Environment and climate research strategy definitions of terms

If you are participating in the survey Prioritising research outcomes for Te kete mātauranga a āhuarangi me te taiao - Environment and Climate Research Strategy, you can find definitions of terms used in the survey on this page.


The variability among all living organisms on Earth. It includes diversity within species, diversity between species and diversity of an ecosystem. The living organisms may be from any sources, such as terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes they belong to.

  • Biodiversity loss

The reduction of any aspect of biological diversity (i.e., diversity at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels) is lost in a particular area through death (including extinction), destruction or manual removal; it can refer to many scales, from global extinctions to population extinctions, resulting in decreased total diversity at the same scale.

  • Indigenous (native) biodiversity

The diversity (or range) of indigenous species. This includes diversity within and between species. Indigenous is equivalent to native (Convention on Biological Diversity).


Biosecurity is the exclusion, eradication or management of pests and diseases that pose a risk to the economy, environment, cultural and social values, including human health.

Circular economy

An economic system based on designing out waste and pollution, reusing products and materials, and regenerating natural systems.

Climate Change

A change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes or trends in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades to centuries. Includes natural internal climate processes and external climate forcings such as variations in solar cycles, volcanic eruptions and persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use (IPCC, 2014a).

Climate Change Adaptation

In human systems, the process of adjusting to actual or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or take advantage of beneficial opportunities. In natural systems, the process of adjusting to actual climate and its effects. Human intervention may help these systems to adjust to expected climate and its effects.


The preservation and protection of natural and historic resources for the purpose of maintaining their intrinsic values, providing for their appreciation and recreational enjoyment by the public, and safeguarding the options of future generations.


Any substance (including gases, liquids, solids, and micro-organisms) or energy (including radioactivity and electromagnetic radiation but excluding noise) or heat, that either by itself or in combination with the same, similar, or other substances, energy, or heat—

(a) changes or has the potential, when discharged into water, to change the physical, chemical, or biological condition of that water; or

(b) changes or has the potential, when discharged onto or into land or into air, to change the physical, chemical, or biological condition of the land or air onto or into which it is discharged.


A dynamic development of abnormal life processes due to a pathogen, environmental or abiotic disorder, lasting long enough to cause vital disturbances in the life of the host, possibly leading to its death. Disease can be caused by infectious or non-infectious agents.


A functional unit consisting of living organisms, their non-living environment and the interactions within and between them. The purpose of the ecosystem defines what components belong to it and where its spatial boundaries lie. Ecosystem boundaries can change over time. Ecosystems are nested within other ecosystems and their scale can range from very small to the entire biosphere. In the current era, most ecosystems either contain people as key organisms or are influenced by the effects of human activities in their environment.

  • Ecosystem health

Ecosystem health describes the fundamental physical and biological state of an ecosystem in relation to its ability to support services. A healthy ecosystem is stable and sustainable, maintaining its organisation and autonomy over time and its resilience to stress. Ecosystem health can be assessed using measures of resilience, vigour and organisation.

  • Ecosystem services

The benefits people obtain from ecosystems. In the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, ecosystem services can be divided into supporting, regulating, provisioning and cultural. This classification, however, is superseded in IPBES assessments by the system used under “nature’s contributions to people”. This is because IPBES recognises that many services fit into more than one of the four categories. For example, food is both a provisioning service and also, emphatically, a cultural service, in many cultures.

  • Nature’s Contribution to People

Nature's contributions to people (NCP) are all the contributions, both positive and negative, of living nature (i.e., diversity of organisms, ecosystems, and their associated ecological and evolutionary processes) to the quality of life for people. Beneficial contributions from nature include such things as food provision, water purification, flood control, and artistic inspiration, whereas detrimental contributions include disease transmission and predation that damages people or their assets. Many NCP may be perceived as benefits or detriments depending on the cultural, temporal or spatial context.

  • Native ecosystem (indigenous ecosystem)

A native ecosystem is one dominated by native plants, animals and microorganisms that occurred together before the time of human settlement. Key native species must be present for a native ecosystem to persist and function on its own.

  • Natural ecosystem

An ecosystem where human impact has been of no greater influence than that of any other native species and has not affected the ecosystem's structure since the industrial revolution. Human impact excludes changes of global proportions, such as climate change due to global warming. These are ecosystems that occur naturally and can survive without any intervention from human beings. It is an ecosystem found in nature where organisms freely interact with other components of that environment. One of the main characteristics of a natural ecosystem is that it is a selfsufficient/sustainable system. Examples of natural ecosystems are forests, mountains, rivers, etc. (as opposed to artificial ecosystem like an aquarium).

  • Production Ecosystem (productive system, productive land, managed

Land that is used for primary production. Primary production means:

(a) any agricultural, pastoral, horticultural, or forestry activities; and

(b) includes initial processing, as an ancillary activity, of commodities that result from the listed activities in a); and

(c‍) includes any land and buildings used for the production of the commodities from a) and used for the initial processing of the commodities in b); but

(d) excludes further processing of those commodities into a different product.

The Land Use Classification (LUC) System is the main database used in New Zealand to describe the productive capability of land. The LUC assigns land to a class between 1 and 8, class 1 being the most productive and versatile, and class 8 having severe limitations to productive use.

Emerging contaminants

Emerging contaminants are micro-organisms and chemicals that have historically not been considered contaminants but have the potential to enter the environment and cause known or suspected negative impacts on the environment and/or people.



(a) ecosystems and their constituent parts, including people and their communities; and

(b) all natural and physical resources; and

(c‍) amenity values; and

(d) the aesthetic, cultural, economic, and social conditions that affect or are affected by any matter referred to in paragraphs (a) to (c‍) / the social, economic, aesthetic, and cultural conditions which affect the matters stated in paragraphs (a) to (c‍) or which are affected by those matters.

  • Built environment

The built environment touches all aspects of our lives, encompassing the buildings we live in, the distribution systems that provide us with water and electricity, and the roads, bridges, and transportation systems we use to get from place to place. It can generally be described as the man-made or modified structures that provide people with living, working, and recreational spaces.

Environmental health

Environmental health refers to aspects of human health (including quality of life) that are determined by physical, chemical, biological, social and psychosocial factors in the environment.

Exposure (climate change)

Being present in a place or setting that could be adversely affected. Those that could be harmed in that environment include people; livelihoods; species or ecosystems; environmental functions, services and resources; infrastructure; or economic, social or cultural assets.


Means all water except coastal water and geothermal water.

Freshwater – Alternative definition – Environmental guide

Fresh water bodies include glaciers, snow, rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, springs and aquifers and groundwater. Freshwater is defined as any water that is not the sea and does not contain salt.

Greenhouse gas


(a) carbon dioxide (CO2);

(b) methane (CH4);

(c‍) nitrous oxide (N2O);

(d) any hydrofluorocarbon;

(e) any perfluorocarbon; and

(f) sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).


The potential occurrence of a natural or human-induced physical event or trend that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, as well as damage and loss to property, infrastructure, livelihoods, service provision, ecosystems and environmental resources.


A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Kaitiaki or kaitiakitanga

Guardian or guardianship, stewardship – for example, of natural resources.

Kaupapa Māori

Māori approach, topic, customary practice, institution, agenda, principles, ideology – a philosophical doctrine incorporating the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values of Māori society.

Land use

All of the arrangements, activities and inputs (a set of human actions) that people undertake in a certain type of land cover (e.g., forest land, cropland, grassland, wetland or settlements). Alternatively, the social and economic purposes for which land is managed (e.g., grazing, timber extraction, conservation and city dwelling).

Mahinga Kai

Garden, cultivation, food-gathering place.

Māori values and principles

Values and principles that come from Māori views of the world and that Māori use to make sense of, experience and interpret the world. They form the basis for Māori ethics and principles

Mātauranga Māori, Māori knowledge

The body of knowledge originating from Māori ancestors. This includes the Māori world view and perspectives, Māori creativity, and cultural practices.


Life principle, life force, vital essence, special nature, a material symbol of a life principle, source of emotions – the essential quality and vitality of a being or entity. Also used for a physical object, individual, ecosystem or social group in which this essence is located.

Natural environment

The natural environment encompasses indigenous and non-indigenous species in natural and modified terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments. It includes all ecosystems in environments from mountains to the sea (ki uta ki tai).

Natural (and physical) resources


(a) organisms of all kinds;

(b) the air, water, and soil in or on which any organism lives or may live;

(c‍) landscape and landform;

(d) geological features;

(e) structures of all kinds; and

(f) systems of interacting living organisms and their environment.


A holistic term that encompasses the living environment (te taiao), which includes all living organisms and the ecological processes that sustain them. By this definition, people are a key part of nature.


A bacterium, virus or other microorganism that can cause disease.


The term “pest” in Aotearoa has historically different meanings for different groups and users. For the context of the ECRS, we define “pest” broadly as organisms that have the potential to cause adverse effects on the environment, plants and animals, plant products, animal welfare, social and cultural values recreational use, economic wellbeing, and/or public health and safety.

For the context of the ECRS, the term “pest” includes:

(a) pathogens and infectious pathogenic microorganisms (viruses, viroids, bacteria and fungi) – affecting both animals and plants;

(b) plant animal pests such as insects and nematodes – affecting plants;

(c‍) predators – in context of New Zealand this focusses on the Predator Free 2050 defined target group (mustelids (stoats, ferrets and weasels), rats (Norway, ship and kiore) and possums) as well as other rodents or mammals predating indigenous animals. A common synonym in New Zealand is “animal pest” – affecting animals;

(d) browsers – or ungulates; and

(e) Weeds.


Any process, whether natural or artificial, resulting in the introduction of any contaminant into the environment; and noise.

  • Land pollution

The deposition of solid or liquid waste materials on land or underground in a manner that can contaminate the soil and groundwater, threaten public health, and cause unsightly conditions and nuisances.

  • Water pollution

The release of substances into subsurface groundwater or into lakes, streams, rivers, estuaries, and oceans to the point where the substances interfere with beneficial use of the water or with the natural functioning of ecosystems. In addition to the release of substances, such as chemicals, trash, or microorganisms, water pollution may also include the release of energy, in the form of radioactivity or heat, into bodies of water.

  • Air pollution

The release into the atmosphere of various gases, finely divided solids, or finely dispersed liquid aerosols at rates that exceed the natural capacity of the environment to dissipate and dilute or absorb them. These substances may reach concentrations in the air that cause undesirable health, economic, or aesthetic effects.

Primary Production

The production of goods and services from the primary sector, such as agriculture, horticulture and forestry.


Chieftainship, the right to exercise authority, sovereignty or self-determination.


The capacity of interconnected social, economic and ecological systems to cope with a hazardous event, trend or disturbance, by responding or reorganising in ways that maintain their essential function, identity and structure. Resilience is a positive attribute when it allows systems to maintain their capacity to adapt, learn and/or transform.

  • Climate resilience

The ability to anticipate, prepare for and respond to the impacts of a changing climate, including the impacts that we can anticipate and the impacts of extreme events. It involves planning now for sea-level rise and more frequent flooding. It is also about being ready to respond to extreme events like forest fires or extreme floods, and to trends in precipitation and temperature that emerge over time like droughts.

Soil security

Soil security is concerned with maintaining and improving the world’s soil resource to produce food, fibre and freshwater, maintain the biodiversity and ecosystem services and contribute to human health.


An interbreeding group of organisms that is reproductively isolated from all other organisms, although there are many partial exceptions to this rule in particular taxa. Operationally, the term species is a generally agreed fundamental taxonomic unit, based on morphological or genetic similarity, that once described and accepted is associated with a unique scientific name.

  • Endemic species

Indigenous species that breed only within a specified region or locality and are unique to that area. Aotearoa New Zealand’s endemic species include birds that breed only in this country but may disperse to other countries in the non-breeding season or as sub-adults.

  • Indigenous species (native species)

Species that occur naturally in Aotearoa New Zealand.

  • Invasive species

Species whose introduction and/or spread by human action outside their natural distribution threatens biological diversity, food security, and human health and wellbeing.

  • Invasive introduced species

Non-indigenous species whose introduction or spread threatens biodiversity, food security, and/or human health and wellbeing.

  • Non-indigenous biodiversity/species

Species that have been brought to Aotearoa New Zealand by humans, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Synonyms are ‘introduced species’, exotic, nonnative, alien.


Refers to a treasure or something that is prized. The term can be applied to anything that is considered to be of value, including socially or culturally valuable objects, resources, phenomena, ideas and techniques.

Te Taiao

World around us, earth, natural world, environment, nature.


A custom, practice or correct protocol. It refers to the customary system of values and practices that have developed over time and are deeply embedded in the social context.

Tipping point

A critical threshold beyond which a system reorganises, often abruptly and/or irreversibly.

Unwanted Organism

An unwanted organism is any organism that a chief technical officer believes is capable or potentially capable of causing unwanted harm to any natural and physical resources or human health (defined under the Biosecurity Act 1993).

Vulnerability (climate change)

Being predisposed or more likely to be adversely affected. Elements that contribute to this concept include sensitivity or susceptibility to harm and lack of capacity to cope and adapt


Means anything that has been disposed of or discarded:

(a) including (but not limited to) any disposed of or discarded thing that is defined by its composition or source (for example, organic waste, electronic waste, or construction and demolition waste); but

(b) excluding any solid biofuel combusted for the purposes of generating electricity or industrial heat.

Water health (Te Mana o te Wai)

Mana of the water is about recognising the vital importance of clean, healthy water for maintaining the health of our waterbodies, freshwater ecosystems and the communities that rely upon them for their sustenance and wellbeing.


The health, happiness and prosperity of an individual or group. It can cover material wellbeing (e.g., income and wealth, jobs and earnings, and housing), health (e.g., health status and work–life balance), security (e.g., personal security and environmental quality), social relations (e.g., social connection, subjective wellbeing, cultural identity and education) and freedom of choice and action (e.g., civic engagement and governance).


Any animal that is living in a wild state; and includes any such animal or egg or offspring of any such animal held or hatched or born in captivity.