This project was funded through a co-operative agreement between the Alaska Center for Conservation Science – Zoology Program and The Alaska Department of Fish and Game – Threatened, Endangered and Diversity Program
What is an endemic?
An endemic animal is a distinct species or subspecies that is unique to a restricted area or range. These animals may inhabit geographically isolated areas such as an island or a group of islands, or may be restricted to habitats found within a specific geographical (i.e. Brooks Range) or political (i.e. Alaska) range. Endemic species often exhibit specific habitat requirements, are sensitive to human activities (e.g. species introductions), and are thus often vulnerable to extinction.
We used four categories to describe the level of endemism for each taxa throughout our review. These include:
- State endemic (birds and mammals) – (Sub)species range is restricted to Alaska only;
- Breeding endemic (birds) – Breeding range for (sub)species is restricted to Alaska only, but winter range may extend beyond Alaska;
- Geographical endemic (birds and mammals) – (Sub)species range may extend into continuous habitat beyond the Alaska border no further than one adjacent state/province;
- Geographical breeding endemic (birds) – Breeding ground for (sub)species may extend into continuous habitat beyond the Alaska border no further than one adjacent state/province. Winter range may or may not exist beyond Alaska.
While we recognize that levels three and four are not true examples of ‘endemic’ species based on political boundaries, we believe this classification scheme allows us to highlight state endemics without losing the importance of species with ranges that extend into geographically continuous habitat slightly beyond the Alaskan border.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game recently highlighted ‘endemics’ as an important research focus in the Alaska Wildlife Action Plan. To help meet this research need, we compiled an accurate and up to date list of endemic species for Alaska, developed or updated existing range maps for each taxa, and updated Heritage conservation status ranks for each (sub)species. Obtaining consensus on which endemics are considered taxonomically valid and then delineating their current ranges will allow for more effective allocation of resources for conservation planning. Additionally, we have identified potential hotspots of endemism and investigated how they relate to biodiversity across the state. Detailed methods are available here.