Southeastern Asia: Southeastern China and northwest Vietnam

This large ecoregion extends only partially into the region of analysis considered here, with the majority of the area extending into China. Because the ecoregion lies within two of the most densely populated countries in Asia, very little natural habitat now remains, having been cleared throughout the last several centuries for agriculture. 

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    86,600 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

 Location and General Description
This large ecoregion extends from northern Vietnam into southeastern China, including Hainan Island. Only the Vietnamese portion of this ecoregion is considered here.

Vietnam northeast of the Red River forms a part of the South China Platform and is geologically separate from the remainder of southeast Asia. The sediments here consist of a combination of exposed ancient metamorphic basement rock and marine sediments deposited in the late Paleozoic and early Triassic. Many of these sediments are limestones that have been uplifted and weathered to form an extensive karst landscape with steep topography. The highest peak in this region of Vietnam is Tsi Con Ling at 2,531 m, but most of the area is of only moderate relief.

Annual rainfall in this ecoregion varies from a low of about 1,800 mm in the Red River Basin to a high of about 2,850 mm near the Chinese border, where there are only two months with less than 50 mm rainfall and no totally dry months. Temperature regimes in the north have a strong seasonality, with cool winter conditions and hot and humid summers.

Very little pristine forest remains within this ecoregion. Lowland forests growing on limestone substrates commonly reach only 15-20 m in height but grow to 30-35 m on favorable sites. Few emergent trees in most stands suggest past cutting of larger trees. Dominance is mixed among a variety of tree species, with the Lauraceae, Fagaceae, and Meliaceae particularly important. This region shows strong floristic relationships with areas to the north in China, and regional endemism is high.

Biodiversity Features
A complete biodiversity database is being compiled for this ecoregion as part of a large analysis that includes China. However, the area of the ecoregion that extends into northern Vietnam, and thus into this region of analysis, contains four near-endemic mammals (table 1), an indicator of the biodiversity and endemism levels that can be expected from this ecoregion.

Table 1. Endemic and Near-Endemic Mammal Species.

  Family Species
Cercopithecidae Trachypithecus francoisi
Cercopithecidae Pygathrix avunculus
Viverridiae Cynogale lowei
Muridae Dremomys gularis

An asterisk signifies that the species' range is limited to this ecoregion.

Current Status
Almost all of the lowland forests of the northern part of this ecoregion, which falls within a heavily populated section of Vietnam, have been cleared (MacKinnon 1997). In Myanmar, in eastern Shan State along the border with Laos and China, very large areas of forest have been cleared (IUCN 1991), but a few large blocks of habitat remain.

There are sixteen protected areas (in Vietnam only) that cover 1,450 km2 of this ecoregion (table 2). Most of these protected areas are smaller than 100 km2, and the largest is only 260 km2.

Table 2. WCMC (1997) Protected Areas That Overlap with the Ecoregion.

  Protected Area Area (km2) IUCN Category
Pac Bo 50 UA
Trung Khanh 170 IV
Nui Pia Oac 110 IV
Ba Be 170 II
Bac Son 20 IV
Tan Trao 20 UA
Huu Lien 20 IV
Ai Chi Lang 30 UA
Nui Tam Dao 260 IV
Cam Son 120 ?
Unnamed 80 ?
Unnamed 70 ?
Con Son-Kiep Bac 20 UA
Unnamed 70 ?
Bai Chay 60 UA
category Ba 180 II
Total 1,450  

Ecoregion numbers of protected areas that overlap with additional ecoregions are listed in brackets.

Types and Severity of Threats
Much of the natural habitat has been altered by shifting cultivation and logging. Hunting for the wildlife trade is also a significant threat to conservation of biological diversity.

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
We included MacKinnon's Tropical Southern China subunit (06a), with biogeographic affinities with southern China, as part of the larger South China-Vietnam Subtropical Evergreen Forests [IM0149], which extends from southern China. However, instead of following the main tributary of the Red River, as MacKinnon does, we used the upper Red River (Yuan Jiang) as the boundary to be consistent with the boundary between two zoogeographic divisions in China: the Fujian Guangdong coast and South Yunnan Mountains (Yongzu et al. 1997). These two zoogeographic divisions largely coincide with the South China-Vietnam Subtropical Evergreen Forests [IM0149] and the Northern Triangle Subtropical Forests [IM0140] and intersect the Vietnamese border at the upper Red River tributary.

Campbell, D.G., and H.D. Hammond, editors. 1989. Floristic inventory of tropical countries. The New York Botanical Garden, New York.

Chinese Vegetation Map Compilation Committee. 1979. Vegetation map of

China. Map (1:10,000,000). Science Press, Beijing, China.

Davis, S.D., V.H. Heywood and A.C. Hamilton. 1995. Centres of Plant Diversity: a guide and strategy for their conservation, Volume 2: Asia, Australasia and the Pacific. Worldwide Fund for Nature and IUCN – The World Conservation Union.

Mackinnon, J., M. Sha, C. Cheung, G. Carey, Z. Xiang, and D. Melville. 1996. A biodiversity review of China. World Wide Fund for Nature, Hong Kong.

Nowak, R. M. 1991. Walker’s Mammals of the World, Volume II, 5th Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore and London.

Prepared by: Eric Wikramanayake, Ramesh Boonratana, and Philip Rundel
Reviewed by: In process


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