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Glossary and further information

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The following terms are used in these 'habitat networks and spatial ecology' pages:

Buffer zone - an area around a patch of habitat which acts as a shield or cushion between the habitat area and the more intensively managed land surrounding it.

Climate change - a change in the average weather experienced over a long period of time. The earth's climate has changed many times throughout history, but it is now thought to be changing more rapidly as a result of human activities. Many plants and animals will need to adapt to this change in climate in order to survive.

climate envelope (or climate space) - the range of climatic conditions within which a species can survive, or sometimes the area within which these conditions occur. As climate change progresses, the area that provides suitable climatic conditions for particular species is likely to move. For many European species, this will mean they need to shift northwards or to higher altitudes to maintain suitable climate conditions.

colonisation - the process by which a species enters a new area. Some species are good colonizers because they disperse easily and reproduce quickly. Other species are poor colonisers because they only disperse and reproduce very slowly.

community - a group of plants and animals that grow together. They often form recognisable combinations such as an oak woodland or a blanket bog.

connectivity - the extent to which different parts of a landscape allow movement between suitable patches of habitat. Connectivity varies both with the landscape and with the species that is moving. Some landscapes can have high connectivity between patches for one species, but low connectivity for another.

core area - an area which provides high quality habitat for wildlife and which is often managed with wildlife conservation as its primary aim. Sometimes these core areas are protected by law e.g. Natura 2000 sites are legally designated for protection under the EC Habitats Directive.

corridor - an area which provides a linkage from one patch of habitat to another. Sometimes these features are linear like a corridor in a building e.g. hedgerows.

dispersal - the process by which organisms expand the area in which they live. Different species have different dispersal abilities with some able to expand their range easily whilst others can only disperse very short distances.

ecological network - a term that's being used in some contexts, but which appears to mean the same as a habitat network (i.e. a set of separate areas of habitat which are sufficiently connected for a particular species to move between the individual areas.

ecosystem services - the benefits which ecosystems can provide for people and society. They include things like food, water, places for recreation and soil formation. If ecosystems are damaged or stop working, we may lose some of these benefits.

edge effects - the edge of an area of habitat is likely to be affected by what's happening in the adjacent land area. This can result in a range of effects including increased light levels; higher wind speeds and impacts from management of the surrounding land.  There are also likely to be more coloniser species in the edge of a habitat area.

focal species - a species which is used to represent the requirements of a wider group of organisms. The focal species might be chosen because there are lots of data available about it, or because it is a species of particular conservation concern. Where sufficient information is available, a focal species can be chosen because it has the strictest or most demanding requirements of the range of organisms found in an area. Focal species may be specific or generic. A specific focal species is an actual plant or animal that is known to use the habitat under consideration, for example, a dormouse or a red squirrel. A generic focal species is an invented or 'conceptual' organism that is used to represent the particular attributes of a group of species. For example, a generic focal species could be referred to as a 'limited dispersal ancient woodland specialist'. Obviously, there's no real plant or animal with that name, but its characteristics serve to represent all species that require ancient woodlands to survive and have limited dispersal abilities.

fragmentation - areas of habitat are broken up into smaller patches by development or cultivation of the intervening land. This results in a reduction in the overall total area of habitat as well as increased distance between each habitat patch.

functional connectivity - areas of habitat are functionally connected if an organism can make use of the landscape between them to travel from one area to another. These areas may not appear to be physically linked, but they are sufficiently connected in practice to allow the organism to travel between them.  See also structural connectivity.

generalist - a species which can thrive in a variety of conditions and is able to make use of a range of different resources. Generalists can live in many different places and often eat both plant and animal matter, depending on what is available. A good example of a generalist species in the UK is the wood pigeon.

green infrastructure - the European Commission defines green infrastructure as "the use of ecosystems, green spaces and water in strategic land use planning to deliver environmental and quality of life benefits. It includes parks, open spaces, playing fields, woodlands, wetlands, road verges, allotments and private gardens. Green infrastructure can contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, natural disaster risk mitigation, protection against flooding and erosion as well as biodiversity conservation."  Quoted in the Scottish Government's 'Green Infrastructure: Design and Placemaking.'

green network - a broad term which usually refers to a set of connected areas of green space and habitats such as parks, paths and woodlands within an urban or suburban region which provide a range of social, ecological and economic benefits such as increasing the quality of life within an area, and creating sustainable communities.

greenspace - vegetated areas of open space within urban areas such as playing fields, parks, allotments and cemeteries.  See also open space

habitat - the area where an organism or ecological community normally lives or occurs. A habitat is often referred to by its most characteristic species, for example Atlantic Oak woodland.

habitat network - a set of separate areas of habitat which are sufficiently connected for a particular species to move between the individual areas.

hostile - a landscape can be hostile if it is difficult for a species to move through and survive in it e.g. an urban area might be a hostile landscape for a badger.

integrated habitat network - the term used for studies that combine networks of more than one habitat.  This could include, for example, networks of woodlands, grasslands, wetlands and so on.

intensive land use - land which is managed and controlled by human activity. Intensive land uses can include agriculture or building development.

keystone species - a species which has a disproportionately large impact on an ecosystem relative to its abundance. They are often the top predator in an ecosystem and their removal has a significant effect on the survival and abundance of other species within the system. For example, the removal of wolves from Scotland has contributed to an increase in the size of the red deer population.

landscape ecology - the study of the interactions between the temporal and spatial aspects of a landscape and its flora, fauna and cultural components.

landscape permeability - is a measure of how easily an individual organism can move through a landscape. The permeability will vary both with the landscape under consideration and the species that is moving through it - some areas will have high permeability for a species which is good at dispersal, but lower permeability for species which are poor dispersers.

least-cost pathway - the link between two habitat patches which involves the smallest expenditure of effort by the species making use of it.

matrix - the 'background' area that surrounds patches of habitat. This area is often quite intensively managed - for example it may be being used for agriculture or urban development.

metapopulation - a group of separate populations of the same species, which are spread across an area. Individual organisms are able to move between the populations on a regular or occasional basis. If one of these sub-populations is lost, it can sometimes be replaced by individuals from another sub-population within the regional group of populations.

migration - the regular movement of members of a population from one area to another, often to take advantage of seasonal changes.

modelling - the construction of a simplified, sometimes mathematical, representation of a situation or scenario.

Natura 2000 - the European network of sites which are particularly important for wildlife conservation. It is made up of Special Areas of Conservation, which are designated under the Habitats Directive and Special Protection Areas which are designated under the Wild Birds Directive.

open space - this term refers to open land or areas that are vegetated or paved or hard landscaped within and on the edge of settlements.  It includes greenspace (such as parks, private gardens, burial grounds and cemeteries, and allotments) and open land and public/civic space (eg streets, town squares, market places, amenity land, sports areas, and children's play areas).

patches - separate areas of habitat within a landscape.

permeability - the extent to which individuals can move through a particular landscape. See also landscape permeability.

population - a reproducing group of individuals of the same species.

population density - the number of individuals occurring in a defined area.

riparian - the area adjacent to a river that is affected by the presence of the river

semi-natural - a community found in an area where human activity occurs, but is not the dominant factor affecting its ecology.

spatial - the relationships between the area and position of different items on the earth's surface.

spatial ecology - is the interrelation of ecology and geography which identifies and explains spatial patterns and their relationships to ecological events. The discipline of landscape ecology is based on spatial ecology.

specialist - an organism that has a very narrow range of requirements for survival. For example, it may only be able to survive by eating one specific food source. An example of a specialist species in the UK is the Small Blue butterfly, which only feeds on the kidney vetch plant.

species - the fundamental unit for classification of organisms. Members of the same species can interbreed but normally cannot interbreed with members of another species. Examples of species include water voles (Arvicola terrestris); Sessile oak trees (Quercus petraea) and human beings (Homo sapiens).

structural connectivity - the presence of particular physical features which link one area of habitat with another.  See also functional connectivity.

target species - a species which is the focus of particular conservation and management actions e.g. the target species of a water vole action plan is the water vole.

viable population size - the minimum size of a population of a particular organism that is required for there to be a good chance of that species surviving in that area.

umbrella species - species which can be used for making conservation and management decisions, as protecting them will also protect a range of other species.  See also focal species.


These pages were produced by Walking the Talk external site  through an Scottish Natural Heritage project, together with Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales, Department of Environment - Northern Ireland, Forestry Commission Scotland, Forestry Commission GB, Forest Research, the Central Scotland Forest Trust, the Glasgow and Clyde Valley Green Network Partnership, and the Lothians and Fife Green Network Partnership, plus numerous anonymous consultees.  Grateful thanks go to everyone involved.

Last updated on Wednesday 28th June 2017 at 10:15 AM. Click here to comment on this page