Endemic species have been at the center of scientific research for many centuries. Botanists, zoologists and natural historians have been fascinated by the rarest and most unique plant and animal species and their habitats throughout the world. But what are the endemic species? Endemism occurs when a plant or animal species can only survive in a specific geographic location and cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. Endemic is the word used to describe the organism. The region in which these unique species live is further defined by one of the terms 3: 1) Endemic site, in the sense that the species occurs within a small range (for example on Mount Hood); 2) National endemic, in the sense that the species is found within a nation (only in Mexico, for example);
- Factors that influence high endemism rates –
Isolation is one of the main factors that lead to endemism. In remote areas of the world, external influences have not been able to shape the evolution and adaptation of animal and plant species. These organisms, therefore, evolve only in their very limited surroundings. They have not been exposed to diseases of the outside world, geographical changes or environmental disturbances. The islands are an excellent example and are often cited as having high levels of endemism. Again, this is due to their isolation from other parts of the world. Insular habitats are generally small with significant habitat and climatic diversity, which make them the perfect environment for endemic species. Moreover, the older the island, the more likely it is to carry a high number of endemic species.
The islands are not the only isolated geographical regions, however. Remote habitats can also occur on continents within different types of ecosystems. For example, lakes located away from other water bodies or valleys surrounded by high and impassable mountains also have a high degree of endemism. In places where a catastrophic event has occurred in the last ten thousand years or so, endemic species are not common. This is the case in Canada, which was covered in ice until about 11,000 years ago. Endemism has not had enough time to evolve and therefore endemic species are rare in Canada.
- Hotspots Of Endemism In The World –
In general, there is a significant overlap between the biodiversity hotspots of the world and its endemic hot spots. This is because biodiversity hotspots are defined by those areas that have an endemic fauna greater than 1,500 and that have lost over 70% of its original plant life due to habitat degradation. Indeed, of the 20 regions with the highest rates of endemism, 16 are also considered biodiversity hotspots. As mentioned above, the islands have high rates of endemism and include half of the regions 20. It is not surprising, therefore, that many of the world’s endemic hotspots are places like the US state of Hawaii, Madagascar, the Philippines, the Atlantic Islands , Taiwan, New Guinea, Galapagos Islands and New Caledonia. In Hawaii, for example, species 2 can be found, 000 of angiosperm plants. Of these, 94% to 98% are endemic. Something similar is seen in New Caledonia, where 76% of all plant species are endemic. Australia, China, Ecuador, India and Mexico are not only considered mega-universe countries, but also have high levels of endemism.
- Endemism and evolution –
As mentioned above, endemic species evolve in isolated conditions. This means that they did not have much competition between similar species and in some cases this lack of competition promoted symbiotic relationships between organisms. Symbiotic relationships occur when different species rely on each other to survive. Evolutionary radiation, when organisms evolve rapidly from a common ancestor to a wide variety of new species, is also more likely in isolated regions. This is because the lack of competition among other species leaves the niches in the ecosystem to be filled. An extreme number of species evolves, adapting to a very specific habitat and developing very specific survival requirements.
Researchers often consider the hotspots of endemism as evolving windows, allowing for in-depth study, hypotheses and observations. These regions are where the mysteries of evolution and nature can be solved, or at least better understood. Because endemic fauna in these areas is often simpler than that found on large continents, it makes it easier for scientists to understand their evolutionary progression.
- Why are endemic species easily vulnerable to threats? –
Endemic species are vulnerable to threats because they can only survive in a very limited range. The same habitat that keeps them alive limits them to survive. When their habitats are threatened by global climate change, human alterations and degradation, endemic species have nowhere else to go. Because they have not evolved to survive in various ecosystems and because they require a very specific circumference for their survival, these threats carry an even greater risk of extinction than they could have in larger and less endemic regions. Some of the most common threats to regional endemism include agriculture, urbanization, mining and registration. All these activities result in the degradation of the habitat caused by deforestation, pollution and the introduction of invasive species. These changes are harmful to endemic species. For example, about 75% of the species that have become extinct in the last hundred years are endemic.
- Importance of conservation of endemic species –
Conservation is important to prevent the global loss of biodiversity. When a species becomes threatened or extinct, the effect is widespread. Sometimes, it is only an endemic species that satisfies a need within an ecosystem; when this need is left empty, there is a chain reaction of events that leads to a continuous loss of biodiversity. Estimates suggest that when an endemic species of plants becomes extinct, between 10 and 30 other animal species become extinct. Therefore, the conservation of endemic species in particular is important.
Biodiversity is the foundation of healthy global ecosystems, in turn, healthy ecosystems support life, including human life. Without biodiversity, and especially endemic species, the earth would no longer be able to produce a sufficient quantity of our most basic needs: food, water and air. This is why biodiversity conservation efforts should focus primarily on endemic plant and animal species. Unless drastic measures are taken quickly, these species and their unique habitats will continue to decline and disappear.