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Definitions & Glossary

Biodiversity Definitions 

Biodiversity is a compound word = 'bio' (life) + 'diversity' (variety).

Te Mana o te Taiao - Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2020 defines biodiversity or biological diversity as:

"The variability among living organisms from all sources, including land, marine and freshwater ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are a part; this includes diversity within species (including genetic diversity) between species and of ecosystems (based on the definition of the Convention on Biological Diversity)


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Ecological definition

“Biodiversity can be split into six major groups of organisms: archea bacteria (microbes with no cell nucleus), eubacteria (e.g. E.coli), protists (e.g. water moulds, diatoms, seaweed), fungi, plants and animals. When we consider ‘biodiversity’, it is important that we include all organisms, their interactions with other organisms (biotic) and their interactions within a specific ecosystem and or between ecosystems (abiotic).” 


Our glossary of English and Māori words and terms used in the Biodiversity Strategy provides an insight into what is important about this work.

Biodiversity: the variability among living organisms, and the ecological complexes of which they are a part, including diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.  It is a compound word - 'bio' (life)  + 'diversity'. 

Biodiversity loss or decline: where a natural site has been degraded, modified or removed for the purpose of social, economic or cultural gain, or through natural changes.

Climate change: the change in climate of New Zealand on the scale of years, decades, centuries and longer periods of time.

Convention on Biological Diversity: an international agreement on biological diversity that came into force in December 1993. The objectives of the Convention are: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the use of genetic resources.

Ecosystem: any system of interacting terrestrial (land) and/or aquatic (water) organisms within their natural and physical environment.

Ecosystem services: the interactions between organisms and the physical environment, such as in nutrient cycling, soil development and water budgeting.

Endemic species: an indigenous species which breeds only within a specified region or locality and is unique to that area. New Zealand endemic species include birds that only breed here, but which may disperse to other countries in the non-breeding season or as sub-adults.

Habitat: an area with the appropriate combination of resources - such as, food, water, nesting sites, shelter - and environmental conditions - such as, temperature, humidity or shade - for the survival of a species.

Healthy ecosystem: an ecosystem which is stable and sustainable, maintaining its organisation and autonomy over time and its resilience to stress.

Indigenous species: a plant or animal species which occurs naturally in New Zealand. A synonym is ‘native’.

Invasive species: an animal pest or weed that can adversely affect indigenous species and ecosystems by altering genetic variation within species, or affecting the survival of species, or the quality or sustainability of natural communities. In New Zealand, invasive animal pests or weeds are almost always species that have been  introduced to the country.

Invertebrate: small animals without backbones. Includes worms, molluscs, crustaceans and insect larvae.

Ira Tangata: the human aspect (contrast with Te Taiao).

Kaitiaki: a person who is active in the guardianship of the mauri of ecosystems.

Kaitiakitanga: active protection and enhancement of the mauri of ecosystems.

Macroinvertebrate Community Index (MCI): an index commonly used to assess stream health: MCI quantifies stream condition with a single number.

Mahinga kai: the customary gathering of food and natural materials and the places where those resources are gathered.

Mana: authority associated with the energies of the natural world and people; linked to mauri; can be lost, diminished or restored.

Mātauranga Māori: Māori knowledge regarding Te Taiao.

Mauri: the energy or binding force between physical and the spiritual environments.

Ngā whenua rāhui: a contestable Ministerial fund established to facilitate the voluntary protection of indigenous ecosystems on Māori-owned land.

Noa: lifting of restriction (see Rahui)

Papatuanuku: earth mother.  See Ranginui: sky father.

Rahui: temporary restriction of use or access to a resource or place.

Rangatira species: critical species for the ecosystem functions they provide such as pollination and seed dispersal.  From Rangatira: a person of standing within the Māori community respected for their knowledge, skills and wisdom.

Ranginui: sky father.  See Papatuanuku: earth mother

Sedimentation: the process of sediment deposition by wind or water, particularly in river, lake or coastal/marine environments.

Species: a group of organisms capable of interbreeding freely with each other but not with members of other species.

Tangata whenua: people of the land.

Taonga: treasures, valued resources, both tangible and intangible

Tapu: sacred, prohibited or restricted

Te Taiao: the environment

Threatened species: all species determined to be classified by the New Zealand Threat Classification System as Nationally Critical, Nationally Vulnerable, or Nationally Endangered in the ‘Threatened’ category and all species determined to be classified as Declining, Relict, or Recovering categories of the ‘At Risk’ category.

Wāhi Tapu: sacred place.

Wairua: spiritual dimension.

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