The habitat concept and a plea for standard terminology Academic Article uri icon


  • We compared the uses and definitions of habitat-related terms in 50 articles from 1980 to 1994 to operational definitions we derived from the literature. Only 9 (18%) of the articles we reviewed defined and used habitat-related terms consistently and according to our definitions of the terms. Forty-seven articles used the term 'habitat;' however, it was only defined and used consistent with our definition in 5 articles (11%) and was confused with vegetation association or defined incompletely in 42 papers (89%). 'Habitat type' was the term most commonly used incorrectly; 16 of 17 times (94%) it was used to indicate vegetation association, but habitat and vegetation association are not synonymous. Authors did not provide definitions for habitat use, selection, preference, or availability 23 of 28 times (82%). We concluded that habitat terminology was used vaguely in 82% of the articles we reviewed. This distorts our communication with scientists in other disciplines and alienates the public because we give ambiguous, indefinite, and unstandardized answers to ecological questions in public and legal situations. Scientists should define and use habitat terminology operationally, so that the concepts are measurable and accurate. We must take the challenge to standardize terminology seriously, so that we can make meaningful statements to advance science.

published proceedings

  • Wildlife Society Bulletin

author list (cited authors)

  • Hall, L. S., Krausman, P. R., & Morrison, M. L.

complete list of authors

  • Hall, LS||Krausman, PR||Morrison, ML

publication date

  • March 1997