions for which the site is considered significant. See also, "permitted uses and activities"

  • Property Management Plan

    Identifies conservation goals and actions for a single or multiple properties with similar natural attributes. PMPs are consistent with the goals of the Natural Area Conservation Plan; they identify the regional, provincial, national and global biodiversity values of the property, the biodiversity targets, the threats to those targets and the conservation management goals, objectives, strategies and actions to enhance the selected targets and/or mitigate the threats to those targets. (See also, "Natural Area Conservation Plan")

  • Protectors

    Donors who give on a monthly basis to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

  • Ramsar

    The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are presently more than 160 Contracting Parties to the Convention, with 1953 wetland sites, totalling more than a 190 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. (See also, "wetland")

  • Recovery strategy

    A recovery strategy is a document that outlines the long-term goals and short-term objectives for recovering a species at risk, based on the best available scientific information.

  • Recovery team

    A recovery team is a group of individuals that work together to develop a recovery strategy for an endangered or threatened species. Recovery teams include members of the community, academic institutions, government departments, parks, museums, non-government organizations and other conservation organizations that volunteer their time to oversee recovery and conservation planning and efforts for species at risk.

  • restoration

    The process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed.

  • riparian

    The border between land and a river, stream or other body of water.

  • sites

    Are selected and defined on the basis of the ecological requirements of and the threats to target species, communities and landscapes. They are selected independent of current ownership or land use but current protection of sites, either on public or private lands, will influence the selection of representative sites.

  • special concern

    A designation under the Species at Risk Act that indicates a species that may become a threatened or an endangered species because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

  • species

    A group of organisms formally recognized as distinct from other groups.

  • species at risk

    Species that are in some danger of disappearing or becoming extinct and that require special attention or conservation measures, as identified by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

    More on species at risk >

  • Species at Risk Act (SARA)

    Canadian legislation that became legal in 2002 that aims to meet Canada's commitment under the Convention on International Biological Diversity. The goal of the act is to protect species that are at risk of becoming extinct.

  • species richness

    The absolute number of species in a given area.

  • stewardship

    The monitoring, protection, preservation, maintenance (which may include the restoration, rehabilitation and enhancement) of the natural features of natural areas so they sustain and protect, into the future, the natural ecosystems that define them.

  • succession

    Succession is the change from one community type to another. This can be seen where, for example, an agricultural field changes from an open meadow into a shrub land and, if left untouched, eventually forest. Natural disturbances (flooding, ice storms, fire) can stop or reverse succession. As trees, shrubs and organic material are removed, other plants needing open conditions grow. Some habitats, including alvars, depend on disturbances to maintain them. If succession in these places continues, native plants and animals may be lost.

  • swamps

    Wetlands dominated by trees and shrubs, with standing water, limited drainage and often neutral or slightly acidic soils. (See also, "wetland")

  • The Nature Conservancy (U.S.)

    A land conservation organization based in the United States. While NCC and The Nature Conservancy partner on a number of initiatives together, the two are separate organizations.

  • threatened

    A designation under the Species at Risk Act that indicates a species that is likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction.

  • tribute/in memoriam gift

    A gift made to the Nature Conservancy of Canada in honour of others.


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