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A glossary of terminology used in marine biology, ecology and, geology

This is a first beta-version of the glossary which will be modified subject to feedback from scientists and other users. New versions will be approved by the Editorial Committee at intervals. We welcome your suggestions for improved definitions, additional terms to be included, and references to be included in the bibliography

How to get involved?

Go to glossary 1.0, and send comments back by email in plain text.


Costello MJ, Harris P, Pearce B, Fauchald K, Fiorentino A, Bourillet J-F, Hamylton S (editors) 2010. A glossary of terminology used in marine biology, ecology, and geology. Version 1.0.


This glossary is a collaboration between the scientists of the GEOHAB (Marine Geological and Biological Habitat Mapping) and WoRMS (World Register of Marine Species) communities. It is intended to be:

  • Authoritative (definitions approved by scientists well-established in the subject areas);
  • Peer-reviewed by both prior approval of experts and exposure to feedback from users;
  • Open-access (freely available online) for others to use;
  • transparent (contributors and persons responsible will be acknowledged);
  • expert controlled (a small editorial group will approve changes to the definitions);
  • participatory (users are encouraged to criticize definitions and suggest additional terminology for inclusion);
  • expanded (as users demand and experts are willing);
  • modified based on feedback and changing use of terminology;
  • contribute to data management by providing definitions for use of terminology in databases, and assisting the development of ontologies that relate terms to each other;
  • permanent with editors being replaced as their availability changes and new expertise is desirable;
  • contribute to associated initiatives including the Encyclopedia of Life (EoL), Census of Marine Life (CoML), World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), International Ocean Data and Information Exchange (IODE) of the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

Editorial committee

  • Mark J. Costello, University of Auckland, New Zealand
  • Peter Harris, Geology Australia, Geoscience Australia
  • Gary Greene, Seadoc Society, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, USA
  • Andrea Fiorentino, Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale (ISPRA), Roma , Italy
  • Bryony Pearce, Marine Ecological Surveys Ltd, UK
  • Guy Cochrane, United States Geological Survey, USA
  • Markus Diesing, Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture, UK
  • Andrew Heap, Geoscience Australia, Australia
  • Sarah Hamylton, University of Cambridge, UK
  • Jean-François Bourillet, IFREMER, France
  • Kristian Fauchald, Smithsonian Institution of Natural History, Washington, USA


It does not intend to provide a review or history of all uses of particular terms, nor how they may be used in other fields of research. The definitions are those recommended for use in marine biology, ecology and geology. Where a term has different uses that the editors feel require clarification, then these will be included. At present, this glossary excludes terminology specific to the following areas: names of marine species and higher taxa (see the World Register of Marine Species at www.marinespecies.org); place names (see gazetteers at marineregions.org and www.gebco.net/data_and_products/undersea_feature_names); taxonomy; physiology; archaeology; fisheries; legal and regulatory terms; acronyms. The glossary could be expanded should experts offer to do so and where no existing online peer-reviewed glossary exists.

Further reading

  • Costello M.J. 2009. Distinguishing marine habitat classification concepts for ecological data management. Marine Ecology Progress Series 397, 253-268. http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v397/p253-268/
  • International Hydrographic Organization 1953. Limits of oceans and seas. International Hydrographic Organization Special Publication No. 23, 39 pp.
  • International Hydrographic Organization 2008. Standardization of undersea feature names. Guidelines proposal form terminology. International Hydrographic Bureau, Bathymetric Publication No. 6, 24 pp.
  • Lincoln RJ, Boxshall GA, Clark PF. 1998. A dictionary of ecology, evolution and systematics. 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Foucault A. and Raoult J.-F., 2001. Dictionnaire de Géologie. Guides pédagogiques Régionaux, 5e éd. Dunod, Paris, 379 pp.
  • Michel J.-P. and Fairbridge R.W., 1980. Dictionary of Earth Science English-French French-English. Dictionnaire des Sciences de la Terre Anglais-Français Français-Anglais. In: Michel&Fairbridge (Editor). Masson Publishing USA, New York, pp. 411.

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