Midwest Region
Conserving the Nature of America

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2008 Federal Duck Stamp Contest


Ecosystem Conservation

Priority Issues

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Conservation in Action


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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Division of Ecological Services
1 Federal Drive
Fort Snelling, MN 55118
Phone: (612) 713-5467
E-Mail: Tom_Magnuson@fws.gov

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Great Lakes/Big Rivers Ecosystems | Wetland | Savanna | Tallgrass Prairie | Forest | Karst

Glossary of Ecosystem-Related Terms

  • Adaptive Management

    Adaptive management is based upon the premise that managed natural systems are complex and unpredictable. While there are numerous definitions of adaptive management, most include adaptive management is the process of adjusting management actions and/or directions as new and better information emerges about the ecosystem.

  • Biological Diversity

    The variety of life and life processes, and includes the levels of landscape, community, species, and genetics.

  • Biological Integrity

    The biotic composition, structure, and functioning at genetic, organism, and community levels consistent with natural conditions, including the natural biological processes that shape genomes, organisms, and communities.

  • Biomes

    Biome is a term that describes areas on the earth with similar climate, plants, and animals at a global scale. Biomes are classified according to the predominant vegetation and characterized by adaptations of organisms to that particular environment. In the Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region, there are three distinct biomes - aquatic, forest, and grassland biomes. Biomes are composed of many smaller ecosystems - communities of plants and animals and their habitats (the physical parts of their environment that affect them). Whereas the boundaries of a biome are determined by climate, the boundaries of ecosystems are physical features, such as ridges and or riverbanks that separate one community from another. The ecosystems of a particular biome tend to have plants with similar growth forms and animals with similar feeding habits.

  • Biosphere

    The term "Biosphere" was coined by the Russian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky in1929. It refers to the relatively thin vertical zone of air, soil, and water that extends from the deepest ocean floor up roughly 6 miles in to the atmosphere. The biosphere is often divided into distinct biomes that represent the interactions between groups of organisms forming a trophic pyramid and the environment or habitat in which they live.

  • Community

    All the groups of organisms living together in the same area, usually interacting or depending on each other for existence.

  • Ecosystem Approach

    A method for sustaining or restoring ecological systems and their functions and values. It is goal driven and it is based on a collaboratively developed visions applied within geographic frameworks defined primarily by ecological boundaries.

  • Ecosystem Degradation

    Ecosystems are degraded when recovery to original conditions is unlikely under normal circumstances (without management). Degraded ecosystems can be distinguished by those that can be restored, rehabilitated, or reclaimed. All ecosystems found today within the Region have experienced some form of anthropogenic disturbance resulting in degradation in different degrees. This degradation may have resulted from fragmentation, fire suppression, invasive species invasions, and/or over-grazing by deer, among other things.

  • Ecosystem Integrity

    Ecological processes that are essential for ecosystems to function in a defined and predictable manner.

  • Ecosystem Management

    The integration of ecological, social, and economic objectives for natural resource planning and management.

  • Fire Supression

    Fire suppression is an issue facing many ecosystems today. Fire is important in determining natural characteristics, such as habitat structure and composition. Absence of fire in an area can result in profound changes to community characteristics and often leads to reduced species diversity. For instance, fire absence in prairies and oak savannas can lead to woody vegetation encroachment and severe invasion of non-native grasses which can eliminate many prairie plants and associated fauna.

  • Goals

    Broad statements of direction; end results or positions to be achieved.

  • Interdisciplinary, Coordinated Approach


    Successful coordination and collaboration by the Service means focusing multiple stakeholder resources on priority natural resource issues that benefits listed species, migratory birds, and biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health within Ecosystems. In doing so, the Service is able to leverage conservation efforts, make more efficient use of resources, improve communication, and develop consistency in natural resource conservation. The Service uses a variety of expertise at the local community level.

  • Habitat Fragmentation

    Habitat fragmentation is a serious problem with potentially devastating effects for biological diversity. The issue of fragmentation has been identified recently as one of the most pressing issues in wildlife management and the conservation of biodiversity. Habitat fragmentation refers to a phenomenon where habitats are broken up into small, isolated pieces which results in new landscapes being developed that differ substantially from the previous landscape. The shape, size, proximity, and contrast of each new landscape piece determines how the fragmented habitat affects wildlife. For instance, the splintering of wetlands, prairies, and forests into small isolated "pieces" makes it difficult for isolated populations of plants and animals to move from one "piece" to another, thus impacting their ability to breed with one another. Problems associated with isolated populations of plants and animals have been described by researchers in conservation biology and island biogeography. Isolated groups often have trouble maintaining the genetic integrity and variability needed for their continued evolutionary viability and prospects for long-term survival (if they cannot move to or be reached by other populations of their species). Such situations occur if there are no corridors of appropriate habitat for the species to move through. This is the situation for many forest interior species in fragmented forest landscapes throughout the Midwest.

  • Natural Conditions

    Conditions thought to exist from the end of the Medieval Warm Period to the advent of the industrial era (app. 950AD to 1800AD), based upon scientific study and sound professional judgment.

  • Objectives

    Intermediate-term targets necessary for the satisfaction of goals; quantifiable measures that serve as indicators against which attainment, or progress toward attainment, of goals can be measured.

  • Over-grazing by Deer

    Over grazing by deer produces significant changes to forest ecosystem structure and composition. Many grazing-sensitive species have probably been eliminated from many forest remnants, while those more tolerant to grazing (e.g., thorn-bearing taxa such as red haw, honey locust, gooseberry, blackberry) have probably become more abundant. Non-native species also tend to increase from over-grazing, such as garlic mustard, buckbrush, and poison ivy.

  • Prevention Over Mitigation or Restoration

    The importance of protecting existing, relatively intact biological systems cannot be overstated, for it is these systems that will ultimately provide the biota and other natural materials for future restorations.

  • Scale

    A unit of measure.

  • Temporal scales

    Consideration of future and historical perspectives of time. Typically, future perspectives might involve time horizons from 20-50 years, while historical perspectives might focus on time intervals of 100-400 years.

  • Spatial scales

    Consideration of appropriate planning unit (i.e., legal, political, ecological, watershed, ownership boundaries, etc).

  • Stakeholder Involvement

    Stakeholder involvement is collaborating with the full array of stakeholders affected by the issues and/or opportunities that are the focus of our activities. We serve a wide range of local constituencies and will solicit and incorporate their input into our decision making process.

  • Strategy

    The means, methods, and approaches used to achieve objectives and goals.

  • Trust Resources

    When the Service uses the term "trust resources," we are talking about the Service's responsibilities as defined by legislation, treaty, or similar authority. The responsibility for the conservation of fish and wildlife is a shared responsibility, and the degree to which the Service is involved will varies with species and situations.

    A number of Congressional enactments and court decisions have addressed State and Federal responsibilities for fish and wildlife with the general effect of expanding Federal jurisdiction over certain species and uses of fish and wildlife traditionally managed by the States. Congress has charged the Secretary of the Interior with responsibilities for the management of certain fish and wildlife resources, e.g., endangered and threatened species, migratory birds, certain marine mammals, and certain aspects of the management of some fish. Even in these specific instances, with the limited exception of marine mammals, State jurisdiction remains concurrent with Federal authority. In general, the States possess broad trustee and police powers over fish and wildlife within their borders.

    The Service has not officially defined the term in agency guidance. The Service's use of the term "trust resources" includes but goes beyond certain explicit trust responsibilities, such as the federal government's fiduciary responsibility for Indian trust resources and the Secretary of the Interior's responsibility to act as trustee for certain resources in litigation under environmental restoration statutes. These "trust responsibilities" require the Service to conduct certain activities. Trust resources, however, is broader. In the area of interjurisdictional fisheries, listed species, and migratory birds, the Service considers "trust resources" to include those fish and wildlife resources for which the Service has particular or shared responsibilities under various authorities (e.g., Fish and Wildlife Act, Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Conservation Act). The Service shares responsibility for many fish and wildlife resources with other entities working in the context of multiple jurisdictions.

  • Viable Population

    A viable population is one which has such numbers and distribution of reproductive individuals as to provide a high likelihood that a species will continue to exist and be well-distributed throughout its natural range.

  • Watershed

    The drainage basin contributing water, organic matter, dissolved nutrients, and sediments to a water body.


Last updated: September 24, 2012