Ecosystem Definitions

These 14 definitions standardize and unify the language across different frameworks to facilitate investment in ecosystem restoration and conservation as part of the BASIN Protocol.

Cultivated & Developed

Cultivated & Developed areas include agricultural lands and urbanized areas significantly altered by human activities. These spaces are crucial for food production and human habitation but often have reduced biodiversity compared to natural ecosystems.

Urban Open Space

Urban Open Spaces are vegetated areas in urban settings, where at least 80% of the land is covered by vegetation and less than 20% is impervious surface.

Rural Open Space

Rural Open Spaces are vegetated areas in rural settings, characterized by at least 80% vegetation cover and less than 20% impervious surfaces.

Rivers & Lakes

Bodies of freshwater that serve as a crucial element in regional and global water cycles. They provide habitat for a wide range of species and are a resource for human activities such as fishing, transportation, and recreation.

Inland Wetlands

Inland wetlands are ecosystems where the soil is periodically saturated or covered by water. They include swamps, marshes, peatlands, bogs, floodplains, and wetlands dependent on groundwater.

Tropical Forests

Forests located in equatorial regions, typically characterized by high biodiversity and closed tree canopies generally taller than 5 meters, comprising more than 20% of the vegetation. These forests maintain a year-round warm climate and high humidity, supporting a wide array of species.

Temperate Forests

Forests in regions with distinct seasons, ranging from deciduous to evergreen types, found across both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. These ecosystems experience varied temperature and precipitation patterns, hosting diverse flora and fauna adapted to seasonal changes.

Boreal Forests

Also referred to as Taiga, Boreal Forests are found in high northern latitudes, known for long, cold winters and short summers. Dominated by spruce, fir, and pine, they feature a sparse understory and are significant for carbon storage, habitat provision, and their extensive coverage, underscoring their importance in the global climate system.

Coastal Systems

Coastal Systems encompass coastal and transitional habitats including tidal wetlands, beaches, and dunes. While estuaries are represented within multiple ecosystems, shellfish reefs, coral reefs, and deepwater habitats are excluded due to their categorization under the Marine scope.


Grasslands are ecosystems dominated by grasses. These areas can be naturally occurring or semi-natural and are not intensely managed, although they can be utilized for grazing.


Shrublands are ecosystems dominated by shrubs and typically have limited soil fertility.

Polar & Alpine

Polar & Alpine ecosystems include tundra, polar regions, and high-elevation mountain systems.


Deserts are ecosystems characterized by low rainfall, extremes of temperature, and desiccating winds.


Subterranean ecosystems encompass a range of underground habitats, both natural and human-made.

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