USGS - science for a changing world

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

About Us  Our Research  Partners  Products  Photo Gallery  Education

Patuxent Home

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Glossary

(Also See: Sources for Glossary Definitions and Other Conservation-related Glossaries)

Word or Phrase Definition
AOU American Ornithologists' Union is the oldest and largest organization in the New World devoted to the scientific study of birds.
ARMI Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI) National Atlas for Amphibian Distributions (or simply, the ARMI Atlas), is a compilation of current and historic records of amphibian occurrences. These records are from published, peer-reviewed scientific literature, museum records, state and regional herpetological atlases, and other confirmed and validated observations.
Adaptive harvest management A protocol for making a sequence of decisions about hunting regulations, in the face of uncertainty, that are optimal with respect to specified management objectives and constraints. Sources of uncertainty include (1) environmental variation in things like rainfall; (2) variability in how hunting regulations actually translate into mortality rates; (3) competing hypotheses about what drives the population dynamics of a species; and (4) imprecision in measurements of attributes of the population or harvest, such as population size or harvest rate. Monitoring the results of each decision permits the reduction of uncertainty over time.

BEST Biomonitoring of Environmental Status and Trends The BEST Program is a monitoring and assessment project of the Biological Resources Discipline of the United States Geological Survey. BEST evaluates environmental contaminants and their effects on species and lands under the stewardship of the Department of Interior to provide scientific information and guide management actions.
Bioassessment To use the composition of biological communities to evaluate the effects of disturbances (or restorations). A process that uses the taxonomic composition to classify the condition of an ecosystem according to a predefined reference condition.
Biodiversity Pertaining to Genetic diversity: the variation between individuals and between populations within a species; species diversity: the different types of plants, animals and other life forms within a region; community or ecosystem diversity: the variety of habitats found within an area (grassland, marsh, and woodland for instance.

In general: An umbrella term to describe collectively the variety and variability of nature. It encompasses three basic levels of organization in living systems: the genetic, species, and ecosystem levels. Plant and animal species are the most commonly recognized units of biological diversity, thus public concern has been mainly devoted to conserving species diversity.
Biological Diversity Use interchangeably with biodiversity. See above.
Biomonitoring Sampling the biota of a place (such as a stream, a woodlot, or a wetland); use of a biological entity as a detector and its response as a measure to determine environmental conditions. The goal is specifically to measure the improvement or decline of the ecological condition or "biotic integrity" of an ecological system. Toxicity tests and ambient biological surveys are common biological monitoring methods.
Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) Part of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. The Bird Banding Laboratory does not actually band birds. Instead, they issue the permits, provide the bands, coordinate the marking projects in the United States, and maintain the data collected by banders.
BRD Biological Resources Division of the USGS The biology component of the U.S. Geological Survey
Breeding Bird Atlas A project conducted to document the current status and distribution of the species of birds that breed in a given area, usually a state but sometimes a county. An atlas is usually based on a grid of fixed intervals of distance or degrees latitude and longitude. It is restricted to a particular season of the year, usually the breeding season.
Breeding Bird Census A census program of the National Audubon Society in North America from 1937- 1984. Since 1985, the BBC has been administered by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The program is based on individual study plots established within a single habitat type. Standardized methods are followed to collect data on the avian and vegetative communities. Over a period of years, these data provide insight into the changes occurring in the breeding birds within these communities.
Contaminants An impurity; any material of an extraneous nature associated with a chemical, a pharmaceutical preparation, a physiologic principle, or an infectious agent. Biological Contaminants: Living organisms or derivates (e.g. viruses, bacteria, fungi, and mammal and bird antigens) that can cause harmful health effects when inhaled, swallowed, or otherwise taken into the body.

Any substance that enters a system (the environment, human body, food, etc.) where it is not normally found. Contaminants are usually referred to in a "negative" sense and include substances that spoil food, pollute the environment or cause other adverse effects.
CEETV The Contaminant Exposure and Effects-Terrestrial Vertebrates database contains contaminant exposure and effects information for terrestrial vertebrates (birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles) that reside in estuarine and coastal habitats along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific Coasts including Alaska and Hawaii and in the Great Lakes Region.
Colonial Waterbirds Colonial waterbirds include marine birds, gulls, terns, herons, egrets, storks, and other species that congregate to nest and are dependent upon aquatic habitats for feeding.
Community Dynamics In biology, a community is an association of living organisms having mutual relationships among themselves and to their environment and thus functioning, at least to some degree, as an ecological unit. In ecology, a group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region and interacting with each other. Community dynamics allows us to manage whole communities and not just individual species or habitats. It then becomes possible to see, monitor, and manage for relationships and interdependencies.
Curation Relating to the duties of a curator, a person who manages an institution's collection.
Database An organized body of related information, typically intended to be accessed by a computer. One or more large structured sets of persistent data, usually associated with software to update and query the data. A simple database might be a single file containing many records, each of which contains the same set of fields where each field is a certain fixed width.
Distribution Geographical distribution: the natural arrangements of animals and plants in particular regions or districts.
Ecology The branch of biology, also known as bionomics, ecology involves the study of organisms in relation to their environment.
Ecotoxicology The term was first coined in 1969 by René Truhaut. The science of poisons and toxic substances occurring in the environment and their effects. Can be further expanded as the science of predicting effects of potentially toxic agents on natural ecosystems and nontarget species.
Endangered Species An organism in danger of disappearing from the earth if its situation is not improved. When its race has not been seen in the wild for over fifty years, we say that it is extinct. Those species that may soon become endangered are called threatened species. Rare animals are species with small populations that may also be at risk.
Eutrophication The aging process by which lakes are fertilized with nutrients. Natural eutrophication will very gradually change the character of a lake. Cultural eutrophication is the accelerated aging of a lake as a result of human activities.
Flyway A seasonal route followed by birds migrating to and from their breeding areas. The flyway concept is further developed in North America than in Europe.
Habitat The sum of the physical, chemical, and biological environment occupied by individuals of a particular species, population, or community, including the food, cover, and space resources needed for plant and animal livelihood.
Heavy metalsMetals with high molecular weights that are of concern because they are generally toxic to animal life and human health if naturally occurring concentrations are exceeded. Examples include, arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury.
Herbarium A collection of dried specimens of plants, systematically arranged. See Patuxent Herbarium
Human disturbance A direct event, intentionally or unintentionally created by people, leading to a reaction of alertness; fright (obvious or inapparent); interruption of activities; flight, swimming, or other displacements; or death or disablement. The event may have long-term or short-term effects.
Impoundment A body of water or sludge confined by a dam, dike, floodgate, or other barrier.
Invasive Species Non-native species disrupting and replacing native species.
Often in a biological perspective, this is the first phase of a two phase program as in "inventory and monitoring". The first phase involves baseline inventory, or an extensive point-in-time effort to determine the location and condition of selected biological resources. Inventory may involve both the acquisition of new information and the compilation of existing information from disparate sources. The second phase is monitoring, or the collection and analysis of repeated observations over time to evaluate changes in the condition of a resource. (from National Park Service website:
Migratory Birds Those species that annually move from one region to another and back again for feeding or breeding.
Mitigation Measures taken to reduce adverse impacts on the environment. Steps taken to avoid or minimize negative environmental impacts. Mitigation can include: avoiding the impact by not taking a certain action; minimizing impacts by limiting the degree or magnitude of the action; rectifying the impact by repairing or restoring the affected environment; reducing the impact by protective steps required with the action; and compensating for the impact by replacing or providing substitute resources.
Monitoring The process of continually checking, observing, recording or testing the operation of some procedure, or collection and analysis of repeated observations over time to evaluate changes in the condition of a resource. (Also see Inventory, above)
NAAMP North American Amphibian Monitoring Program amphibian population data are collected using a calling survey technique, in which observers identify local amphibian species by their unique vocalizations. Not all amphibian species make vocalizations, but many frogs and toads do. Observers are trained to identify their local species by these unique vocalizations or "frog calls". Also see Patuxent's Frog Call Quiz.
North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) A cooperative program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service for monitoring population changes in North American breeding birds by using point counts along roads.
NBII The National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) is a broad, collaborative program to provide increased access to data and information on the nation's biological resources. The NBII links diverse, high-quality biological databases, information products, and analytical tools maintained by NBII partners and other contributors in government agencies, academic institutions, non-government organizations, and private industry. NBII partners and collaborators also work on new standards, tools, and technologies that make it easier to find, integrate, and apply biological resources information. Resource managers, scientists, educators, and the general public use the NBII to answer a wide range of questions related to the management, use, or conservation of this nation's biological resources.
Ornithology The dedicated study of birds and factors affecting them. Also known as the branch of zoology that studies birds.
Partners in Flight A cooperative partnership among federal, state and local government agencies, philanthropic foundations, professional organizations, conservation groups, industry, the academic community, and private individuals. Partners in Flight focuses resources on the improvement of monitoring and inventory, research, management, and education programs involving birds and their habitats.The initial focus was on species that breed in the Nearctic (North America) and winter in the Neotropics (Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean), but the focus has spread to include all of the landbirds of the continental United States and Canada.
Patuxent The exact meaning of Patuxent is not known, but linguists who have studied Algonquian Indian dialects think that it is related in meaning to Patuxet, which was the name of a Massachusetts village on the site of Plymouth. The Indians there told the colonists that Patuxet meant "at the little fall." It is possible that the Patuxent village in Maryland was located near a small falls or rapids and obtained its name in that fashion.
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Since its establishment in 1936 as the nation's first wildlife experiment station, the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center has been a leading international research institute for wildlife and applied environmental research, for transmitting research findings to those responsible for managing our nation's natural resources, and for providing technical assistance in implementing research findings so as to improve natural resource management. Patuxent's scientists have been responsible for many important advances in natural resource conservation, especially in such areas as migratory birds, wildlife population analysis, waterfowl harvest, habitat management, wetlands, coastal zone and flood plain management, contaminants, endangered species, urban wildlife, ecosystem management, and management of national parks and national wildlife refuges. Patuxent's mission is to excel in wildlife and natural resource science, providing the information needed to better manage the nation's biological resources. The Patuxent Wildlife Research Center has been a national and international leader in wildlife research since its creation by Congress in 1936 as an integral part of the Patuxent Research Refuge.  After several organizational changes, PWRC is one of 17 Research Centers of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the natural resources research arm of the Department of the Interior (DOI)U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the National Wildlife Refuge System administers the Patuxent Research Refuge.
Patuxent Bird ID Infocenter A website featuring photographs, songs, videos, identification tips, maps, and life history information for North American birds.
Point Counts A point count, or circular-plot survey, involves a series of points or stations at which birds are counted. Observers spend a prescribed time (usually 3 to 20 minutes, with longer times occasionally suggested for areas with more complex vegetation structure or where travel times between stations is a serious limitation) at each station, looking and listening for birds. Point counts are used to sample bird populations for estimating densities in local areas, determining trends in populations over regional areas, assessing habitat preferences and other scientific and population monitoring purposes.
Pollution The presence of a substance in the environment that because of its chemical composition or quantity prevents the functioning of natural processes and produces undesirable environmental and health effects. Under the Clean Water Act, for example, the term has been defined as the man-made or man-induced alteration of the physical, biological, chemical, and radiological integrity of water and other media.
Population Analysis Measuring and projecting population change, describing the three basic demographic processes (mortality, fertility, and migration) and showing how each one affects population size and age structure.
PWRC Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (See Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, above)
Restoration Measures undertaken to return a degraded ecosystem's functions and values, including its hydrology, plant and animal communities, and/or portions thereof, to a less degraded ecological condition.
Risk assessmentA process which estimates the likelihood that exposed people or animals may have health effects. The four steps of a risk assessment are: hazard identification (Can this substance damage health?); dose-response assessment (What dose causes what effect?); exposure assessment (How and how much do people or animals contact it?); and risk characterization (combining the other three steps to characterize risk and describe the limitations and uncertainties).
Species A taxonomic group referencing organisms that can successfully reproduce with one another, and share common characteristics across the wide range of organisms that may exist in the species (their gene pool). Subspecies can further pin-point unique classifications of species. A taxonomic category subordinate to a genus (or subgenus) and superior to a subspecies or variety, composed of individuals possessing common characters distinguishing them from other categories of individuals of the same taxonomic level. In taxonomic nomenclature, species are designated by the genus name followed by a Latin or Latinised adjective or noun.
Surface Elevation Table The Surface Elevation Table (SET) is a portable mechanical leveling device for measuring the relative elevation of wetland sediments. The SET provides a nondestructive method for making highly accurate and precise measurements of sediment elevation of intertidal and subtidal wetlands over long periods of time relative to a fixed subsurface datum.
Systematics Systematics is the science of classifying organisms in regard to their natural relationships; deals with populations, species and higher taxa. See also taxonomy.
Taxonomy Taxonomy is the aspect of systematics that deals with the correct application of scientific names, theories and techniques of naming, describing, and classifying organisms, and the study of the relationships of taxa, including positional changes which do not involve changes in the names of taxa. The taxonomic hierarchy is, from top to bottom: kingdom, phylum (for animals) or division (for plants and fungi), class, order, family, genus, species. In addition, taxonomy involves the study of organisms, and the similarities that varying species share, and then categorizing these organisms in relation to their ancestral lines and their common characteristics.
Terrestrial Of or on the ground, of the habitat of a plant, on land as opposed to in water, or on the ground as opposed to on another plant.
Tertiary Pertaining to birds: Feathers adjoining the secondaries

Pertaining to wastewater treatment >The removal of inorganic minerals and plant nutrients after primary and secondary treatment of sewage. Or, advanced cleaning of wastewater that goes beyond the secondary or biological stage, removing nutrients such as phosphorus, nitrogen, and most BOD and suspended solids.

Also, the Tertiary period is one of the major divisions of the geologic timescale, from the end of the Cretaceous period about 64 million years ago to the start of the Quaternary period about 1.6 million years ago. The Tertiary covers roughly the time span between the demise of the dinosaurs and beginning of the most recent ice age. At the beginning of the period mammals replaced reptiles as the dominant animals.
Trend a general tendency to change; In statistics, a trend is a long-term movement in time series data after other components have been accounted for.
Waterbird Conservation The preservation and protection of all waterbirds (including marine birds, gulls, terns, herons, egrets, storks, loons, grebes, rails, and other species) and their habitats, including setting policies, identifying priorities, and evaluating management actions to prevent the exploitation, destruction, or neglect of these species and the habitats they occupy.
Waterfowl In North America, this term normally refers to members of the Family Anatida including ducks, geese, and swans. Elsewhere, the term may have a broader meaning to include other birds living on water such as divers/loons (Family Gaviidae) and grebes (Family Podicipedidae) as well as ducks, geese, and swans.
Wetlands Ecosystems of several types in which rooted vegetation is surrounded by standing water during part of the year. For example, swamp, marsh, bog, fen. Also, those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands are crucial wildlife habitat, and important for flood control and maintaining the health of surrounding ecosystems.

Sources for Glossary Definitions and Other Conservation-related Glossaries

Patuxent Bird Glossary:

Online biology dictionary:

Life Science glossary:

University of California Museum of Paleontology. Search alphabetically or by topic:

Glossary of Avian Terms for use in Avian Conservation:

Bird On! provides this dictionary of birdwatching terminology:

BioTech's life science dictionary, includes links to other word resources:

Terms of Environment, includes an abbreviation and acronym list:

The Terminology Reference System (TRS) has been created as a single resource of environmental terminology for the Agency by compiling collections of terms from EPA and other sources:

MedBioWorld: Online medical and bioscience dictionaries:

European Environment Agency multilingual environmental glossary:

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

Take Pride in America logo logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: Webmaster