Ecosystems – Vocabulary for Children

active  Keeping a pattern of sleeping, eating, and moving about.

 adaptation  A special feature of a plant or animal’s body or behavior that helps it to survive.

algae  Small, usually green, plant-like organisms without flowers or seeds, found in or near water, free-floating or growing on rocks (and making them green and slippery).

antler  Branching extension of the skull, made of bone, on animals in the deer family, that is grown and shed each year (unlike horns, which are never shed).

bacteria  Microscopic living organisms, usually one-celled, that can be found everywhere, including inside our bodies. Some are harmful and some are helpful, such as those that break down organic material in the leaf litter or a compost pile.

biodegrade  To be broken down by decomposers and turned back into nutrients in the soil.

browse  Vegetation like twigs, buds and leaves eaten by animals; to feed on or nibble at leaves, twigs and buds.

cache  Stored food; or, to store away a supply of food.

canopy  The topmost branches of the trees in the forest.

carnivore  An animal that eats meat.

castings  Worm droppings that look like tiny balls of mud. They contain minerals that enrich the soil.

clitellum  The thickened band (or in some worms, a constriction) on an earthworm’s body that is important in reproduction.

collector  Stream insect that gathers and eats tiny plants, animals, or organic matter floating in the water.

community  All the living things in a place that interact with each other.

compost  Putting vegetable peelings and other food wastes into a bin or pile to create the right conditions for decomposers like insects, bacteria and fungi to turn them into rich fertilizer for the soil.

coniferous  Trees with waxy, needle-like or scaly leaves that carry their seeds in woody cones; most keep their needles all year.

consumers  Animals, because they eat other animals or plants and cannot produce their own food.

current  Flowing water moving in a particular direction.

deciduous  Trees that lose their leaves in winter and grow new ones in the spring.

decompose  To rot or decay, break down.

decomposers  Organisms that feed on dead organic matter, such as bacteria, fungi, earthworms, millipedes, various insects and others.

decomposition  The process of decay, in which dead organic matter is broken down completely so that it becomes part of the soil.

deer yard  A place where deer congregate in winter for shelter, usually an evergreen stand on a south-facing slope.

diurnal  An animal that is active in the daytime.

dormant  Sleeping for long periods of time in winter, only waking up occasionally to eat.

drey  A squirrel’s nest, often made of leaves and built high in tree branches.

ecosystem  All the plants and animals in a place, and the many ways they are connected to each other and to the non-living parts of their environment.

emergent plants  Plants that grow with roots underwater, leaves and flowers above water, found along edges of ponds, lakes and streams.

fibrous  Roots that are like many branching threads.

field marks  Special features of animals that help with their identification (e.g. stripes, spots, patches of color).

food chain  A group of organisms that are linked because each one is eaten by the one above it in the sequence, from plant to plant-eater to meat-eater.

food supply  The amount of food available in a habitat.

food web  The many interconnected food chains in an ecosystem.

forest ecosystem  All the living and nonliving things in a forest and the many ways they are important to each other.

forest edge  The border between forest and a different type of habitat like a field or wetland, a habitat preferred by some animals like white-tailed deer.

forest floor  The ground beneath a forest, where leaf litter collects and low plants like ferns, mosses and tree seedlings grow.

forest layers  Different habitats in the forest created by  plants that grow at different heights, such as the canopy, understory, shrub layer or forest floor.

frass  The sawdust-like droppings of insect larvae.

fungi  A group of organisms that includes molds, mushrooms, yeasts, mildews and others, which lack chlorophyll and get nutrients from the organic matter on which they live.

gizzard  A muscular part of the digestive tract for grinding up tough food, usually with the help of swallowed bits of gravel.

graze  To feed on grasses in a field.

habitat  The place where a plant or animal naturally lives, and where it can get what it needs to live and grow.

herbivore  An animal that eats plants.

herd  A group of deer or other hoofed animals.

hibernate  To spend the winter in an underground den in a special body state with greatly-lowered breathing and heart rate, not eating or leaving the den for many months.

hoof  The hard foot pad on animals like deer, moose, cows, horses, goats and sheep.

humus  The dark, organic matter in the soil that adds nutrients and helps to hold moisture.

hyphae  Fine, white, hair-like strands in the soil that are a  part of the fungi that inhabit the soil; fungal threads.

inhabitant  An animal or plant that lives in a particular place.

insulation  A material that keeps heat from escaping or at least slows the loss of heat. In animals, fat, fur and feathers provide insulation.

landfill  A place where people bury garbage to get it out of the way.

larder-hoarder  An animal that stores food in one location, such as red squirrels, storing piles of cones at the bases of a trees for a winter supply.

larva  The worm-like stage of insects that hatches from the egg, found in insects with complete metamorphosis, during which the insect does most of its feeding and growing.

leaf litter  The layer of fresh and decaying leaves, twigs, seeds and other organic matter that collects on the forest floor.

litter  To carelessly throw garbage where it does not belong.

midden  In squirrels, a pile of discarded husks, nutshells, cones or other wastes.

migrate  To make a regular trip, often of very long distance, between separate summer and winter habitats.

migratory  Animals that have different homes in different seasons, often far apart, and travel between them every year.

mineral  In soil, chemicals from rock bits that provide nutrition for plants and animals.

natural resource  Something we get from the natural world that we use, such as rock, minerals, fresh water, or appreciate, like forests and national parks.

niche  The place where an animal or plant lives, and its special role in that community.

nocturnal  An animal that is active at night.

nutrients  Substances that provide nourishment for plants or animals.

nymph  An immature stage of insects found in those with simple metamorphosis; often looks like a miniature adult without wings.

omnivore  An animal that eats both plants and meat.

open water  The middle of a pond or lake, away from the shore.

organic matter  Bits of dead and decaying plant and animal material.

pollution  The act of putting harmful substances into the environment; the harmful substances that are put into the environment.

pond  A small body of still water, usually shallow enough to have plants growing across the bottom from shore to shore.

pool  A deep, slow-moving section of a stream.

predator  An animal that hunts for and eats other animals.

prey  An animal that is hunted by other animals for food.

producers  Plants – because they can make their own food using the sun’s energy through photosynthesis.

recycle  To turn materials that we manufactured for one use into another useful product; to return nutrients to the soil where they can be taken up by other organisms.

reduce  To use less or buy less of things that become part of our wastes.

resources  Things an animal needs that it gets from its habitat, like food, water, shelter and a place to raise its young.

reuse  To find other ways to use things when we are done with them, rather than throwing them away.

riffle  A stretch of shallow, choppy, fast-moving water flowing over a rocky streambed.

ruminant  A grazing animal with a rumen, a special stomach chamber with bacteria that help to digest the food; animals that chew their cud.

run  A stretch of smooth, deep, fast-moving water in a stream.

scatter-hoarder  An animal that stores food in many locations, often a single item in each place, such as gray squirrels that store individual acorns in separate holes scattered through the forest.

scraper-feeder  Stream insect that scrapes algae off rocks for food.

segment  A body section; earthworms’ bodies are divided into many similar segments.

setae  Tiny bristles such as those found on the underside of an earthworm.

shredder  Stream insect that chews up leaves that fall into the water for food, and in the process provides bits of  food for smaller insects downstream.

shrub  A bush; low-growing woody plant with several stems.

snag  Tree that is dead but has not yet fallen over; provides homes for many forest animals and plants.

solid waste  The garbage that humans produce, including everything from food scraps to refrigerators.

spores  Part of the life cycle of mosses, ferns, and others, these tiny grains contain a cell that can grow into a new plant.

stream  A body of water that flows downhill in a channel in the landscape.

subnivean  Under the snow; a space the forms between the earth and the bottom of the snowcover, where small animals find shelter in winter.

surface film  A term used to describe how water acts like it has a thin skin on top. Some small insects can walk on top of the water because of it (e.g. water striders).

tap root  A single tapering root that grows vertically downward.

territory  An area that an animal, a pair of animals, or a group of animals defends from others of its kind.

understory  The smaller or younger trees in the forest with branches forming a layer below the canopy.

wing buds  Four small structures on an insect nymph’s back that will develop into adult insect wings.