Endemism is the ecological state of being unique to a particular geographic location, such as a specific island, habitat type, nation or other defined zone. To be endemic to a place or area means that it is found only in that part of the world and nowhere else. For example, many species of lemur are endemic to the island of Madagascar. Physical, climatic and biological factors can contribute to endemism. For example, the Orange-breasted Sunbird is endemic to Fynbos, meaning it is exclusively found in the Fynbos vegetation type of southwestern South Africa.
There are two subcategories of endemism - paleoendemism and neoendemism. Paleoendemism refers to a species that was formerly widespread but is now restricted to a smaller area. Neoendemism refers to a species that has recently arisen such as a species that has diverged and become reproductively isolated, or one that has formed following hybridization and is now classified as a separate species. This is a common process in plants especially those which exhibit polyploidy.
An opposite notion is cosmopolitan distribution.
Endemic types or species are especially likely to develop on islands because of their geographical isolation. This includes remote island groups, such as Hawaii, the Galápagos Islands, and Socotra. Endemism can also occur in biologically isolated areas such as the highlands of Ethiopia, or large bodies of water like Lake Baikal.
Endemics can easily become endangered or extinct because of their restricted habitat and vulnerability to the actions of man, including the introduction of new organisms. There were millions of both Bermuda Petrels and "Bermuda cedars" (actually junipers) in Bermuda when it was settled at the start of the 17th century. By the end of the century, the petrels were thought to be extinct. Cedars, decimated by centuries of shipbuilding, were driven nearly to extinction in the 20th Century by the introduction of a parasite. Both petrels and cedars are very rare today, as are other species endemic or native to Bermuda.
Endemic organisms are not the same as indigenous organisms — a species that is indigenous to somewhere may be native to other locations as well. An introduced species, also known as a naturalized or exotic species, is an organism that is not indigenous to a given place or area.
Some of the principal threats to these special ecosystems are: