Eastern Asia: Eastern China

The Daba and Qinling Mountain Systems are a biologically rich area of China that has been the source of several fascinating botanical discoveries. These mountains run east-west and separate the Sichuan Basin from the plains and loess plateaus of northern China. This forms an important watershed divide between China’s two great rivers, the Changjiang (Yangtze) and the Huang He (Yellow) River. This montane divide also serves as a biogeographic barrier between subtropical forests (mostly evergreen) and their associated species to the south and temperate forests (mostly deciduous) to the north. A number of endemic plant taxa occur here, as do some of China’s rarest and most distinctive mammals, including the giant panda and Sichuan snub-nosed monkey.

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    47,600 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
The Qinling Mountains (maximum elevation 3,700 m) comprise the northernmost strip of transverse ranges that separate the Sichuan Basin from the steppes and plains of north-central China. Because they face north, the Qinling Mountains are subject to strong, cold winter winds so that forests here are characterized by plants and animals that have a temperate affinity. Winter temperatures here are as much as 13oC cooler at a given elevation than in the Daba Mountains on the south-facing side of the barrier. Annual precipitation is about 850 to 950 mm, though it declines to 700 mm in some areas.

Deciduous forests in the foothills give way to conifer forests at lower elevations here, in contrast to the more sheltered Daba Mountains that lie to the south. Pleistocene refuge species like the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), found in the Daba Mountains, are generally absent here.

Forest is better preserved in the Qinling Mountains, compared to the adjacent lowlands to the north. Low-elevation foothills are dominated by northern temperate deciduous trees like oak (Quercus acutissima, Q. variabilis), elm (Ulmus spp.), walnut (Juglans regia), maple (Acer spp.), ash (Fraxinus spp.) and Celtis spp. Evergreen species of these forests include both broadleaf trees (Castanopsis sclerophylla, Cyclobalanopsis glauca) and conifers like the pine Pinus massoniana. Although many of these trees are congeneric with species that are important in European forests, the taxonomic diversity within most of these genera is significantly higher in Central China than Europe.

At the middle elevations, conifers like Pinus armandii co-occur with birch (Betula spp.) and other members of the oak family (Quercus spp., Carpinus spp.). Higher still, at 2,600 to 3,000 m, these stands give way to a subalpine association of fir (Abies fargesii, A. shensiensis), larch (Larix chinensis) and birch (Betula spp.), with rhododendron (Rhododendron fastigiatum) abundant in the understory.

Biodiversity Features
Important animal species here include takin (Budorcas taxicolor) and Sichuan snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana). This area also includes the eastern limit for the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), also present in the Qionglai-Min Shan ecoregion to the west. The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) and clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) are two other rare mammals known from this ecoregion. Foping Nature Reserve (292 km2) has a resident population of giant pandas estimated at 39 individuals in 1993. Here, the climate is transitional from subtropical to temperate, allowing rich forest cover and a high diversity of bamboo species to support a relatively high density of pandas.

The bird fauna has a temperate Eurasian character, with titmice Parus spp., tree creepers Certhia spp., and nuthatches Sitta spp. active in the forest. Indomalayan taxa like the babblers (Timiliidae spp.), abundant to the south, are much reduced here.

Plant endemism is not as high here as in the Daba Shan to the south. One tree species restricted to this area is the fir, Abies chinensis.

Another important reserve here is the sacred mountain Taibaishan (3,767 m) where forests have been protected over the centuries for religious reasons.

Current Status

Types and Severity of Threats

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
Ecoregion boundaries were formed from the CVMCC (1979) Vegetation Map of China classes temperate shrub (29a,b), deciduous oaks (14b,c,d), and temperate pine (5a, 8a). Han Shui river, a tributary of Chang Jian, valley serves as the southern boundary. This region falls within the Qinling Mountains biogeographic subunit in the Oriental Deciduous Forests according to Mackinnon et al. (1996).

Laidler L., and K. Laidler. 1996. China’s threatened wildlife. Blandford, London.

MacDonald, D., editor. 1999. The encyclopedia of mammals. Barnes and Noble Books.

MacKinnon, J. 1996. Wild China. The MIT Press, Cambridge MA.

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.

Zhao, J., editor. Zheng Guangmei, Wang Huadong, Xu Jialin. 1990. The Natural History of China. McGraw Hill Publishing Company, New York.

Prepared by: Chris Carpenter
Reviewed by: In process