Xenodiversity as a term for non-native biodiversity

I recently ran across a term I hadn’t seen before – Xenodiversity, defined as the richness of a community or biota in alien species which in some cases can equal or exceed the richness of native species. The ecologist George W. Cox used it in his 2004 book “Alien Species and Evolution” (Island Press) but perhaps it was in use before that.

With the continuing and growing establishment of many plants and animals outside of their native ranges, the study of non-native species within native ecosystems is certainly a major subfield of ecology. Unfortunately all ecosystems on the planet are already either a mix of native/non-native or dominated by non-natives.


I don’t really like the term because to me it strongly implies life on planets other than Earth. Like Xenoplanets for instance.


True. Of course the term “alien” for organisms has similar dual meaning. I always thought being a xenobiologist as used in science fiction (like Star Trek), studying life on other planets, would be an amazing profession. But I guess we’re stuck studying alien life forms on Earth.


Its interesting, but Im not sure it works on this planet. There are some organisms which are introduced through human behaviour (as much as we like to think otherwise, humans are part of Nature), and some which are self-introduced. I`m thinking mainly about Australia to NZ, but there are moths that have crossed the Bearing Straights. Are these foreign, or just a step in a process too big for us to perceive.
Personally, I would like to know a better term than Nature to describe the world outside human presence!


I actually really like this term.
I don’t think at all that it “strongly implies” life on other planets, in fact I don’t think it even slightly suggests that.

Latin xeno = alien/stranger/guest/foreign

It is a nice familiar, succinct way of talking about such things as the ratio of native diversity to non-native diversity in an area. California, for example, has higher xenodiversity than Greenland.

California’s serpentine habitats have lower botanical xenodiversity than do its coastal prairies.

I’ll probably start using this!


I think it’s a useful term that clearly and more succinctly conveys the existing term non-native biodiversity. All scientific terminology is a way of clarifying and conveying the complexity of nature, and precise terms are helpful, even if they impose artificial boundaries or are not fully agreed upon. From what I can see, the term originated near the very end of the 20th century, defined by European marine ecologists Erkki Leppäkoski & Sergej Olenin (2000). Existing terms like native, indigenous, non-native, introduced, invasive, and exotic are widely established, even if their designation to a given species is controversial. As these terms are often applied to single species, recognizing how the suite of non-native species affects an ecosystem can provide more insight. If native biodiversity is to be preserved and studied, both it and its opposite needs to be clearly defined.


Between mullein, dandelions, apples, japanese knotweed, earthworms, and beech bark disease, sometimes I feel like my ecosystem is more xeno than endo, lol


Ok, but to be fair I would love to have a paper titled xenodiversity in … instead of “'the effect of non-native species in …” and I think that calling non natives foreign in the sense that the Latin root means outsider is a lot easier and consise than labeling organisms as non native. but this could lead to complications however as there are organisms that are further classified as non native invasive or non native naturalised. I guess this could hinder the understanding of the term for xenoecologists or NASA hahaha

Here’s the paper that alerted me to the term:


The prefix Xeno- has already been co-opted for off-planet organisms, no matter what the original root means. As such I’d not support this idea. It would introduce unnecessary confusion to an already complicated field. And universities are already teaching courses on xenobiology/astrobiology.

However there are a number of other options from classical languages. Of the 8 or so a quick look revealed the following two would probably be the best.

  • ectop - Greek - foreigner
  • othni - Greek - foreigner

Although for silliness’s sake barbar (eg. barbardiversity) is kind of amusing

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Xenodiversity is not bad and etymologically correct.

Here in Italy for alien species we also frequently use the term “specie alloctone” = allochthonous species (contrary of autochthonous) even though it seems more related to geology.


I recall autochthonous (indigenous) and allochthonous (originating elsewhere) from my ecology classes years ago. Was used in reference to organic materials and nutrients, such as carbon, and their point of origin (e.g., allochthonous carbon being transported into a particular area by streams from some higher elevation). Good words but a mouthful to say and harder to spell!


Xenophobia is against other countries, in South Africa.
Extra-terrestrial would be my way of saying off-planet.

I sincerely doubt it would cause any confusion whatsoever. Context is a powerful thing.

Gills, lamellae, stem, stipe, phyllary, so many terms we already use in botany have FAR more potential for causing confusion, but mostly don’t thanks to the situations in which they appear.

If you are reporting on the xenodiversity of a California coastal prairie and anyone gets excited that you’ve found slimy blue Neptunian visitors (and decided to report them in Madroño instead on the national news) that’s their problem…


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