Exotic Species vs. Invasive Species

What's the Difference?

Exotic species and invasive species are both terms used to describe non-native organisms that have been introduced to a new environment. However, there are key differences between the two. Exotic species refer to any species that is not native to a particular ecosystem, regardless of its impact on the environment. These species may or may not cause harm to the ecosystem they are introduced to. On the other hand, invasive species specifically refer to exotic species that have a negative impact on the environment, economy, or human health. Invasive species often outcompete native species for resources, disrupt natural ecosystems, and can cause significant damage to the environment. Therefore, while all invasive species are exotic, not all exotic species are invasive.


Exotic Species
Photo by Simon Hurry on Unsplash
AttributeExotic SpeciesInvasive Species
DefinitionSpecies that are introduced to an area outside their native rangeExotic species that establish and spread rapidly, causing harm to the environment, economy, or human health
OriginNative to a different geographic regionCan be native or non-native
ImpactMay have positive, negative, or neutral effects on the ecosystemGenerally have negative impacts on the ecosystem
SpreadMay or may not spread rapidlySpread rapidly and outcompete native species
ControlMay or may not require control measuresOften require control measures to prevent further spread
ManagementMay or may not require management effortsUsually require active management to mitigate their impacts
ExamplesRed fox in Australia, Africanized honeybees in the AmericasBurmese python in Florida, zebra mussels in the Great Lakes
Invasive Species
Photo by Shannon Kunkle on Unsplash

Further Detail


When it comes to the world of biodiversity, there are various types of species that exist. Two such categories are exotic species and invasive species. While both terms are often used interchangeably, they actually represent distinct concepts. In this article, we will explore the attributes of exotic species and invasive species, highlighting their differences and similarities.

Exotic Species

Exotic species, also known as non-native or alien species, refer to organisms that are introduced to an ecosystem outside their natural range. These species can be plants, animals, or microorganisms. Exotic species are typically brought to new environments intentionally or unintentionally by human activities, such as trade, travel, or colonization.

One key attribute of exotic species is their origin. They originate from a different geographic region or ecosystem, often thousands of miles away from their new habitat. This means that they may have evolved under different environmental conditions, leading to unique adaptations that can impact the new ecosystem they are introduced to.

Exotic species can have both positive and negative impacts on their new environment. Some exotic species can become valuable additions to the ecosystem, providing new food sources, enhancing biodiversity, or even contributing to economic activities like agriculture or tourism. For example, the introduction of honeybees to North America has been crucial for pollination and honey production.

However, not all exotic species have positive effects. Some can become invasive and cause significant harm to native species and ecosystems. This brings us to the next category of species we will explore: invasive species.

Invasive Species

Invasive species are a subset of exotic species that have the ability to establish and spread rapidly in their new environment, often outcompeting native species. Unlike exotic species in general, invasive species can cause ecological, economic, and even health-related problems.

One of the key attributes of invasive species is their ability to reproduce and spread quickly. They often have high reproductive rates, efficient dispersal mechanisms, and lack natural predators or controls in their new environment. These factors allow them to outcompete native species for resources such as food, water, and habitat.

Invasive species can have devastating effects on native ecosystems. They can outcompete native species for resources, leading to a decline in biodiversity. Invasive plants, for example, can form dense monocultures, reducing the availability of resources for other plants and disrupting the natural balance of the ecosystem. Invasive animals can prey on native species, disrupt food chains, and even cause the extinction of vulnerable species.

Furthermore, invasive species can also have economic impacts. They can damage crops, forests, and infrastructure, leading to significant financial losses. For instance, the introduction of the emerald ash borer beetle in North America has caused billions of dollars in damages to ash trees and the forestry industry.

Lastly, invasive species can pose health risks to humans and other animals. Some invasive species can carry diseases or parasites that can be transmitted to native species or even humans. For example, the Asian tiger mosquito, an invasive species in many parts of the world, is a known vector for diseases such as dengue fever and Zika virus.


While exotic species and invasive species are distinct categories, there are some similarities between them. Both types of species are introduced to new environments by human activities, either intentionally or unintentionally. They can both have ecological impacts, although the extent and nature of these impacts differ.

However, the key difference lies in their behavior and impact on the new environment. Exotic species, in general, may or may not become invasive. They can coexist with native species without causing significant harm or disruption. In contrast, invasive species have the ability to rapidly spread and outcompete native species, leading to negative ecological, economic, and health consequences.

Another difference is the level of control and management required. Exotic species that are not invasive may not require active management, as they do not pose significant threats to the ecosystem. However, invasive species often require active management strategies to prevent their spread and mitigate their impacts. This can involve measures such as eradication, control, or containment.


In conclusion, exotic species and invasive species are two distinct categories within the realm of biodiversity. Exotic species refer to organisms introduced to new environments outside their natural range, while invasive species are a subset of exotic species that have the ability to rapidly spread and outcompete native species. While some exotic species can have positive impacts, invasive species can cause significant harm to native ecosystems, economies, and even human health. Understanding the attributes and differences between these two categories is crucial for effective management and conservation efforts.

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