Endemic plants and animals are those that are unique to a specific geographic region. This makes them incredibly special and more vulnerable to extinction. Because they are only found in certain locations, they require special conservation efforts.
What Does Endemic Mean?
Imagine that you live on a small island. Your family has spent generations there and has lived nowhere else in the world. There are other people in the world, but your entire family can only be found on this island.
In this instance, your family is endemic, geographically isolated and constrained to one part of Earth. This makes your family both unique and puts you at a higher risk of extinction. You are unique because you are only found in one place. And you are at risk for the exact same reason!
While most think of endemic as having to do with isolated island locations, the term is actually quite relative. Not all endemic species are located on islands. Any group of organisms found in only one location, large or small, can be considered endemic. Additionally, anything can be endemic - plants, animals, and even diseases can be geographically restricted. However, endemic should not be confused with the term native. While it is true that most endemic species are indigenous to their area, native species can be widespread and are not always limited to one location.
Small islands are great places to find endemic species, such as the lemurs of Madagascar and the tortoises of the Galápagos. But big islands also provide the same isolation on a larger scale. Hawaii, Australia, and Antarctica are all large landmasses where we find a great deal of endemic species. Koalas, kangaroos, and emperor penguins are all endemic.
Sometimes species become endemic due to habitat destruction. While not geographically isolated on an island, the Redwood Forest on the West Coast of the United States is endemic in that it is now almost entirely limited to California. Redwoods used to cover much of the United States but have been destroyed through logging and are now limited to a small conservation area.
Diseases can also be endemic. An endemic disease may be geographically isolated, or it may be isolated to a certain group. Malaria is an example of an endemic disease because it is mostly limited to small pockets of infection in Africa.
Influenza is another example. Various forms of influenza may be widespread across several geographic locations, but because it is limited to human populations and can't be spread to other animals, it is considered endemic. Endemic diseases are quite different from epidemic diseases, which are very widespread, or pandemic diseases, which are spread across most of the world.
Let's review. To be endemic is to be geographically isolated and constrained to one part of Earth. This makes species unique and at a higher risk of extinction.
Animals, plants, and diseases can all be endemic. People often think being endemic means you're living on an isolated island, but endemic species can be found anywhere as long as it's the only place they're found. Any group of organisms found in only one location, large or small, can be considered endemic.
Not all endemic plant and animal species are rare, but they are certainly one-of-a-kind. Limited to a specific area, endemic species are especially susceptible to environmental changes, habitat loss, and hunting pressure. Because they are not found anywhere else on Earth, they run a higher risk of extinction and often require conservation efforts that are as unique as they are.
When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to:
- Explain the difference between native and endemic species
- Discuss how plants, animals, and diseases can be endemic and provide examples of each
- Differentiate between endemic, epidemic, and pandemic diseases