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North Cascades Glossary

ablation — The sun can directly vaporize snow into water vapor through the process called ablation. 

adfluvial — Fish that live in lakes and migrate into streams to spawn.

alpine zone — The portion of land that lies above treeline. Extreme weather conditions make survival impossible for tall trees. If trees do exist, they grow no higher than a few feet high and tend to sprawl across the ground. Scientists call these trees "krummholz." Alpine plants usually have adaptations for minimizing the effects of wind, cold temperatures, short growing seasons, dry conditions and ultraviolet radiation.

amphibian — An ancient animal without scales, adapted for life both in water and on land. Examples are frogs, newts, and salamanders.

anadromous — Fish that migrate from saltwater into freshwater to spawn.

anthropologist — A person who studies the culture and lifeways of peoples from the past and of today.

antlers — Bony growths from the head of members of the deer family such as black-tailed deer and elk. They are shed and regrown every year, requiring large amounts of calcium.

archaeologist — A person who studies that which remains from a past human culture: art, tools, games, skeletons, buildings, trash, anything left behind.

artifact — Archaeologists uncover artifacts—tools, trash, artwork—when searching for clues to past human lifeways.

banding — To identify birds and other small to medium sized animals, park researchers attach plastic or metal bands to the animal's leg. Animals are recognized by the color, pattern and or number on the band. Banding helps researchers determine a species population and their home range.

baseline — Scientists study nature and try to determine the way an ecosystem or a species functions in its natural state. The baseline heart rate of a human is approximately 72 beats per minute.

benthic — A term that applies to those things or organisms that live on the bottom floor of a body of water. Caddysflies and stoneflies are benthic macroinvertebrates because they live crawling on the bottom of a river among rocks and gravel.

benthic macroinvertebrates — Bottom-dwelling animals without backbones (invertebrate) that are visible with the naked eye (macro).

biodegradable — The property of a substance allowing it to be broken down by microorganisms into simpler components (atoms, molecules, or compounds). The simpler components are later used by other organisms—usually plants, insects and microbes.

biofilm — A thin layer of biota that lives on substrate, such as rocks in creeks. Biofilm is composed of alga, fungi, bacteria. River rocks at North Cascades are slippery because of the thin layer of biofilm.

bio-indicator — Researchers monitor certain species populations to determine the health of the environment. A species may serve as a good bio-indicator if it depends on stable conditions. If environmental conditions change ever so slightly, these species' populations may change dramatically. Watching these population helps scientists forecast broader environmental problems such as climate change, ozone layer destruction, biodiversity loss and global air/water pollution.

biological integrity — Ecological systems, such as forests, deserts and oceans, are sometimes weak and other times strong—just like you. When you are feeling healthy, strong and well-fed your physical body has high biological integrity. Landscapes are no different, only scientists call it biological integrity rather than health.

biologist — Park biologists study plants, animals and their ecosystems from the smallest microbes to the largest forest. Studying life helps us: learn how the system works, understand our role, and know how to limit our impact on ecosystems, such as North Cascades National Park.

biology — The study of life.

biomass — Anything that is or has once been alive. Logs, cows, trees, plywood, cotton shirts and leaves are examples of biomass. Rocks, frying pans, air, windows and water are not.

blowdown — A tree or trees that have been blown down by the wind, creating new habitat on the forest floor and opening spaces in the forest canopy that let in light and wind.

boreal forest — The northern coniferous forest type.

botany — The study of plants.

broadleaf — A term describing a plant with broad, flat leaves. Examples are maples, oaks and alders. Broadleaf trees and their wood are often called hardwoods whether their wood is particularly hard or not. Some common broadleaf trees like oaks and maples have pretty hard wood.

browse — To eat twigs and leaves of woody plants. Examples of browsers are deer, elk and moose. Browsers may eat grass and other softer growth when it's available, turning to leaves and twigs in winter.

buffer — Buffers are sponges in nature. Natural buffers hold water to prevent flooding, detoxify poisonous chemistry from the air and water, retain biological integrity during times of ecological stress, etc.

cambium — The layer just inside a tree's bark where growth takes place.

canopy — The layer formed by the leaves and branches of the forest's trees.

carnivore — An animal that feeds principally on the meat of other animals.

carrion — The flesh of an animal that is already dead. Carrion provides food for many scavengers, from insects to black bears.

carrying capacity — The maximum population of a given animal (or of humans) that an ecosystem can support without being degraded or destroyed in the long run. Carrying capacity may be exceeded, but not without lessening the system's ability to support life in the long run.

cavity — A hole in a tree that can be used by animals for shelter.

chlorophyll — The green pigment used by plants to capture the sun's energy in order to perform photosynthesis.

cirque — Glaciers carve these concave depressions in mountaintops and their sides. Usually found at the beginning of valleys, the cirque feature persists for thousands of years after glaciers have melted away.

classification — In order to have knowledge of nature, we must classify nature into subdivided groups. There are two schools of thought in the process of scientific classification: the 'lumpers' and the 'splitters'. Which are you?

commensalism — One organism benefits while the other is neither harmed nor benefits. Example: Moss growing on trees benefits by being raised above the forest floor competition, while the tree doesn't get much out of the deal either way.

community — All the plants and/or animals living together in a particular habitat are connected by food chains, food webs, and other relationships. The Douglas-fir forest community includes many species of birds, mammals, amphibians, trees, plants, fungi, and ecosystem processes.

competition — Organisms have a wide variety of strategies that help them gather resources. They may compete with each other for resources such as water, food, shelter, space and mates. Through competition, species are strengthened in their ability to cope with the difficulties. Not only is one who gets the resource strengthened, but also the one that does not. The 'loser' is forced to search elsewhere and thus is strengthened too—possibly more so than the 'winner'! Not only do organisms compete, but they also work together. On the windswept, icy ridgelines and peaks in the North Cascades, alpine plants clump together to form what researchers call cushion plants. They blanket each other from the wind and cold.

compliance — Laws are created to help protect people, species, knowledge and even landscapes. The governments that make society's laws are also accountable to the laws they create. Compliance is a term used to describe when a government or industry has followed a law.

condensation — The process by which a substance changes from a vapor or gaseous state to a liquid form. Water vapor in the air condenses into droplets of liquid on the outside of a cold drinking glass. The condensation of water vapor into clouds and precipitation is a vital link in the water cycle.

cone — A pine cone, a fir cone, a hemlock cone, etc. Cones are the structures in which the pollen (male cone) or seeds (female cone) of the tree are contained. They are important food items for many forest birds and mammals.

confined aquifer — A layer of water beneath the surface of the earth that is trapped below an impermeable upper layer. The confining layer is usually composed of clay.

conifer — A cone-bearing tree which has needle-leaves or scales, and which is usually evergreen. Pine trees, fir trees, etc. are conifers.

conservation — The intelligent use of natural resources; a philosophy of natural resource management that ensures their availability in the future by not being too greedy in the present. Conservation practices, by preserving land for future use by humans (the technical definition of conservation), has the secondary benefit of providing habitat and thus survival for many plants and animals not commonly thought of as resources, such as wildflowers and songbirds.

consumer — A person or other animal who uses things. A rabbit is a consumer of grass, a fox is a consumer of rabbits, a person is a consumer of potato chips, televisions and automobiles. In nature, there a two kinds of consumers, primary and secondary. The rabbit above, as a consumer of plants, is a primary consumer. The fox is a secondary consumer. (Since the rabbit is essentially made out of rearranged grass, the fox, by eating the rabbit, is consuming the plants secondarily, and so is a secondary consumer).

corridor — A corridor connects natural areas with other wild places. They allow animals and plants to pass unimpeded from one natural area to another. Without corridors, populations will inbreed, species vigor will diminish, and extinctions will likely occur. Corridors allow the transfer of genetic information just like the Internet allows transfer of data to your computer. Transfer of genetic information is essential for our biosphere.

crepuscular — An animal that is most active during the hours of dawn and dusk. Deer are a good example.

crown — The upper branches and foliage of an individual tree.

cycle — A continuous process; a circular flow of energy or nutrients.

deciduous — A plant (usually a tree) that loses its leaves during an unfavorable time of year. In North America, most broad-leafed trees are deciduous and lose their leaves in the autumn. In the tropical rainforests, however, deciduous trees drop their leaves during the dry season.

decomposers — The community of fungi, bacteria, insects and other scavengers that consume and break down dead plant and animal material into simpler component atoms, molecules, and compounds, thereby making the materials available to be used again. If you dismantled a house to use the lumber again to build another house or a boat or desks, the ones who did the dismantling could be considered the decomposers.

decomposition — The process of breaking dead plant and animal material into simpler components (atoms, molecules, and compounds) so the materials can be used again. Kind of like taking a Lego set apart into its component bricks. A dead tree turns into a log which then slowly turns (decays) back into the soil which new plants are then made out of as a result of the process of decomposition.

density — Density describes the amount of space filled by an object. In ecology, if trees are widely spaced upon the landscape, tree density is low. If the number of flying squirrels per acre is above normal, flying squirrel density is high.

dissolved oxygen — Aquatic life depends on oxygen to breathe, as does all life. But for oxygen to be available in water, it must be dissolved first. Oxygen becomes dissolved in water when tiny air bubbles are trapped by churning river rapids or waterfalls and also as a byproduct of photosynthesis by aquatic plants. Those rivers that have excess amounts of nutrients can become low in dissolved oxygen from overuse by microorganisms.

diurnal — Describes an animal that is most active during hours of daylight. Humans and most birds are good examples.

diversity — A single unit made up of many different individuals. A neighborhood having people of many different nationalities and races living in it is diverse. A natural community having many different kinds of plants and animals living in it is also diverse. In nature, diversity is important not only aesthetically, but in terms of survival as well. A community weak in diversity, i.e. having few or only one kind of organism in it can be devastated if something happens to affect that population. Modern farms, for example, are vulnerable to attack by insects and disease because of the huge areas of single types of plants they represent. If a pest gets started, it (the pest) is in heaven until something interrupts it. Diversity allows others to flourish even if some are devastated. Although diversity is important, healthy ecosystems must have a balance between high diversity and low diversity. If an ecosystem is too diverse, vital ecosystem processes can lose their functionality.

ecological role — Carpenters, bakers, grocers, doctors, and waste recyclers are all very important roles within your community. It would be very difficult for your community to survive without many of these roles. Could you do without a mechanic? How about a farmer? Organisms within ecosystems have roles too. Look in any ecosystem and you will find farmers (plants), landscapers (grazers), lawyers (predators), teachers (processes) home builders (trees), water treaters (wetlands), food transporters (fish), waste recyclers (bacteria), and many more. What is your role within the ecosystem?

ecology — The study of the relationships of living organisms to their environment.

ecosystem — A dynamic interacting system made up of living organisms and all the components of their nonliving environment.

efficiency — Producing growth with little waste. Intact ecosystems are highly efficient organizations. Young ecosystems are much more wasteful with their use of energy.

endemic — An species that is unique to an area; found nowhere else.

environment — All the living and nonliving things, such as plants, animals, soil, weather, etc., that affect the existence of anything in that community.

epiphyte — A plant living on another plant. Some epiphytes are parasitic in that they live at the expense of the host plant.

erosion — The removal of soil and/or rock by wind or water. Although a natural process, it can nonetheless be very damaging if it occurs too rapidly.

evaporation — The process of a substance changing from a liquid form into a vapor. If a bowl of water is left out, it will eventually seem to disappear as the visible liquid changes into invisible water vapor. The evaporation of water is a vital link in the water cycle.

evergreen — A plant that does not lose all its leaves periodically.

exotic — Foreign species or matter which did not originate in a landscape. In botany, exotic plants are those that have been carried to an area by humans from a distant location. In geology, exotic rocks are those that are not of the local bedrock and have arrived to a terrain by a force such as ice sheet movement.

farm — A piece of land used to produce plants or animals for human use.

fauna — A list of the animals living in a particular ecosystem.

fecundity — The number of and viability of a species offspring.

feedback — To maintain efficiency and to keep stable, all natural systems recycle their waste products. Healthy ecosystems re-feed their wastes back into the system.

firn line — The line on a glacier above which snow remains throughout the year and below which summer heat melts the winter snows away to the level of ice and rock.

flora — A list of the plants living in a particular ecosystem.

fluvial — Fish that live, feed, and mature in the mainstem of rivers and streams. Fluvial fish migrate into the tributaries to spawn.

food chain — A series of plants and animals linked together by their food relationships. Grass eaten by a rabbit which is then eaten by a fox is a three-part food chain. In nature, food chains rarely exceed four or five members.

food web — The complex arrangement of who-eats-who in an ecosystem. Food chains are linked together to form food webs.

forest — A diverse community of plants and animals in which trees are the most conspicuous members.

forest floor — The layer of decomposing material that covers the soil in a forest.

fragmentation — The breakup of contiguous habitat by roads, development, or other physical or biological barriers.

fruit — The good-to-eat flesh surrounding the reproductive body of a flowering plant. One of the greatest problems faced by plants is how to spread their offspring around. If all of a plant's seeds just fell under the adult, then they would create too much competition for water and nutrients, perhaps even squeezing out their own parent(s) in their struggle for life. Or if all of a single species are concentrated in a small area, even if there are a lot of them, they could be wiped out by a small fire, or a Seven-Eleven store, or an elephant's foot. Fruits are very expensive for plants to produce, but animals like to eat them. Usually the seeds inside the fruit are difficult or impossible to digest, so they get a free ride in some animal's gut to be dropped off somewhere perhaps miles away, complete with a nice pile of fertilizer, also free of charge. (Not exactly free of charge; the fruit is the price of the ticket).

fungus — A group of plants that includes mushrooms and molds. These organisms decompose organic material, returning nutrients to the soil.

glacial till — Unstratified glacial drift deposited directly by the ice and consisting of clay, sand, gravel, and boulders intermingled in any proportion.

habitat — Where an organism lives in an ecosystem.

hardwood — A term usually used to describe broadleaf trees, although not all broad-leaved trees have hard wood.

herb layer — The non-woody plant community, usually growing close to the forest floor.

herbicide — A chemical compound used to kill unwanted plants.

herbivore — An animal that eat only plants.

hydrology — Hydrology is the study of water and the way it courses through landscapes, geology and living things.

indicator species — See bio-indicator.

insect — A six-legged arthropod usually with a hard exoskeleton; many are capable of flight; beetles, flies, grasshoppers, etc.

insecticide — A chemical compound used to kill unwanted insects.

insectivorous — An animal or plant that feeds primarily on insects is considered insectivorous. Sundew and pitcher plants are insectivorous plants. Bats are insectivorous mammals.

interdependence — In all environments, various plants and animals depend on each other either directly or indirectly for survival. A bear is dependent on the mountain berry crop in the fall to fatten up enough to make it through winter hibernation. The berry bush, in turn, is dependent on the bear and other animals to eat its fruit and then spread the seeds around the countryside.

invasive — n. An exotic species that has few natural enemies and that can quickly multiply upon the landscape. v. To crowd out other species and quickly multiply upon the landscape.

inventory — Scientists create knowledge-bases of species and components of a landscape in order to understand how nature is composed. By knowing what is in a landscape, scientists will know what there is to protect.

invertebrate — an organism with an exoskeleton such as insects, spiders and crabs.

keystone species — An organism in the ecosystem that many other species depend upon for continued survival and support. Salmon are keystone species because when they die they supply many species with energy and nutrients, which are cycled throughout the ecosystem again and again.

lichen — A plant that is a combination of a fungus and an alga; commonly grows on trees or rocks.

life zone — A life zone is a related area on the landscape which is characterized by a like climate and a dominant set of species. On mountain ranges, life zones transition vertically. Tundra is the life zone where no trees can survive the extreme temperatures and fierce winds that exist.

logging — The removal of trees.

mammal — A group of air breathing animals having four appendages, fur or hair, and mammary glands. All but a very few are placental.

managed forests — Land outside a preserve or National Park Service site where forests are managed for harvest.

migration — Many animals move to a different location to find a better place to endure seasonal changes, to find recharged food supplies, to breed, to nurse young, to get space, etc. Migrations may be repeated within a species from year-to-year and even from generation-to-generation.

monoculture — Raising a crop of a single species, usually all the same age. A corn or bean field is a monoculture; so is a place where the original forest has been logged off and replanting has taken place. Usually, the most profitable and fastest-growing types of trees are planted. So what grows up doesn't necessarily have the diversity to be a true forest, but is a tree farm.

morphology — The physical structure of an organism. The visible characteristics of a species—the phenotype. The 'tree' is a morphology into which various species of plants have developed.

moss — A non-vascular spore-producing plant. Mosses are in the taxinomical class Bryopsida; though sometimes referred to as Musci.

multilayered canopy — Layering among the upper branches of differently sized trees, resulting in various levels of light, humidity and wind, as well as a wide variety of habitats. A multilayered canopy is one of the primary features of an ancient forest, providing shelter and food sources for a variety of animals and plants.

mutualism — Both organisms benefit from the arrangement. Example: Bees and apple trees have a mutually beneficial relationship. The bees get pollen and nectar while the tree gets pollinated. You have a mutualistic relationship with the grocery store. They benefit from your money while you benefit from the groceries.

mycelium — The mat of very thin filaments that comprise a fungus.

native — Any species which is found in the region of its origin. Any species that has not been newly introduced by humans into an ecosystem.

natural selection — The process in nature by which only those organisms best suited to survive and reproduce are breeding animals, thereby passing only those genes on to future generations. This usually means only those organisms possessing characteristics that best adapt them to a certain environment survive long enough to breed (or to breed the most) end up being the ones to pass the most of their characteristics (genes) into the future. "Survival of the fittest" very often doesn't have much to do with strength, at least not on the surface. A peacock, for example, drags that elaborate tail around not because it makes him strong, but because that is what females look for when choosing mates. His offspring will therefore be likely to also have an elaborate tail.

needle — The narrow leaves of most coniferous trees are described as needles.

niche — The role a particular species plays within its ecosystem; this includes its selection of food, water and shelter sources as well as other facets of its behavior.

nitrogen fixation — All plants need nitrogen to survive. Despite the fact that over 75% of our atmosphere is composed of nitrogen, it is in an elemental form that plants cannot use. Only certain kinds of bacteria associated with certain plants can "fix" the nitrogen into a usable form, which involves breaking the original molecule and adding hydrogen. These bacteria do this for themselves of course, but a lot of the nitrogen leaks out into the surrounding environment in different ways, where it is quickly snatched up by plants. The growth in many forest systems is limited by nitrogen levels. Manure is high in fixed nitrogen, and thus, is useful as fertilizer.

nocturnal — Animals that are most active during the hours of darkness are nocturnal. Bats, cats, mice and moths are good examples.

nonnative — A species of plant or animal which did not originate in its present location. The Norway rat is nonnative to America.

nonrenewable resource — A natural resource such as oil, copper or iron that once used cannot renew itself—at least not in this geological age. Other resources such as fish or trees can renew themselves if not overused and so are called renewable resources.

nurselog — A former tree that has died, fallen and begun to decompose. Nurselogs provide a moist, elevated pile of fertilizer on which other plants love to grow. In some systems, nurse logs are the only place where new woody plants are able to get a start.

nutrient — Any organic molecule needed by a plant or animal can be called a nutrient.

old-growth - A forest that is in the late stage of succession. Characteristics include: old trees woody-debris, snags, uneven canopy.

omnivores — Animals that eat many different kinds of foods, including plants, insects and other animals.

ornithologist — One who studies birds.

parasitism — One benefits while the other is harmed. Example: A flea is a parasite on a dog. The flea, benefits by drinking the dog's blood, but the dog, by losing blood and acquiring disease and discomfort, is harmed.

pellet — Owls eat their prey whole. After the meal is digested, the owl regurgitates undigested bones and hair into a pellet.

phloem — Small tubes that carry food from where it is photosynthesized in the leaves to the roots and other places in the plant where it is used and stored.

photosynthesis — The conversion of light energy into chemical (sugars) energy. This process takes place in green plants as they create their own food using only water, air and sunlight.

pioneer — A plant adapted to rapid colonization of ground recently vacated by its previous inhabitants. Pioneer plants usually grow very quickly and can often prosper in poor soil. Most of the plants in a vacant lot are going to be pioneer species, as are the plants trying to make a go of it in your gravel driveway or on a logged-off hillside. Dandelions, crabgrass, fireweed and alder trees are good examples from the Pacific Northwest.

piscivorous — Those animals that primarily feed on fish.

plant — A photosynthetic organism, usually multicellular.

Pleistocene — A epoch in Earth history from about 2-5 million years to 10,000 years ago. A series of glacial and interglacial periods built the landforms and current biota of the Pacific Northwest during these times.

precipitation — When water falls from the sky in the form of rain, snow, etc.

predator — An animal that eats other animals.

predictive models — Oceanographers, physicists, ecologists and other scientists input data and variables from nature into models and computer programs to try and predict the future of a ecosystem or natural process. Meteorologists do this daily in their weather forecasts. These predictive models tend to lose accuracy in time.

prehistoric — Occurring before written human history in a given area. Prehistory in North America began with the arrival of Columbus.

prescribed burn — When the health of a forest depends on fire and it is not possible to allow the landscape to burn naturally, due to homes or buildings nearby, forest ecologists carefully manage an intentionally-lit fire.

prey — An animal that is eaten by other animals.

processes — The 'action verbs' of an ecosystem. For example: consume, decompose, exchange, produce, transfer, recycle, reproduce, and succeed are all ecosystem processes. These processes unite biological communities together into a web of life. The process that binds human community together is communication.

producer — In nature, producer generally refers to the organisms at the bottom of the food chain, namely plants. They are producing organic material from inorganic components like carbon dioxide and water.

productivity — Land managers use the term productivity to describe the quantity of a resource or the amount of energy produced by an ecosystem. Land productivity is naturally higher in early succession ecosystems and lower in climax (undisturbed, old) ecosystems.

rain — Liquid precipitation. Quite a bit of the air we breath, especially in Western Washington, consists of water vapor. A gas, water vapor is individual molecules zinging around, bouncing off each other and other air molecules and tiny particles of smoke, dust, etc. If this madhouse of caroming molecules and particles cool down, they slow down. And if they slow down, they are less likely to bounce off one another and more likely to stick to one another. If enough of the water molecules stick together, they will form a droplet big enough to see. If a lot of this happens in a big area, we get a cloud. If a droplet gets so big that it can't float in the air anymore, it will fall as rain.

rainshadow — An area of reduced rainfall, usually on the lee side of a mountain range. Warm air can carry more water than cold air. For example, take a warm air mass cruising along the ground over Western Washington. It's probably pretty warm and carrying a lot of moisture from just having traveled across the Pacific. And kind of like a sponge it's going to dribble and spit water as it moves along. When it runs into the mountains, though, it's going to try to go up and over. When air goes up it cools off, and cool air can't hold as much moisture, so the sponge gets squeezed, so to speak, and it rains like crazy. By the time the air gets up and over the high country, most or all of the water is gone. So you can get the strange situation of a rain forest on one side of the mountains, and a few miles away in the rainshadow a desert.

range — The entire area where a certain species exists.

reach — A portion of a stream or creek that is mapped and monitored by researchers.

recycle — A very sensible practice of using things over again instead of throwing them away.

redd — A nest formed in river gravel by salmon and other fish.

refugia — During times of climatic upheaval or biological stress, areas exist on the globe where species can take refuge. These places are considered refugia by scientists. Places of past refugium are sometimes areas that still shelter an ecology of high biological diversity.

renewable resource — A natural resource that replenishes itself in the short term. For example, trees can be harvested and new trees can grow back in the same place. The opposite is a nonrenewable resource such as copper or oil. Once it is pulled out of the ground it isn't going to come back, at least not in this geological age.

reptile — An ectothermic (cold-blooded), air breathing animal with scales and a backbone; includes snakes, lizards, turtles, etc.

respiration — The metabolic process by which plants and animals convert food to energy. In humans, as with other organisms, breathing out carbon dioxide is a product of respiration.

riparian — The forest adjacent to rivers and streams. A river's water quality is protected by these vegetated areas.

rodent — A very successful group of mammals having enlarged incisor teeth; includes rats, mice, squirrels, beavers, etc.

roost — Bats, owls and other flying creatures take rest in roosts. Owls roost by perching upright in tree cavities and on branches. Bats hang from trees, cave walls, tree bark, attics and other safe hollows when roosting.

salmonid — Any species of fish from the family Salmonidae. Salmon, trout and char are examples of salmonids from the Pacific Northwest.

sample — A portion of a biological community that is chosen to represent the whole.

saprophyte — Saprophytes are organisms, usually a plant or fungi, that obtain their nutrients directly from dead material in the soil, and not through the process of photosynthesis.

sapwood — The complex vascular system within a tree through which water and minerals are transported and distributed.

saturation — When a substance is holding as much as it possibly can, it is saturated. For example, the Seattle area is saturated with convenience stores. It is a useful term in the water cycle to describe when the ground is holding as much water as it can and begins to leak water into low areas to create streams.

scat — The excrement of an animal.

scavenger — Scavengers are opportunists who search for or take advantage of useful dead organic material; usually described as a member of the decomposer community, but not all necessarily dependent upon dead material. A coyote, for example, will kill a rabbit, but will also take advantage of a dead deer it may happen across. It isn't a scavenger when it kills the rabbit, but it is when it drags off a leg of the dead deer.

sediments — The accumulated layers of silt, mud, stones, etc. on the bottom of a body of water. When streams flow they always carry a certain amount of stuff with them, especially during times of flood. When the moving water reaches still water, such as a lake or bay, then there isn't enough energy, enough "stirring," to keep the particles suspended. So they sink to the bottom; big heavy stuff first, small particles follow. This is sediment. (The sludge you get on the bottom of a glass of chocolate milk could be called sediment). If the sediment stays there undisturbed long enough, time and the weight of other sediments will turn it to stone. Geologists can tell a lot about what happened in the past by examining these layers. How they are distributed, what's in them, etc.

seed — The reproductive part of the plant. May (apple) or may not (grass) be inside a fruit. Sometimes with wings, barbs or other means of dispersal.

shade-tolerant — Vegetation, especially trees, that have the ability to grow in low-light conditions are considered shade-tolerant. Many late-succession tree species fair well due to their love of shade and can become the dominant species in a forest ecosystem.

smolt — The life stage of a salmon or trout in which it first enters the sea.

snags — Snags are standing dead trees—another hallmark feature of ancient forests. Snags provide food and habitat for many creatures including insects and many tree-nesting birds.

spawn — External fertilization. (All external fertilization occurs in water.) When the female releases eggs into the water, the male releases sperm in the immediate vicinity, fertilizing the eggs.

species — A group of organisms different from all others in that they do not interbreed with any others.

spore — The reproductive 'seed' from fungi such as mushrooms and lower plants such as ferns and mosses. Some spores are indigestible, and so are often distributed by traveling in the gut of the animal that ate the mushroom to be deposited elsewhere. Many spores are so small as to be nearly weightless and waft away on the wind, sometimes into the upper atmosphere to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles.

stability — Ecosystems tend toward stability. If not, trees would grow at angles to the earth, deer populations would spread like wildfire across the globe, and mountains unimpeded by erosion or gravity would thrust into space.

stomata — On needle-bearing trees such as Western hemlock and Douglas-fir, large rows of stomata's can be seen as the white stripes on the underside of each needle. Generally, stomata are small holes on the underside of a leaf through which water is transpired.

subalpine zone — The area between the continuously forested (montane) zone and the high elevation alpine zone. Usually very park-like in appearance, characterized by a mixture of alpine and forest shrubs and herbs interspersed with patches of subalpine trees like mountain hemlock or subalpine fir. Subalpine meadows are often turned into seas of brilliant flowers during the brief mountain summer.

succession — The slow process of change from one type of plant community to another. An example from North Cascades lowland forests is the progression, over hundreds of years, from Douglas-fir seedlings that colonize an area after a fire to an ancient forest of giant western hemlocks and red-cedars. Fires, blowdowns, floods and other changes cause nearly constant interruptions in the long succession process.

suppression — Where wildland fires have been stopped by human methods, fire ecologists consider natural fires to have been suppressed in that landscape. Fire suppression can sometimes lead to an extremely hazardous situation as downed and dead wood accumulate and increase the possibility of a disastrous, unnaturally hot fire.

survey — Researchers record in detail an organized set of information on the nature of that which they are exploring.

symbiosis — Plants and/or animals, that live together in some way, have an interconnected relationship. There are different ways symbiosis can happen: parasitism, commensalism, mutualism. Most organisms function under a varied combination of all three symbiotic methods during different phases of their life cycle.

systematic — Science in general is a systematic approach to discovery. Systematic sciences follow logical, consistent and ordered methods.

talus — Where mountains have crumbled and vegetation has not yet taken hold, slopes of talus (large rocks) and scree (small, loose rocks) remain.

taxon — Similar to the word "species," but used to describe a more general, less specific group of organisms; plural, taxa.

territory — An area within the range of an individual animal that it will defend against intruders. For example, a fox might range over an area of several square miles, but only defend a small area near its den, and then only when it has young. You might range over an entire city and beyond, but only defend your own property or maybe only the house. You too will become much less tolerant of intruders (i.e. a larger territory) if you have children around.

timber — Standing trees; more often used when referring to future lumber.

timberline — Where the trees end and meadows begin.

transect — A narrow strip along which researchers count organisms within communities to determine species' populations and variability.

transpiration — Transpiration is the loss of water vapor from a plant and tree through small holes called stomata in leaves or needles. This process allows the plant to release water that has been absorbed by the roots and transported through the rest of the plant. Transpiration is one way water is cycled back into the atmosphere.

tributary — Tributaries are the capillaries of river systems. Fish and other species take refuge in these waters. Tributaries are also essential to fish for spawning and for the rearing of young.

tundra — An area with weather conditions too extreme to allow standing trees. Plant growth is limited to low growing vegetation less vulnerable to wind. Tundra is found in the far north and at high elevations in more southerly latitudes. One of the characteristics of far-north tundra is permafrost, wherein the ground a few inches below the surface is permanently frozen, preventing deep root growth.

understory — Plants such as small trees, bushes, herbs and grasses that grow below the canopy level in a forest. In the North Cascades, dense understories commonly occur in areas where abundant light falls on the forest floor, such as recently burned sites.

uneven canopy — The complex array of trees and brush of varying heights that are characteristic of most natural forests. This variety creates places and situations where many different kinds of animals (and plants by definition) can make a living. Tree farms usually have trees of mostly the same or a very few species, and mostly the same age and height. So while tree farms may superficially look like a forest, many of the most important parts of a healthy forest are absent. Tree farms are a great way to grow trees for the lumber we need, but aren't so good for many kinds of wildlife.

upwelling — A current that carries nutrients from the bottom of the ocean to the surface.

variability — The proportion or ratio of organisms within a community. Instead of counting each and every organism, scientists measure the variability of populations to look for change over time. In your class, student variability may be 4 girls for every 3 boys.

variable — In the scientific method, variables are the all the various parts or characteristics in nature. In the science of fire ecology, for instance, fuel, vegetation type, brush, tree size, density, species and climate are all variables that affect how fire plays out its role in landscapes.

vascular — Vascular plants contain tubing that pump sugars, nutrients and water through a plant's tissues. Non-vascular plants, like mosses and liverworts, have poorly developed fluid transportation systems.

virgin forest — A forest that hasn't been affected by humans at all.

vocalization — A term used to describe sounds made by birds and other animals. As with humans, vocalizations are produced to communicate within and among species.

water cycle — The process by which water keeps getting used over and over again. Very basically, water cycles from the ocean up into the sky. The clouds then travel over land where they drop their load of water which flows back to the sea.

watershed — A topographical basin or drainage that funnels water into one major river, lake, water body or other location.

wildlife — Usually refers to large wild animals like deer, mice, birds, etc. that have not been domesticated for human use. The term is usually not used to describe smaller animals like insects.

woody-debris — Fallen trees, limbs, branches, stumps and logs are considered woody-debris by forest ecologists.

Glossary modified from original text supplied to Olympic National Park by Tom Butler.
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