Island Endemics

Despite all the introductions, Ireland still has fewer species than Britain. However, there is a compensation for the reduced biodiversity of islands. Their isolation means that unique species can evolve - biologists call these ‘island endemics’.

Unfortunately we haven’t been an island for very long. Experts don’t agree about the precise date when Ireland finally became isolated from the rest of the world but most estimates range from between 7,500 and 10,000 years ago, which is a very short time ago on the evolutionary clock. Ireland is also rather too close to both Britain and mainland Europe to develop a full range of island endemics.

Despite this there are some Irish examples. One of them is a tree, the Irish whitebeam. Another is the Irish Hare. This is described in most reference books as a sub-species of the European Mountain Hare, but Irish Hares are different in many ways to mountain hares found in northern Europe and the Alps.   One of the key differences is that they don’t turn white in winter like all other mountain hares. Some experts think they should be classified as a full endemic species, and I tend to agree with them.

Irish Endemic Birds

There are also four birds which the experts say are distinctive Irish sub-species. They are the Irish Jay, coal tit, dipper and red grouse. These birds are in the process of evolving into full endemic species. Unfortunately the red grouse will probably never make it because it seems to be on the slide to extinction. Also, shooting interests have polluted the unique Irish gene pool by introducing grouse from Britain into this country.

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