Ecosystem Glossary

Algae Single or multicelled organisms, usually found in surface water, which produce their own food through photosynthesis.
Algae bloom An overgrowth of algae.
Anoxia The total lack of dissolved oxygen in water.
Amoeba A single-celled, shapeless, primitive form of animal life.
Benthic Bottom dwelling.
Brown tide A nontoxic overgrowth of algae that clouds the water and prevents sunlight from penetrating deeper waters.
Buffer A strip of grass, trees or other plant material that is designed to remove sediments and nutrients from runoff water before it goes into a water body.
Chloroplast the organelle in a plant cell that contains chlorophyll and is the site of photosynthesis.
Cyst A capsule formed around a microbe as the organism goes into a resting or spore stage.
Diatoms A class of algae characterized by silicified skeletons.
Dinoflagellate Any of an order of chiefly marine planktonic microorganisms that can move themselves through the water with a taillike structure. Autotrophic dinoflagellates photosynthesize, using inorganic nutrients, while heterotrophic dinoflagellates must feed on organic material.
Ecosystem Community of different species interacting with one another and their surroundings.
Estuary Coastal area at the mouth of a river where its fresh water mixes with salt water from the marine environment.
Food web complex network of feeding relationships in an ecosystem.
Hypoxia A condition that occurs when water contains too little dissolved oxygen to support the requirements of the organisms that live there.
Membrane A very thin layer of tissue.
Microbe A microorganism.
Nitrate (NO²-) a water-soluble form of nitrogen usable by plants when nitrites are unavailable.
Nitrite (NO7-)the water-soluble form of nitrogen most usable by plants.
Nonpoint source pollution Pollution that cannot be traced to a specific source. Often involves water washing pollution from a large section of land into a water body.
Nutrient Any substance an organism must take in to live, grow or reproduce.
Nutrient enrichment A condition that results when a water body receives more nutrients than the organisms within it need for normal life, growth and reproduction.
Phosphorus An organic nutrient required by plants. Often found in fertilizers and detergents.
Photosynthesis The formation of carbohydrates in the tissues of plants exposed to the sun.
Phytoplankton Microscopic floating plant life like algae and certain seagrasses.
Red tide An overgrowth of one of a number of dinoflagellates that causes discoloration of the water. Some organisms that cause red tides can release neurotoxins.
Riparian Of or related to the bank of a stream or river.
Watershed Land area that delivers the water, sediment and dissolved substances via small streams to a major stream.
Zooplankton Microscopic floating animal life, including krill and the larvae of various animals.

This glossary appeared in the special Fall issue of 1997 of Gulfwatch, a publication of the National Association of Conservation Districts in League City, TX. They can be reached at 281-422-3724 if you want to subscribe or need more info.

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