Dispelling the Confusion: “Non-native” vs “Invasive” Species

Confusion over terms “non-native” and “invasive” species puts wildlife at risk.

As our planet approaches a potential sixth mass extinction, accurate information about environmental issues is more important than ever. Misinformation, such as that surrounding the meaning of “invasive” species, inhibits progress in biodiversity and habitat conservation. Utmost care and diligence must be taken in all nature, ecology, science, conservation, and biology communications.

An issue that repeatedly surfaces is confusion over the terms “non-native” and “invasive.” According to the Convention on Biological Diversity:

Invasive alien species (IAS): Species whose introduction and/or spread outside their natural past or present distribution threatens biological diversity.

Non-native species: A species, subspecies or lower taxon, introduced outside its natural past or present distribution.

In biology, a non-native species did not originate in a given habitat, but may have a neutral or even positive effect on the ecosystem. An invasive species has a negative effect on the ecosystem. The bottom line is, invasive species are, by definition, harmful. Period.

The bottom line is, invasive species are, by definition, harmful. Period.

Articles and statements that suggest that invasive species are not a threat to biodiversity and ecosystem integrity put Earth’s plants, wildlife, and people at risk. As an organization dedicated to preventing extinctions, Island Conservation urges journalists, editors, and communicators of all kinds to clarify these terms. Spreading awareness about the difference between non-native and invasive is an important stride forward in the race against extinction.


Damage to Booby egg by invasive rat on Isla de la Plata, Ecuador. Credit: Rory Stansbury/Island Conservation

Featured photo: Damage to egg on Palmyra Atoll. Credit: Dena Spatz/Island Conservation

About Sara Kaiser

Sara received a BA in anthropology from UC Santa Cruz in 2014. As a freelance writer and editor, she seeks to produce and highlight stories that support ecological responsibility, body awareness, emotional intelligence, and creative action, and reveal the connections between them.

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