Glossary of wildlife technical terms, acronyms and associated jargon .....

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Like much of this website, this page started as a simple list with just a few references and notes, but has grown into something much larger and into a section that I hope proves useful. An alphabetical A-Z index didn't seem logical as I wanted to keep certain related descriptions together, so I've broken the list down by broadly dividing it into four specific sections covering :
CLASSIFICATION,  SPECIES - SOME DESCRIPTIVE TERMS,  HABITAT  and  CONSERVATION.

I don't pretend that I had a previous knowledge of all this information, as the whole purpose of starting the page was to give me a reference point for facts and details that I had read and that I wanted to keep for future referral. Obviously I've tried to ensure accuarcy of information, which can be difficult at times when you're trying to write a condensed definition, but if any error or anomaly is noted then I would like to know immediately so that it can be corrected.
CLASSIFICATION
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Taxonomy :the branch of science concerned with the classification of species - sometimes called systematics, although this term is more related to the study of species and their evolutionary relationship rather than classification.
Taxon :a taxonomic category or group of any rank, such as species, genus, family, order or class - albeit, a term more frequently used when referring to an actual species or subspecies (plural, taxa).
Species :the principle taxonomic unit, being a distinct group of animals that have common characteristics and that can breed with each other.
Subspecies :a taxonomic rank subordinate to species that cannot be recognised in isolation (for example a Siberian Tiger is a subspecies of Tiger). It can be abbreviated ssp., particularly when used in conjunction with the third part of the trinomen (as noted below) and if it follows a previous reference to the species scientific name when, in this situation, it would more often be placed within square brackets, ie. [Panthera tigris ssp.altaica] or [ssp.altaica] if separated within the text, otherwise the name would be written in full, ie. Panthera tigris altaica.
Genus :in the hierarchy of taxonomic rank, genus comes above species and below family. The genus forms the first part of the species scientific name (plural, genera).
Family :defined as a collection of similar genera (as in Felidae - the 'cat family'), therefore sitting above genus, but below the rank of order.
Order :one or more similar families constitutes an order (as in Carnivora - mammals that have teeth and live primarily on meat).
Class :sitting below phylum, a class contains one or more orders (as in Mammalia).
Phylum :the primary subdivision of a taxonomic kingdom grouping together similar classes (as in Chordata - all animals with a backbone).
Classification :linking all the above, a tiger's full classification is Phylum - Chordata, Class - Mammalia, Order - Carnivora, Family - Felidae, Genus - Panthera, and Species - Panthera tigris, being its scientific name.
Scientific name :often referred to as the Latin name of a species which, strictly speaking, is incorrect, or more formally the binomen from the actual system of naming species known as binomial nomenclature. The application of such a name for animals is governed by the ICZN (International Code of Zoological Nomenclature) who set the rules on how the name should be derived and written. In modern usage, the first letter of the first part of the name, being the genus, is always capitalised, whereas the second part is not, even when derived from a proper noun such as the name of a person or place. The rules also stipulate that the binomial or scientific name should always be written in italics, hence the example Panthera tigris above.


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Specific name :the second part of the scientific name of a species.
Common name :the popular name in a local language given to a species instead of its formal scientific name.
Binomen :the two-part scientific name given to a species, as the above example with tiger being Panthera tigris.
Trinomen :the three-part scientific name given to a subspecies, such as Panthera tigris altaica for the Siberian Tiger.
Tautonym :the term give to a scientific name where both the genus and species names are the same - can also be used for trinomial names if all three parts are the same. There are many common examples both for birds, such as the Common Buzzard [Buteo buteo], Whooper Swan [Cygnus cygnus], Red Kite [Milvus milvus] and Shelduck [Tadorna tadorna] or for animals, such as the European Otter [Lutra lutra] or Red Fox [Vulpes vulpes].


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Extended system :current bird taxonomy requirements have stretched the traditional basic classification system shown above, which has given rise to an extended ranking system to help separate groups or related species.
Superorder :a high-ranking taxon in the extended system that is used to group related orders.
Clade :an informal taxonomic rank used between superorder and order where the basic system cannot cope with requirements. Introducing a clade is useful, as effectively one clade can be nested in another so that, in theory, the system can be extended further without limit.
Tribe :another informal rank used to subdivide the systematic tree above genus, but below family or subfamily. Usually adopted where there are a large number of species within a given family or subfamily that would benefit from being separated into groups of related species. The given tribe name should be capitalised and written in italics as the species scientific name, ie. Mergini for seaducks.
Race :an alternative and informal term that can be used instead of subspecies, particularly when describing a species by range or population within a given geographical area where those species are distinct from other populations of the same species.


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Lineage :a sequence of species, each of which is considered to have evolved from its predecessor.
Basal group :a genus, family or group of species at the base of a lineage from which more recent groups have evolved.
Monotypic :a term applied to a taxon containing only one immediate subordinate taxon, with no further subdivision. Consequently this could relate to a monotypic family containing a single genus or to a monotypic genus containing a single species. Often used in the context of saying that a particular family contains a single monotypic species and genera.
Polytypic :a term applied to a genus that contains two or more species, or to a species with two or more subspecies.
Nominate :when a species is split into subspecies, the originally described population is retained as the typical or nominate subspecies, with the scientific name of the species being repeated. For example, the Bengal Tiger is the nominate and most common subspecies of tiger and, consequently, its full scientific name is Panthera tigris tigris or alternatively P.t.tigris if there's previous reference to the species scientific name, or even Bengal Tiger [ssp.tigris].
  
FOOTNOTE :a more detailed explanation of much of the above can be found here 'understanding taxonomy listings''.
  
SPECIES - SOME DESCRIPTIVE TERMS
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Endemic :a species found only in a specific location (country, island or region).
Endemic subspecies :a race or subspecies that's found only in a specific location as above, but where other similar subspecies are found elsewhere.
Native :an indigenous species found in a given location, but also elsewhere, but one that arrived at the location by natural means.
Resident :a non-migratory species that is effectively the equivalent of a native species, but one that remains and breeds within its location.
Introduced :similar to a resident species, but one that was introduced to the location by man, either deliberately or inadvertently.
Migrant :a bird that is a regular visitor at certain times of the year.
Vagrant :a bird that is seen outside its normal range, which has effectively lost its way when migrating - this normally happens when birds are blown off their usual 'flyway' path or when they overshoot their intended destination.


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Bird migration :the regular seasonal movement of birds flying both south and north (usually) between their wintering region and their summer breeding grounds.
UK migrants/visitors :the term passage migrant is given to a bird that stops off in the UK during their long migrational journey in order to feed and rest before continuing. Birds that arrive in spring from the south to breed, such as swallows, are called summer visitors, and those that arrive in autumn from the north and east to spend the winter in a milder climate, like many species of geese and waders, are called winter visitors.
Great migration :a term often used to describe the annual circular migration of around two million animals through Tanzania's Serengeti National Park and Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve. The event is also referred to as the "the greatest animal show on earth". The exact timing, route and numbers of animals vary year to year, but in essence some one and half million wildebeest accompanied by a few hundred thousand zebra and gazelle make this trip in search of food. Herds start to congregate in the Ngorongoro area in December where they will stay through the February calving season, at which time it is estimated that some 8,000 wildebeest will be born every day. From April into May the herds migrate north where they will eventually face the Mara River, which they start to cross during late July / early August. Crossings normally go on through August and September into October. The main herd will split with the smaller herds moving at different speeds and crossing at different locations. By November they will have come together to start moving south again, always in search of fresh grass, ready for the whole sequence to start again.


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Carrion :decaying flesh of dead animals - the food source of scavengers, such as vultures and hyenas.
Carnivore :a species that feeds on meat, normally from freshly killed prey (not to be confused with the mammalian order Carnivora).
Insectivore :a carnivorous species, such as the Giant Anteater, that feeds solely on insects.
Herbivore :a species that only eats plant matter, such as grass and/or foliage.
Omnivore :a species that has a mixed diet consisting of a variety of food sources including both animal and plant matter.
Oscines :also called songbirds, oscines are the major suborder of passerines (perching birds). They have a far more complex syrinx (voicebox) than the suboscines enabling them to produce more detailed and melodious songs.
Suboscines :a term used to describe and group the passerine birds in the suborder Tyranni, being those birds said to have less well developed vocal chords than the oscines. Suboscines are effectively a large clade of some 1000+ species, mainly from South America, such as tyrant flycatchers, gnatcatchers, antbirds, pittas, cotingas and manakins.
  
Melanin :a broad term for a group of natural pigments found in all forms of animal life that gives skin, hair, feathers and eyes their colour.
Melanistic :a black or darker colour form of a species caused by the excessive production of melanin pigment.
Leucistic :white, pale or patchy colouration of the skin, hair or feathers due to a partial loss of pigmentation, but the eyes are not affected.
Albino/Albinism :a congenital absence of any pigmentation or colouration caused by a lack of melanin, resulting in white hair and pink eyes in mammals.
  
Terrestrial :living or mainly active on the ground.
Arboreal :living or mainly active in trees.
Diurnal :mainly active during the day.
Nocturnal :mainly active during the night.
Crepuscular :primarily active during the twilight hours (immediately after dawn or before dusk).
Pelagic :pertaining to the open sea.
  
Monogamy :where one male pairs with one female at least for the duration of a single breeding season.
Polygamy :where males or females mate with more than one partner within the same breeding season.
Sexually dimorphic :a term used when the male and female of a species are different in apperance, whether by size or other noticeable characteristics or, in respect of birds, the colour of their plumage.
  
Morph :in birds, a variant colour form.
Dimorphic :having two distinct colour forms or phases.
Polymorphic :having several distinct colour forms or phases.
Eclipse :the dull post-breeding moult plumage that occurs for a short period, notably with ducks.
  
Juvenile :a bird that has grown its first full covering of feathers after its nestling downy stage. Whilst a juvenile bird is obviously an immature bird, the term juvenile should only be used for young birds in their juvenile plumage that they have for a short time after leaving the nest.
Immature :effectively any bird with any stage of plumage other than that of a full adult.
Adult :a bird that has achieved the fullest stage of plumage development. The term subadult for a bird approaching this stage should be avoided with other options preferred, such as 'second-winter' as in gulls.
  
HABITAT
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Ecozone :the broadest biogeographical division of the Earth's land mass, with eight generally recognised ecozones being defined by the WWF scheme as listed below. Whereas the more modern term is now 'ecozone', the WWF scheme originally used the term 'biogeographical realm' and, as such, that term is still used today on occassions, but for all intent and purposes the two terms are the same.
 Palearctic : the largest ecozone by far, which includes the bulk of Eurasia and North Africa,
 Nearctic : the second largest ecozone, which includes virtually all of North America,
 Afrotropic(s) : an area almost the same size as the Nearctic, which includes all of Sub-Saharan Africa,
 Neotropic(s) : the forth largest ecozone, which includes a small portion of Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America,
 Australasia : an ecozone that incorporates Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea,
 Indo-Malay : an ecozone that covers the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and China,
 Oceania : an area that includes Polynesia, Micronesia and the Fijian Islands,
 Antarctic : the smallest ecozone that covers Antarctica.
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Holarctic :not to be confused as an ecozone, Holarctic is a term often used to describe an enlarged geographical area comprising the Palearctic and Nearctic regions - effectively the Northern Hemisphere.
Ecoregion :a geographically distinct area of land (or water) defined by its environmental conditions and the plants and animal species that live there; the WWF system divides the world's eight ecozones as noted above into no less than 867 listed terrestrial ecoregions.
Ecosystem :a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.
Biome :a large community of plants and animals occupying a distinct region defined by its climate and dominant vegetation
Habitat :the natural environment in which a species lives.
Major habitats :the WWF system defines fourteen terrestrial biomes known as major habitat types, which are numbered and ordered as follows :-
 01 - Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forest (tropical and subtropical, humid),
 02 - Tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forest (tropical and subtropical, semi-humid),
 03 - Tropical and subtropical coniferous forest (tropical and subtropical, semi-humid),
 04 - Temperate broadleaf and mixed forest (temperate, humid),
 05 - Temperate coniferous forest (temperate, humid to semi-humid),
 06 - Boreal forest / taiga (subarctic, humid),
 07 - Tropical and subtropical grassland, savanna and shrubland (tropical and subtropical, semi-arid),
 08 - Temperate grassland, savanna and shrubland (temperate, semi-arid),
 09 - Flooded grassland and savanna (temperate to tropical, fresh or brackish water inundated),
 10 - Montane grassland and shrubland (alpine or montane climate),
 11 - Tundra (Arctic),
 12 - Mediterranean forest, woodland and scrub or scierophyll forest (temperate warm, semi-humid to semi-arid with winter rainfall),
 13 - Desert and xeric shrubland (temperate to tropical, arid),
 14 - Mangrove (subtropical and tropical, salt water inundated).
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Tundra :from the Finnish word tunturia, meaning treeless plain, the tundra is the coldest biome. The main areas of tundra are in the polar regions of the Arctic and the Antarctic where the ground is frozen for much of the year and, as such, it's impossible for trees to grow. There is also alpine tundra that occurs on high mountain peaks throughout the world - the main difference being that alpine tundra does not have permafrost. The Arctic tundra encircles the north pole and extends south to the taiga. Despite the extreme cold and inhospitable environment there are many kinds of plants (mainly low shrubs, grasses and mosses) that have managed to adapt to the conditions and the short growing season when the upper layer of soil thaws.
Taiga :also referred to as boreal forest (particularly in the US), the taiga is the world's largest terrestrial biome, covering much of Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia and Russia. It’s a biome characterised by coniferous forests consisting mainly of pines, spruces and larches. However, in normal use, the term taiga seems to be more commonly associated with the near barren northernmost areas that border the Arctic tundra.
Boreal :usually refers to a climate characterised by long winters and short, cool to mild summers, or to an ecosystem with a subarctic climate.
Temperate :in geography, an area that lies between the tropics and the polar regions.
Tropics :the region of the earth surrounding the equator within the latitudes of the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere and the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere; often referred to as the tropical zone.
Cloud Forest :a term used to describe a moist subtropical or tropical mountain forest characterised by persistent, frequent or seasonal low-level cloud cover normally within the canopy. There are only a few true cloud forests around the world - we've visited two of them, being the Mondeverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica and the higher Tandayapa Valley Cloud Forest in Ecuador.
Gallery Forest :is a forest that forms a corridor along rivers and wetlands and that projects into the adjoining landscape that is otherwise only sparsely treed such as savannas, grassland or deserts.
Riverine :relating to or situated on the banks of a river; the term Riverine Forest is sometimes used as an alternative to Gallery Forest.
Savanna :sometimes spelt savannah, is a grassland ecosystem characterised by the trees being sufficiently spaced so that the canopy does not close. The three main types of savanna are those classified with tropical and subtropical grasslands like the African Serengeti and Brazilian Cerrado; temperate grassland like the great plains of the US; and flooded grasslands as found in the Brazilian Pantanal.
Sahel :the semi-arid transitional zone that spans the width of Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, effectively separating the northern deserts from the southern savannas and forests. The Sahel is a defined ecoclimatic and geographical region that is often referred to when discussing the distribution range of a species. It stretches from northern Senegal in the west, then through Mali, Niger and Chad as well as the southern and northern portions of a few other countries,across to Sudan in the east.
Sub-Saharan :another often used geographical reference to describe the distribution range of a species. It simply means the main part of the African continent that lies below the Sahara desert from the previously described Sahel region down to the Cape.
Xeric :an arid environment or habitat containing little moisture - usually relating to deserts and xeric shrubland.
Montane :a mountain habitat occurring between the lower submontane and the higher subalpine zones.
Sclerophyll :a type of vegetation that has hard leaves and short internodes (the distance between leaves along the stem), commonly found in the Australian bush, Mediterranean forests, Californian woodlands and in the Cape Province of South Africa.
Mangroves :a tropical or subtropical biome where mangrove trees grow in saline habitats characterised by dispositional coastal environments where fine sediments collect in areas protected from high-energy wave action. The saline conditions tolerated by various mangrove species range from brackish water (as we found on the Mandina Bolon tributary of the Gambia River) through to pure seawater (as the mangrove inlets we visited at Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island in Galapagos).


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The Cape :A general term as used above (see sub-Saharan) to describe the southernmost point of the African continent, which is actually Cape Agulhas and not the Cape of Good Hope as many would believe. It is the official dividing line between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Horn of Africa :Whereas the Cape is the southernmost point of the continent, the Horn is the easternmost point, being the large land mass in northeast Africa that juts hundreds of kilometers into the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. It's another geographical area that's used to describe the distribution range of species, so for completeness I wanted to include it within this listing. It includes the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
Great Rift Valley :the traditional term regularly used when referring to the East African Rift valley.
East African Rift :the active continental rift zone of East Africa that, in simplistic terms, runs south from Ethiopia and Kenya through to Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. There are two branches - the eastern, also known as the Gregory Rift, and the western, which runs down to Lake Malawi.
Gregory Rift :the official name of the eastern branch of the East African Rift system as noted above.


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Pantropical :an infrequently used, but useful descriptive term, when describing a species range when it is found throughout the tropical regions of the earth rather than just within a specific area such as the Neotropics or the Afrotropics.
Old World :a common term used to describe the area of the world that was known before discovery of the Americas. It includes Europe, Asia and Africa, but excludes Australia. It's a convenient term to separate certain species such as vultures, where we have Old World Vultures under family Accipitridae and New World Vultures under their own family Cathartidae.
New World :North and South America, sometimes but not always including Greenland.


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El Niño event :a prolonged warm phase of the southern oscillation of the Pacific Ocean when the sea surface temperature rises resulting in nutrient-poor waters. It’s an anomaly that happens at irregular intervals, normally between two to seven years, and with a duration lasting anything between nine months and up to two years. A major El Niño event will disturb weather systems around the world with some countries suffering floods whilst others experience droughts. It will also greatly harm ecosystems including coral reefs. The seawater will deteriorate, which in turn affects fish stocks, which then results in a lack of food for both marine animals and numerous seabirds. For example, the Galapagos Islands are very sensitive to these conditions due to both their general and isolated location. Marine birds such as the Blue-footed Booby, Frigatebird and Brown Pelican, plus species like the Flightless Cormorant and Galapagos Penguin will all be affected. Similarly, the Galapagos Sea Lion and Fur Seal, and even the Marine Iguanas that feed on seaweed.
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CONSERVATION
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CITES :"The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna" - an agreement between governments that aims to ensure that any international trade of wild animals or plants does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild.
WWF :"The World Wide Fund for Nature" (previously the "World Wildlife Fund") - the world's largest independent conservation organisation.


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IUCN :"International Union for Conservation of Nature" - the largest global environmental network.
IUCN-SSC :IUCN's 'Species Survival Commission', which is a network of specialist groups.
Red List :"The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" provides information on the classification, range and conservation status of a species. Despite its name, the list does not just focus on threatened species though, as it considers the status of all species across an increasing number of taxonomic groups (more info here).
Threatened species :a species (animal, bird or plant) that faces a risk of extinction in the wild and that has been placed into one of three "threatened categories" - 'vulnerable' (VU), 'endangered' (EN) or 'critically endangered' (CR).
Near threatened :species that are close to reaching the threatened species threshold or that would be threatened were it not for an ongoing taxon-specific conservation programme (as with the Hyacinth Macaw).
Least concern :species evaluated to have a low risk of extinction. This classification has only been used in recent years in order to provide transparency and to place threatened assessments in proper context.
Data deficient :a category assigned to a species which has not been fully evaluated due to insufficient information or field data.


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BirdLife :a global partnership of independent conservation organisations dedicated to the protection of birds and their habitats. BirdLife International to give the organisation its full name, is currently active in more than 120 countries across the world and has a number of important global conservation programmes. The organisation is also the IUCN Red List authority for birds.
IBA's :are 'important bird and biodiversity areas' as defined by BirdLife International. IBA's are key areas regarded as important sites for conservation; small enough to be conserved in their entirety and often already part of a protected-area network.
  

Issue : 2 (updated April 17) - (originated Dec.15)