Cosmopolitan distribution

In biogeography, a taxon is said to have a cosmopolitan distribution if its range extends across all or most of the world in appropriate habitats. Such a taxon is said to exhibit cosmopolitanism or cosmopolitism. The opposite extreme is endemism.

Killerwhales jumping
Killer Whale Range Map

Related terms and concepts

The term pandemism also is in use, but not all authors are consistent in the sense in which they use the term; some speak of pandemism mainly in referring to diseases and pandemics, and some as a term intermediate between endemism and cosmopolitanism, in effect regarding pandemism as subcosmopolitanism. This means near cosmopolitanism, but with major gaps in the distribution, say, complete absence from Australia.[1][2] Terminology varies, and there is some debate whether the true opposite of endemism is pandemism or cosmopolitism.[3]

Aspects and degrees

The term "cosmopolitan distribution" usually should not be taken literally, because it often is applied loosely in various contexts. Commonly the intention is not to include polar regions, extreme altitudes, oceans, deserts, or small, isolated islands.[4] For example, the housefly is nearly as cosmopolitan as any animal species, but it is neither oceanic nor polar in its distribution.[5] Similarly, the term "cosmopolitan weed" implies no more than that the plant in question occurs on all continents except Antarctica; it is not meant to suggest that the species is present in all regions of every continent.

Oceanic and terrestrial

Another concept in biogeography is that of oceanic cosmopolitanism and endemism. Although there is a temptation to regard the World Ocean as a medium without biological boundaries, this is far from reality; many physical and biological barriers interfere with either the spread or continued residence of many species. For example, temperature gradients prevent free migration of tropical species between the Atlantic and Indian-plus-Pacific oceans, even though there is open passage past continental masses such as the Americas and Africa/Eurasia. Again, as far as many species are concerned, the Southern Ocean and the Northern marine regions are completely isolated from each other by the intolerable temperatures of the tropical regions. In the light of such considerations, it is no surprise to find that endemism and cosmopolitanism are quite as marked in the oceans as on land.

Ecological delimitation

Another aspect of cosmopolitanism is that of ecological limitations. A species that is apparently cosmopolitan because it occurs in all oceans might in fact occupy only littoral zones, or only particular ranges of depths, or only estuaries, for example. Analogously, terrestrial species might be present only in forests, or mountainous regions, or sandy arid regions or the like. Such distributions might be patchy, or extended, but narrow. Factors of such a nature are taken widely for granted, so they seldom are mentioned explicitly in mentioning cosmopolitan distributions.

Regional and temporal variation in populations

Cosmopolitanism of a particular species or variety should not be confused with cosmopolitanism of higher taxa. For example, the family Myrmeleontidae is cosmopolitan in the sense that every continent except Antarctica is home to some indigenous species within the Myrmeleontidae, but nonetheless no one species, nor even genus, of the Myrmeleontidae is cosmopolitan. Conversely, partly as a result of human introduction of unnatural apiculture to the New World, Apis mellifera probably is the only cosmopolitan member of its family; the rest of the family Apidae have modest distributions.

Even where a cosmopolitan population is recognised as a single species, such as indeed Apis mellifera, there generally will be variation between regional sub-populations. Such variation commonly is at the level of subspecies, varieties or morphs, whereas some variation is too slight or inconsistent for formal recognition.

For an example of subspecific variation, consider the so-called "African killer bee", which is the subspecies Apis mellifera scutellata, and the Cape bee, which is the subspecies Apis mellifera capensis; both of them are in the same cosmopolitan species Apis mellifera, but their ranges barely overlap.

Other cosmopolitan species, such as the osprey and house sparrow, present similar examples, but in yet other species there are less familiar complications: some migratory birds such as the Arctic tern occur from the Arctic to the Southern Ocean, but at any one season of the year they are likely to be largely in passage or concentrated at only one end of the range. Also, some such species breed only at one end of the range. Seen purely as an aspect of cosmopolitanism, such distributions could be seen as temporal, seasonal variations.

Other complications of cosmopolitanism on a planet too large for local populations to interbreed routinely with each other, lead to genetic effects such as ring species, for example in the Larus gulls.[6] They also lead to the formation of clines such as in Drosophila.[7]

Ancient and modern

Cosmopolitan distributions can be observed both in extinct and extant species. For example, Lystrosaurus was cosmopolitan in the Early Triassic after the Permian-Triassic extinction event.[8]

In the modern world, the killer whale has a cosmopolitan distribution, extending over most of the Earth's oceans. The wasp Copidosoma floridanum is another example, as it is found around the world. Other examples include humans, cats, dogs, orchids, the foliose lichen Parmelia sulcata, and the mollusc genus Mytilus.[9] The term can also apply to some diseases. It may result from a broad range of environmental tolerances[10][11] or from rapid dispersal compared to the time needed for evolution.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Michael G. Simpson (19 July 2010). Plant Systematics. Academic Press. pp. 720–. ISBN 978-0-08-092208-9.
  2. ^ D. A. T. Harper; T. Servais (27 January 2014). Early Palaeozoic Biogeography and Palaeogeography. Geological Society of London. pp. 31–. ISBN 978-1-86239-373-8.
  3. ^ Eduardo H Rapoport (22 October 2013). Areography: Geographical Strategies of Species. Elsevier. pp. 251–. ISBN 978-1-4831-5277-6.
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of Ecology and Environmental Management. John Wiley & Sons. 15 July 2009. pp. 164–. ISBN 978-1-4443-1324-6.
  5. ^ Richard C. Russell; Domenico Otranto; Richard L. Wall (2013). The Encyclopedia of Medical and Veterinary Entomology. CABI. pp. 157–. ISBN 978-1-78064-037-2.
  6. ^ Werner Kunz (2 August 2013). Do Species Exist: Principles of Taxonomic Classification. Wiley. pp. 211–. ISBN 978-3-527-66426-9.
  7. ^ Costas B. Krimbas; Jeffrey R. Powell (21 August 1992). Drosophila Inversion Polymorphism. CRC Press. pp. 23–. ISBN 978-0-8493-6547-8.
  8. ^ Sahney, S.; Benton, M. J. (2008). "Recovery from the most profound mass extinction of all time" (PDF). Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 275 (1636): 759–65. doi:10.1098/rspb.2007.1370. PMC 2596898. PMID 18198148.
  9. ^ Ian F. Spellerberg; John William David Sawyer, eds. (1999). "Ecological patterns and types of species distribution". An Introduction to Applied Biogeography. Cambridge University Press. pp. 108–132. ISBN 978-0-521-45712-5.
  10. ^ S. Kustanowich (1963). "Distribution of planktonic foraminifera in surface sediments of the south-west Pacific". New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics. 6 (4): 534–565. doi:10.1080/00288306.1963.10420065.
  11. ^ D. B. Williams (1971). "The distribution of marine dinoflagellates in relation to physical and chemical conditions". In B. M. Funnell; W. R. Riedel (eds.). The Micropalaeontology of Oceans: Proceedings of the Symposium held in Cambridge from 10 to 17 September 1967 under the title 'Micropalaeontology of Marine Bottom Sediments'. Cambridge University Press. pp. 91–95. ISBN 978-0-521-18748-0.
  12. ^ Judit Padisák (2005). "Phytoplankton". In Patrick E. O'Sullivan; Colin S. Reynolds (eds.). Limnology and Limnetic Ecology. The Lakes Handbook. 1. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 251–308. ISBN 978-0-632-04797-0.

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The water-plantains (Alismataceae) are a family of flowering plants, comprising 11 genera and between 85 and 95 species. The family has a cosmopolitan distribution, with the greatest number of species in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Most of the species are herbaceous aquatic plants growing in marshes and ponds.


The Asiloidea comprise a very large superfamily insects in the order Diptera, the true flies. It has a cosmopolitan distribution, occurring worldwide, with many species living in dry, sandy habitat types. It includes the family Bombyliidae, the bee flies, which are parasitoids, and the Asilidae, the robber flies, which are predators of other insects. Members of the other families are mainly flower visitors as adults and predators as larvae.It is not entirely clear that this superfamily is monophyletic. It is closely related to the Empidoidea and the Cyclorrhapha.


The Caprifoliaceae or honeysuckle family is a clade of dicotyledonous flowering plants consisting of about 860 species in 42 genera, with a nearly cosmopolitan distribution. Centres of diversity are found in eastern North America and eastern Asia, while they are absent in tropical and southern Africa.


Cosmopolitan may refer to:

Food and drink

Cosmopolitan (cocktail), also known as a "Cosmo"History

Rootless cosmopolitan, a Soviet derogatory epithet during Joseph Stalin's anti-Semitic campaign of 1949–1953Hotels and resorts

Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, a luxury resort casino and hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, which opened in December 2010

Cosmopolitan Hotel in Hong KongIndustry

CC-109 Cosmopolitan, an aircraft, the RCAF version of the Canadair CL-66

Cosmopolitan automobile company, a defunct American car maker

Nash Cosmopolitan, a defunct car model from Nash MotorsInternationalism

World citizen, one who eschews traditional geopolitical divisions derived from national citizenship

Cosmopolitanism, the idea that all of humanity belongs to a single moral communityMedia

Cosmopolitan (magazine), a magazine for women, sometimes referred to as "Cosmo"

Cosmopolitan (film), a 2003 film starring Roshan Seth

Cosmopolitan Television, a satellite/cable television channel

Cosmopolitan Productions, a defunct United States film production companyScience

Cosmopolitan distribution, in biogeography, biological categories which can be found almost anywhere around the world

Cosmopolitan (Vanessa cardui) or painted lady, a butterfly

Cosmopolitan (Leucania loreyi), or false army worm, a moth


Endemism is the ecological state of a species being unique to a defined geographic location, such as an island, nation, country or other defined zone, or habitat type; organisms that are indigenous to a place are not endemic to it if they are also found elsewhere. The extreme opposite of endemism is cosmopolitan distribution. An alternative term for a species that is endemic is precinctive, which applies to species (and subspecific categories) that are restricted to a defined geographical area.


Eurypterina is one of two suborders of eurypterids, an extinct group of chelicerate arthropods commonly known as "sea scorpions". Members of the suborder are collectively and informally known as "eurypterine eurypterids" or "eurypterines". They are known from fossil deposits worldwide, though primarily in North America and Europe.

Seventy-five percent of eurypterid species are eurypterines; this represents 99% of specimens. The superfamily Pterygotioidea is the most species-rich clade, with 56 species, followed by the Adelophthalmoidea with 43 species; as sister taxa, they comprise the most derived eurypterines. Pterygotioidea includes the pterygotids, which are the only eurypterids known to have a cosmopolitan distribution.Though more numerous both in specimens and taxa, the eurypterines have the shorter temporal range of the two eurypterid suborders. They first appeared around the same time as the Stylonurina in the Middle Ordovician. The suborder faced a slow extinction during the Middle and Late Devonian, possibly tied to the emergence of jawed vertebrates. Every Eurypterine genus and lineage went extinct before the Carboniferous save for Adelophthalmus which would go extinct in the Early Permian, millions of years before the Permian-Triassic extinction event that ended the stylonurines.


The Hyaloscyphaceae are a family of fungi in the Helotiales order. Species in this family have a cosmopolitan distribution, and are saprobic, growing on dead wood and other plant matter.


The Isoetopsida is a class of Lycopodiophyta. All extant species belong to the genus Selaginella in the order Selaginellales or to the genus Isoetes in the order Isoetales. In the past, members of this group sometimes have been placed in the classes Isoetopsida, Selaginellopsida, or Lycopodiopsida. There are c. 700 species of Selaginella and 140-150 species of Isoetes, with a cosmopolitan distribution, but often scarce to rare. Both orders are heterosporous. Some botanists split Isoetes by separating two South American species into the genus Stylites.Some prefer the name Selaginellopsida A.B. Frank 1877, which has priority over "Isoetopsida"; the latter was not published until 1885. However, priority does not apply above the rank of family. Recent articles favor "Isoetopsida" because "Selaginellopsida" sometimes is ambiguously used: it may denote the same membership as Isoetopsida as described herein or it may include only the order Selaginellales.

The most famous group within the Isoetopsida is the "scale trees" (order Lepidodendrales), which include Lepidodendron. These massive trees flourished in marshlands of the Carboniferous. Quillworts are considered their closest extant relatives and share some unusual features with these fossil trees, including the development of both bark, cambium and wood, a modified shoot system acting as roots, bipolar and secondary growth, and an upright stance.


Longitarsus is a genus of beetles in the family Chrysomelidae. It is the most speciose genus of flea beetles, comprising over 700 species, and has a cosmopolitan distribution.


The Malvales are an order of flowering plants. As circumscribed by APG II-system, the order includes about 6000 species within 9 families. The order is placed in the eurosids II, which are part of the eudicots.

The plants are mostly shrubs and trees; most of its families have a cosmopolitan distribution in the tropics and subtropics, with limited expansion into temperate regions. An interesting distribution occurs in Madagascar, where three endemic families of Malvales (Sphaerosepalaceae, Sarcolaenaceae and Diegodendraceae) occur.

Many species of Malvaceae sensu lato are known for their wood, with that of Ochroma (balsa) being known for its lightness, and that of Tilia (lime, linden, or basswood) as a popular wood for carving. Fruit of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) are used as an ingredient for chocolate. Kola nuts (genus Cola) are notable for their high content of caffeine and, in past, were commonly used for preparing of various cola drinks. Other well-known members of Malvales in the APG II sense are daphnes, hibiscus, hollyhocks, okra, baobab trees, cotton, and kapok.


The Moraceae — often called the mulberry family or fig family — are a family of flowering plants comprising about 38 genera and over 1100 species. Most are widespread in tropical and subtropical regions, less so in temperate climates; however, there is a cosmopolitan distribution overall. The only synapomorphy within Moraceae is presence of laticifers and milky sap in all parenchymatous tissues, but generally useful field characters include two carpels sometimes with one reduced, compound inconspicuous flowers, and compound fruits. The family includes well-known plants such as the fig, banyan, breadfruit, mulberry, and Osage-orange. The 'flowers' of Moraceae are often pseudanthia (reduced inflorescences).


The wagtails, longclaws and pipits are a family, Motacillidae, of small passerine birds with medium to long tails. There are around 65 species in 6 genera. The longclaws are entirely restricted to the Afrotropics, and the wagtails are predominantly found in Europe, Africa and Asia, with two species migrating and breeding in Alaska. The pipits have the most cosmopolitan distribution, being found across mostly in the Old World but occurring also in the Americas and oceanic islands such as New Zealand and the Falklands. Two African species, the yellow-breasted pipit and Sharpe's longclaw, are sometimes placed in a separate seventh genus, Hemimacronyx, which is closely related to the longclaws.Most motacillids are ground-feeding insectivores of slightly open country. They occupy almost all available habitats, from the shore to high mountains. Wagtails prefer wetter habitats to the pipits. A few species use forests, including the forest wagtail, and other species use forested mountain streams, such as the grey wagtail or the mountain wagtail.

Motacillids take a wide range of invertebrate prey, especially insects are the most commonly taken, but also including spiders, worms, and small aquatic molluscs and arthropods. All species seem to be fairly catholic in their diet, and the most commonly taken prey for any particular species or population usually reflects local availability.

With the exception of the forest wagtail, they nest on the ground, laying up to six speckled eggs.


The Mycenaceae are a family of fungi in the order Agaricales. According to the Dictionary of the Fungi (10th edition, 2008), the family contains 10 genera and 705 species. This is one of several families that were separated from the Tricholomataceae as a result of phylogenetic analyses. Taxa in the Mycenaceae are saprobic, have a cosmopolitan distribution, and are found in almost all ecological zones. The family was circumscribed by Caspar van Overeem in 1926.

The extinct genus Protomycena, described from Burdigalian age Dominican amber found on the island of Hispaniola is one of four known agaric genera in the fossil record.


Oxudercidae is a family of gobies which was consists of four subfamilies which were formerly classified under the family Gobiidae. The family is sometimes called the Gobionellidae, but Oxudercidae has priority. The species in this family have a cosmopolitan distribution in temperate and tropical areas and are found in marine and freshwater environments, typically in inshore, euryhaline areas with silt and sand substrates.The Oxudercidae includes 86 genera, which contain around 600 species. This family has many species which occur in fresh water, and a number of species found on wet beaches and are able to live for a number of days out of water. The family includes the mudskippers, which include species that are able to move over land with quite quickly. They have eyes located on the top of their heads on short stalks. They are capable of elevating or retracting them, and they can see well out of water. One species, Gillichthys mirabilis, usually stays in the water, but surfaces to gulp air when the oxygen levels in the water are low; it holds the air in its buccopharynx, which is highly vacularised to facilitate respiratory exchange.


The Pilocarpaceae are a family of lichenized fungi in the order Lecanorales. The species of this family have a cosmopolitan distribution and have been found in a variety of climatic regions.


Plumbaginaceae is a family of flowering plants, with a cosmopolitan distribution. The family is sometimes referred to as the leadwort family or the plumbago family.

Most species in this family are perennial herbaceous plants, but a few grow as lianas or shrubs. The plants have perfect flowers and are pollinated by insects. They are found in many different climatic regions, from arctic to tropical conditions, but are particularly associated with salt-rich steppes, marshes, and sea coasts.

The family has been recognized by most taxonomists. The APG II system (2003; unchanged from the APG system of 1998), recognizes this family and assigns it to the order Caryophyllales in the clade core eudicots. It includes ca 30 genera and about 725 species.The 1981 Cronquist system placed the family in a separate order Plumbaginales, which included no other families. The Dahlgren system had segregated some of these plants as family Limoniaceae.


The Saccharomycetaceae are a family of yeasts in the order Saccharomycetales that reproduce by budding. Species in the family have a cosmopolitan distribution, and are present in a wide variety of habitats, especially those with a plentiful supply of carbohydrate sources. The family contains the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae, perhaps the most economically important fungus.


The Santalales are an order of flowering plants with a cosmopolitan distribution, but heavily concentrated in tropical and subtropical regions. It derives its name from its type genus Santalum (sandalwood). Mistletoe is the common name for a number of parasitic plants within the order.


Sphyrna (from the Greek word σφυρί "hammer") is a genus of hammerhead sharks with a cosmopolitan distribution in the world's oceans. Members of Sphyrna have a tendency to inhabit coastal waters along the intertidal zone rather than the open ocean, as their prey items such as invertebrates, fish, rays, small crustaceans and other benthic organisms hide in the sands and sediment along these zones. Members of Sphyrna are also known by a large number of synonyms such as Zygaena, Cestracion, and Sphyrichthys. The earliest species described of this genus was Sphyrna zygaena by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, while the latest described member Sphyrna gilberti was discovered and described in 2013.


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