Appendixes | Glossary

State of the Environment 2011 Committee. Australia state of the environment 2011.
Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Canberra: DSEWPaC, 2011.




Withdrawal of water from the environment for human use.

abyssal plain

A flat, relatively featureless bottom of the deep ocean at a depth greater than 2000 metres.


The process of becoming more acidic (i.e. lowering the pH).

Soils tend to become acidic through natural leaching and weathering, and as a result of some agricultural practices such as loss of organic material and overuse of nitrogenous fertilisers.

The ocean is becoming more acidic as atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rise and the concentration of dissolved CO2 in sea water increases, forming carbonic acid.


Shifts (e.g. in behaviour, management practices, biology) in response to change that support survival; responses that decrease the negative effects of change and capitalise on opportunities.

adaptive management

A systematic process for continually improving policies and practices by learning from the outcome of previously used policies and practices.


A body of air, bounded by meteorology and topography, in which substance emissions are contained.

air toxics

A group of pollutants found in ambient air, usually at relatively low concentrations, including heavy metals and many types of volatile and semivolatile organic compounds. These include known or suspected carcinogens and pollutants linked to other serious health impacts, including birth defects and developmental, respiratory and immune system problems.

algal bloom

A sudden proliferation of algae (microscopic plants) that occurs near the surface of a body of water. Blooms can occur due to natural nutrient cycles, or can be in response to eutrophication or climate variations. See also eutrophication.

ambient air

Outdoor air.


Features, benefits and advantages of the built environment, including the character and appearance of building and works; proximity to shopping facilities; quality of infrastructure; and absence of noise, unsightliness or offensive odours.

Antarctic Treaty area

The area south of 60°S.


Caused by human factors or actions.


Cultivation of aquatic and marine species such as fish, crustaceans, shellfish and algae, predominantly for use as human or animal food.


An underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock or loose material such as gravel, sand or silt; aquifers may provide well or bore water.


Parts or features of the natural environment that provide environmental functions or services.

Australian margin

The Australian continental margin; the submerged zone consisting of the continental shelf, slope and rise that separates the terrestrial portion of a continent from the deep ocean floor.


Associated with the sea floor.


The variety of all life forms. There are three levels of biodiversity:

  • genetic diversity—the variety of genetic information contained in individual plants, animals and microorganisms
  • species diversity—the variety of species
  • ecosystem diversity—the variety of habitats, ecological communities and ecological processes.

Produced by living organisms or biological processes.


The quantity of living biological organisms in a given area or ecosystem at a given time (usually expressed as a weight per unit area or volume).


A large geographically distinct area that has a similar climate, geology, landform, and vegetation and animal communities.

The Australian land mass is divided into 85 bioregions under the Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia. Australia's marine area is divided into 41 provincial bioregions under the Interim Marine and Coastal Regionalisation for Australia.


Processes, programs and structures in place to prevent entry by, or to protect people and animals from, the adverse impacts of invasive species and pathogens.


Living organisms in a given area; the combination of flora, fauna, fungi and microorganisms.

The Burra Charter 1999

The Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance, which provides standards and guidelines for cultural heritage management; Australia ICOMOS Inc. is the national chapter of the International Council on Monuments and Sites.


Species taken incidentally in a fishery where other species are the target.

carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e)

A measure that combines the global warming effect of the six greenhouse gases listed in Annex A of the Kyoto Protocol (carbon dioxide [CO2], methane [CH4], nitrous oxide [N2O], hydrofluorocarbons [HFCs], perfluorocarbons [PFCs]and sulfur hexafluoride [SF6]) into a single meaningful number. Specifically, CO2-e represents the carbon dioxide emissions that would cause the same heating of the atmosphere as a particular mass of Annex A greenhouse gases.

carbon sequestration

Processes to remove carbon from the atmosphere, involving capturing and storing carbon in vegetation, soil, oceans or another storage facility.

caring for country

Indigenous land and sea management.

Caring for our Country

The Australian Government's central environment program since 2008, which funds environmental management, protection and restoration.


An area of land determined by topographic features, within which rainfall will contribute to run-off at a particular point. The catchment for a major river and its tributaries is usually referred to as a river basin.


Whales, dolphins and porpoises.


The green pigment in plants that functions in photosynthesis by absorbing light from the sun.

climate change

A change of climate attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and is additional to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods (under the terms of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).


A naturally occurring group of species inhabiting a particular area and interacting with each other, especially through food relationships, relatively independently of other communities.

Also, a group of people associated with a particular place.


The 'health' of a species or community, which includes factors such as the level of disturbance from a natural state, population size, genetic diversity, and interaction with invasive species and diseases.


Linkages between habitat areas; the extent to which particular ecosystems are joined with others; the ease with which organisms can move across the landscape.

connectivity conservation

Conserving or re-establishing interconnected areas and corridors of vegetation to protect linked ecosystems and the species within them.


Protection and management of living species, communities, ecosystems or heritage places; protection of a site to allow ongoing ecosystem function or to retain natural or cultural significance (or both) and to maximise resilience to threatening processes.

continental shelf

The legal continental shelf is defined under article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: 'where not limited by delimitation with another state (country), it will extend beyond the territorial sea to a minimum of 200 nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline. In some places where certain physical characteristics of the seabed are met it can extend further'.

This differs from the geoscientific definition of a continental shelf: the seabed adjacent to a continent (or around an island) extending from the low water line to a depth at which there is usually a marked increase of slope towards oceanic depths. This increase of slope usually occurs at water depths of 200 metres around the Australian continent.

coral bleaching

When the coral host expels its zooxanthellae (marine algae living in symbiosis with the coral) in response to increased water temperatures, often resulting in the death of the coral.


A linear landscape structure that links habitats and helps movement of, and genetic exchange among, organisms between these habitats.

critically endangered
(species or community)

At extreme risk of extinction in the wild; the highest category for listing of a threatened species or community under the criteria established by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth).


A class of mainly aquatic arthropods including prawns, lobsters and crabs.


When the condition of an ecosystem, species or community has decreased to a point where its long-term viability is in question. It usually represents more than just a decrease in numbers of individuals, and describes the result of several interacting factors (e.g. reducing numbers, decreasing quality or extent of habitat, increasing pressures).

In this report, the use of the term is generally prompted by reports that a substantial number of species within a group or community are classified as threatened and there is a high likelihood that more species are likely to qualify for a threatened classification if trends continue.

Where 'decline' is applied to elements of environments (e.g. condition of vegetation as habitat) it means that changes have been sufficient to potentially affect the viability of species relying on those elements.


Associated with the region just above the sea floor.


A temporary change in average environmental conditions that disrupts an ecosystem, community or population, causing short or long-term effects. Disturbances include naturally occurring events such as fires and floods, as well as anthropogenic disturbances such as land clearing and the introduction of invasive species.

drainage division

An identified water catchment; Australia has been classified into 12 drainage divisions.


Overarching causes that can drive change in the environment; this report identifies climate change, population growth and economic growth as the main drivers of environmental change.

ecological processes

The interrelationships among organisms, their environment(s) and each other; the ways in which organisms interact and the processes that determine the cycling of energy and nutrients through natural systems.


See ecological processes.


An interrelated biological system comprising living organisms in a particular area, together with physical components of the environment such as air, water and sunlight.

ecosystem services

Actions or attributes of the environment of benefit to humans, including regulation of the atmosphere, maintenance of soil fertility, food production, regulation of water flows, filtration of water, pest control and waste disposal. It also includes social and cultural services, such as the opportunity for people to experience nature.

El Niño

A periodic extensive warming of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean that leads to a major shift in weather patterns across the Pacific. In Australia (particularly eastern Australia), El Niño events are associated with an increased probability of drier conditions. See also La Niña.


Output or discharge, as in the introduction of chemicals or particles into the atmosphere.

emissions trading

A system of market-based economic incentives to reduce the emission of pollutants.

endangered (species or community)

At very high risk of extinction in the wild; in danger of extinction throughout all or a portion of its range; criteria are established by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth).


Unique to a spatially defined area; in this report used mainly to refer to large bioregions of the continent and marine environment.


The degree to which species and genes are found nowhere else; the number of endemic species in a taxonomic group or bioregion.

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth) (EPBC Act)

The Australian Government's main environmental legislation; it provides the legal framework to protect and manage nationally and internationally important flora, fauna, ecological communities and heritage places.

environmental flows

Managed freshwater flow to natural water systems designed to maintain aquatic ecosystems.

equivalent effective stratospheric chlorine

An estimate of the effective quantity of halogens (chlorine and bromine) in the stratosphere, used to quantify anthropogenic depletion of stratospheric ozone. See also stratospheric ozone.


Excessive nutrients in a body of water, often leading to algal blooms or other adverse effects. See also algal bloom.

exclusive economic zone

The marine seabed, subsoil and waters between the 3 nautical-mile boundary and the 200 nautical-mile boundary off the coast of Australia.

extended continental shelf

An area of continental shelf that extends beyond the Australian exclusive economic zone, the seabed of which forms part of Australia's marine jurisdiction.


Areal coverage; for example, of vegetation or sea ice.

extinct (species)

When there is no reasonable doubt that the last individual has died.


Where the outputs of a process affect the process itself.

fire regime

Frequency, intensity and timing of bushfires.


Where fishing efforts shift from one species to another, or to smaller specimens, as a target species becomes difficult to catch.

fishing effort

The measure of the amount of specific type of fishing gear used on the fishing grounds over a given unit of time (e.g. the number of hauls of a beach-seine net per day).

flow regime

The pattern of water flow through a river.

food web

Interconnected food chains; a system of feeding connections in an ecosystem.


Isolation and reduction of areas of habitat, and associated ecosystems and species, often due to land clearing.

general resilience

Resilience to unknown or unidentified pressures, disturbances or shocks.

geographic range

Geographical area within which a species can be found.


Scientific study of landforms and the processes that shape them.


One thousand million litres.

global warming

See greenhouse effect.

greenhouse effect

Where thermal energy (infrared radiation) that otherwise would have been radiated into space is partially intercepted and reradiated (some of it downwards) by atmospheric greenhouse gases, resulting in warmer temperatures at the planet's surface. The greenhouse effect has supported the development of life on Earth, however strengthening of the greenhouse effect through human activities is leading to climate change (also known as global warming).

greenhouse gases

Gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect, the most important of which are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), short-lived tropospheric ozone (O3), water vapour, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

gross domestic product

The total market value of goods and services produced in a country in a given period, after deducting the cost of goods and services used in production but before deducting allowances for the consumption of fixed capital.

gross value added

The value of output at basic prices minus the value of intermediate consumption at purchasers' prices. The term is used to describe gross product by industry and sector. Using basic prices to value output removes the distortion caused by variations in the incidence of commodity taxes and subsidies across the output of individual industries.


The environment where a plant or animal normally lives and reproduces.

high seas

All parts of the sea that are not included in the exclusive economic zone, territorial sea or in the internal waters of a state.


Related to water quality, movement and distribution.

Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia

A set of 85 bioregions within the Australian landmass, used as the basis for the National Reserve System's planning framework to identify land for conservation.

invasive species

Non-native plants or animals that have adverse environmental or economic effects on the regions they invade; species that dominate a region due to loss of natural predators or controls.


An Australian state or territory, or under the control of the Australian Government.


One thousand litres.

Kyoto Protocol

An international agreement that commits industrialised nations to stabilising the level of greenhouse gas emissions; the agreement is linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.


A shallow body of water, especially one separated from a sea by sandbars or coral reefs.


An area of land comprising land forms and interacting ecosystems; an expanse of land, usually extensive, that can be seen from a single viewpoint.

landscape processes

Processes that affect the physical aspects of the landscape (e.g. weathering of rock formations, erosion, water flow).

La Niña

A periodic extensive cooling of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. In Australia (particularly eastern Australia), La Niña events are associated with increased probability of wetter conditions in eastern Australia. See also El NiÑo.

major vegetation groups

Aggregation of vegetation into distinct categories; Australia's native vegetation has been classified into 23 major vegetation groups.


One million litres.

millennium drought

The recent drought in southern Australian that lasted from 2000 to 2010 (although in some areas it began as early as 1997).


Actions intended to reduce the likelihood of change or to reduce the impacts of change.

Montreal Protocol

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer aims to reduce or eliminate human use of substances that deplete the atmospheric ozone layer.

National Reserve System

Australia's network of protected areas that conserve examples of natural landscapes, and native plants and animals. The system has more than 9300 protected areas, including federal, state and territory reserves, Indigenous lands, and protected areas run by conservation organisations or individuals.

natural resource management

The management of natural resources such as land, water, soil, plants and animals, with a focus on sustainable practices.


A generic term for nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide.

nutrient cycling

Movement and exchange of organic and inorganic materials through the production and decomposition of living matter.

ozone depleting substances

Substances that break down stratospheric ozone, principally chlorofluorocarbons, freons and halons used as refrigerants, industrial solvents and propellants in aerosol spray cans.

These substances are stable and long lived in the lower atmosphere, but drift up to the stratosphere where they break down through the action of ultraviolet radiation. This releases highly reactive atoms (chlorine and bromine) that react with ozone molecules and break them apart. See also stratospheric ozone.

ozone hole

The reduction of the amount of ozone in the lower stratosphere above Antarctica that has occurred each spring since around 1980.

ozone layer

See stratospheric ozone.


A microorganism that causes harm to its living host.


Associated with the open ocean or upper waters of the ocean.


A region between the outer suburbs and the countryside.


A measure of acidity or alkalinity on a log scale from 0 (extremely acidic) through 7 (neutral) to 14 (extremely alkaline, or basic).


Referring to a chemical reaction that is triggered by the effect of light on molecules.


Events, conditions or processes that result in degradation of the environment.

primary production

The production of organic compounds from atmospheric or aquatic carbon dioxide, principally through photosynthesis.

radiative forcing

A measure of the influence a factor (such as greenhouse gases) has on altering the balance of incoming and outgoing energy in the Earth-atmosphere system.

Warming of climate is a response to positive radiative forcing, while cooling is a response to negative radiative forcing.


Influx of new members into a population or habitat by reproduction, immigration or settlement.

In fisheries management, recruitment represents influx into the fishable part of the stock of a target species.


Capacity of a system to experience shocks while retaining essentially the same function, structure and feedbacks, and therefore identity.


Related to riverbanks or lake shores.


Movement of water from the land into streams.


The process of becoming more salty; the accumulation of soluble salts (e.g. sodium chloride) in soil or water.

Many Australian soils and landscapes contain naturally high levels of sodium salts held deep in the soil profile.


See salinisation.


Submerged mountain rising more than 1000 metres from the ocean floor with its summit below the surface of the sea.


See carbon sequestration.


Fog mixed with smoke (i.e. mixing of particulate pollutants with water droplets).

Also photochemical smog resulting from the action of sunlight on nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons present in a polluted atmosphere.


A group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring.

specific resilience

Resilience to identified pressures, disturbances or shocks.


A sudden or major change.


A layer of Earth's atmosphere, beginning at an altitude of around 10 kilometres above Earth's surface and extending to approximately 50 kilometres.

stratospheric ozone

A layer of ozone in the stratosphere that limits the amount of harmful ultraviolet light passing through to lower layers of the atmosphere.

subsidiarity, principle of subsidiarity

Where action is taken by the lowest appropriate level of government.

surface phytoplankton bloom

A sudden bloom of phytoplankton (microscopic plants) that occurs near the surface of a body of water. See also algal bloom.

sustainability, sustainable

Using 'natural resources within their capacity to sustain natural processes while maintaining the life-support systems of nature and ensuring that the benefit of the use to the present generation does not diminish the potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations'. (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, p. 815.)

'Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. United Nations Brundtland Commission


A group of one or more organisms classified as a unit. Taxonomic categories include class, order, family, genus, species and subspecies.


One member of a group; singular of taxa.


Related to the classification and naming of species (taxonomy).

threatened (species or community)

Likely to become endangered in the near future.

threatening process

A process or activity that 'threatens … the survival, abundance or evolutionary development of a native species or ecological community' (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, p. 273) and which also may threaten the sustainability of resource use.


A boundary between two relatively stable states; a point where a system can go rapidly into another state, usually because of positive feedback(s).

trigger values

Criteria levels within guidelines that trigger action; specifically, those that indicate a risk to the environment and a need to investigate or fix the cause.


Related to the organism's place in a food chain. Low trophic levels are at the base of the chain (microorganisms, plankton), high trophic levels are at the top of the chain (dingoes, sharks).


The lowest layer of Earth's atmosphere. Its depth varies with latitude, averaging around 17 kilometres in the mid-latitudes.


A measure of water clarity or murkiness; an optical property that expresses the degree to which light is scattered and absorbed by molecules and particles in the water.

Turbidity results from soluble coloured organic compounds and suspended particulate matter.

urban footprint

The extent of area taken up by urban buildings and constructions.


The worth of environmental assets. Categories of environmental values include:

  • direct-use values: goods and services directly consumed by users (e.g food or medicinal products)
  • indirect-use values: indirect benefits arising from ecological systems (e.g. climate regulation)
  • non-use values (e.g. benevolence)
  • intrinsic value (i.e. environmental assets have a worth of their own regardless of usefulness to humans).
Vegetation Assets, States and Transition framework

A systematic classification of vegetation condition by the degree of anthropogenic modification from a benchmark natural condition.

volatile organic compounds

Primary pollutants that react with oxides of nitrogen in photochemical processes to generate a range of secondary pollutants (notably ozone).

vulnerable (species)

At high risk of extinction in the wild; likely to become endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve.

water market

A regulatory and planning-based system of managing surface water and groundwater resources for rural and urban use that aims to optimise economic, social and environmental outcomes.


The level below which the ground is saturated with water; the division between the subsurface region in which the pores of soil and rocks are effectively filled only with water, and the subsurface region in which the pores are filled with air and usually some water.

Weeds of National Significance (WoNS)

Weeds identified as a threat to Australian environments based on their invasiveness, potential for spread, and socioeconomic and environmental impacts; 20 plant species are currently listed as WoNS.


An unplanned fire, whether accidentally or deliberately lit (in contrast to a planned or managed fire lit for specific purposes such as fuel reduction).