Endemic, Native, Non-native, and Invasive Species

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Animals and plants that live in a specific geography are classified by how natural those species are to the environment they are found in. These animals and plants may be classified as endemic, native, non-native, or invasive.

So what do these terms mean? Here are definitions and examples for each of the term.

Native Species

Native animals and plants are species that have originated and evolved in a local area over a long period of time. Species that are native are described in terms of their geographic origin. For example, the Joshua Tree is native to the Southwest American desert.

Endemic Species

Endemic plants and animals are native species that only grow in one location in the world.

Examples of Endemic Species

The haha plant (Cyanea calycina) is a rare and endangered plant that grows only in Hawaii. The haha is a flowering perennial shrub that is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands.

A picture looking up at a broad leaf plant.
Haha plant (Cyanea calycina) is endemic to Hawaii. Photo: Lucas Fortini, USGS-PIERC, public domain.

The Columbia torrent salamander (Rhyacotriton kezeri) is a headwater-stream-associated amphibian species that is endemic to the Pacific Northwest in the United States. The salamander makes its habitat in the coastal areas from northwestern Oregon to Washington state.

A salamander sitting on top of moss.
Columbia torrent salamander (Rhyacotriton kezeri) near Olympia, WA. Photo: Christopher Cousins, USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, public domain.

Non-native Species

Non-native species are plants and animals that evolved in a different area of the world that now grow elsewhere. Non-native species are also known as exotic species.

Non-native species can be introduced either intentionally or accidentally. Many ornamental garden flowers, shrubs, and trees are non-native species.

Invasive Species

An invasive species is a non-native specie that has a negative impact on the ecosystem it is introduced to. Invasive species tend to aggressively and quick grow in population and are a disruptive presence to the local ecosystem.

Examples of Invasive Species

Tamarisk is a small invasive shrub or tree that grows throughout the American West. Tamarisk produces lavender flowers. Also known as saltcedar, tamarisk is able to grow in high saline, low water areas altered by dams that native plants are unable to survive in.

This invasive species has the potential to affect the quality of habitat for some wildlife, the way floodplain vegetation uses water, and the frequency and intensity of wildfires. The Tamarisk Beatle was introduced in 2005 to reduce the incidence of Tamarisk.

Two aquatic plants, one with white flowers and the other with lavender flowers, grow along a stream bank.
Tamarisk, an invasive plant, produces lavender flowers. Photo: John Parks, USGS, public domain.

Small, non-native mussels known as zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) are native to Russia. This species arrived in North America in the ballast water of a transatlantic cargo in 1988 and colonized areas of Lake St. Clair. Zebra mussels have spread to all five Great Lakes in less than a decade.

A close up view of a clump of zebra mussels underwater.
Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha). Photo: Jeff Allen, USGS, public domain.

The Burmese python is native to the country that used to be known as Burma (its name was changed to Myanmar in 1989). The Burmese python is also native to other parts of Southeast Asia.

After being introduced to Florida in the 1990s as an exotic pet, the Burmese Python became established in Florida’s Everglades National Park where it is an invasive species. The python preys on local species, causing a drop in the number of native species.

Learn more: Florida’s Invasive Species: A Look at the Burmese Python

A Burmese python coiled in the grass in the Everglades.
A Burmese python coiled in the grass in the Everglades. Photo: Bryan Falk, USGS. Public domain.

Naturalized Non-native Species

Naturalized non-native species are exotic plants and animals that have been able to persist in an ecosystem over time without human assistance.

References and Further Reading

Communications and Publishing. (2022, March 2). With livestock gone, an island’s decimated native flora makes a comeback. USGS.gov. https://www.usgs.gov/news/featured-story/livestock-gone-islands-decimated-native-flora-makes-comeback

Southwest Biological Science Center. (2016, December 30). Southwestern riparian zones, tamarisk plants, and the tamarisk beetle. USGS.gov. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/southwest-biological-science-center/science/southwestern-riparian-zones-tamarisk-plants-and