Eastern Asia: Central Mongolia

The Gobi Lakes valley is situated in southwestern Mongolia between the Khangai range and the end of the Gobi-Altai and Mongol-Altai ranges. Desert steppe communities support fauna such as black-tailed gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa), Mongolian gazelle (Procapra guttorosa), Siberian ibex (Capra sibirica) and gray wolf (Canis lupus). Globally-endangered snow leopards (Uncia uncia) persist in adjacent mountain ranges. There is at present no adequate legal protection for this ecoregion. Overgrazing and subsequent desertification are the primary threats.

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    53,800 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
The Gobi Lakes Valley is a narrow, nearly flat valley located between the Khangai range and the Gobi-Altai and Mongol-Altai ranges. The valley is 500 km long, 150 km wide and has an average elevation of 1000 - 1400 m. The valley is open to the southeast and there are numerous lakes, namely, Orog, Boontsagaan, Taatsyn tsagaan, and Ulaan nuur in the center. These lakes are fed by the Baidrag, Taats, Ongi and Tuin rivers which flow from the Khangai mountain range. During droughts the rivers often do not reach the lakes and some lakes such as the Ulaan nuur lake dry up. There are several sand dunes in the valley interspersed with salt marshes. Summers are arid and hot with a strong prevailing wind from the northwest. Annual mean temperature is +20C - +60C but can vary from –160C in January to +200C in July. Average annual precipitation is 50 mm – 200 mm.

Biodiversity Features
The main plant associations are: Stipa pennata–Allium polyrrhizum, Stipa pennata–Cleistogenes spp., Stipa pennata-Allium polyrrhizum-Anabasis spp., Caragana spp.–Stipa pennata. Desert-steppe vegetation communities include the following dominant plant species: Stipa gobica, S. glareosa, Allium polyrrhizum, Cleistogenes soongorica, Anabasis brevifolia, Ajania achileoides, and Caragana pygmaea. Anabasis spp. and Salsola passerina-Anabasis spp. associations occur in lower areas and in lake basins. Shrub communities around lakes include: Caragana pygmaea, Caragana bungei, Ceratoides paposa, Salsola arbuscula, Artemisia xantochroa, Salsola passerina, Kalidium gracile, Reaumuria soongarica, Haloxylon ammodendron or various saltwort species (e.g., Salsola passerina, S. abrotanoides, Anabasis brevifolia, and Kalidium gracile) in salty hollows.

The fauna of the Gobi lakes valley consists mainly of species adapted to desert/semi-desert habitats and wetlands. Principal mammal species include: Midday gerbil (Merionus meridianus), Gobi jerboa (Allactaga bullata), dwarf hamster (Phodopus sungorus), pika species (Ochotona spp.), long-eared hedgehog (Erinaceus auritus), and Tibetan hare (Lepus tibetanus). The lower steppe is inhabited by black-tailed Gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa) and Mongolian gazelle (Procapra guttorosa) while in mountainous areas wild mountain sheep (Ovis ammon), and Siberian ibex (Capra sibirica) are common. Predator species include: gray wolf (Canis lupus), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), Corsac fox (Vulpes corsac), and Pallas’ cat (Otocolobus manul) in the mountains. At lower elevations common predator species include the mountain weasel (Mustela altaica), ermine (Mustela erminea), steppe polecat (Mustela eversmanni), and least weasel (Mustela nivalis).

The shores of lakes and wetlands are important habitat for water bird species such as great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), greylag goose (Anser anser), ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea), mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), and common coot (Fulica atra). Milvus migrans, Oenanthe deserti, Alaudia arvensis, Eremophila alpestris, and Corvus corax are bird species commonly found throughout the ecoregion.

Common amphibians and reptiles are: Radde’s toad (Bufo raddei), toad-headed agama (Phrynocephalus versicolor), racerunners (Eremias przewalskii), Pallas’ coluber (Elaphe dione), and central Asian viper (Agkistrodoon halus).

Oreoleucicus potanini that is consequent for fishing, moreover Coregonus peled, Thymallus arcticus arcticus, Nemachilus barbatulus toni, Nemachilus strauchi are examples of fish species that are richly distributed in the lakes and rivers.

Numerous insect groups (Orthoptera, Homoptera, Tenebrionidae, Meloidae, Curculionidae, and Scarabaeidae) are well adapted to the arid desert steppe. The insect diversity is closely related to such plant species as Caragana and Artemisia which are abundant throughout the valley. Crosita kowelewskii, and C. kowelewskii matronula are endemic species to Mongolia.

Current Status
This ecoregion receives no adequate protection at present.

Types and Severity of Threats
The soil of the valley is extremely vulnerable to desertification through overgrazing. Within the last 10 years Mongolia has turned to a market economy. A result has been a sharp increase in unemployment and a concomitant increase in the number of people who raise livestock. The increase in livestock has caused significant overgrazing, pasture degradation and an increased vulnerability to desertification.

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
This ecoregion consists of shrub semi-desert, halophytic vegetation, and alluvial flood plains of Gobi-Altai, Gobi Lakes Valley. It also includes the southern plateau of Khangai mountains. Inclusion as an ecoregion was based on the large landscape unit of the same name after Barthel (1983) and Haase (1983) reproduced in Hilbig (1995). However, the shape of the ecoregion more closely resembles the Gobi Lakes Valley in Grubov (1982). This shape was extended southward in the WWF map to meet the northern Alashan Plateau semi-desert boundary from the Mongolia Ministry for Nature and Environment (1996).

Barthel, H. 1983. Die regionale und jahreszeitliche Differenzierung des Klamas in der Mongolischen Volksrepublik. Gartenbau 25:85-86.

Grubov, V. I. 1982. Opreditel’ sosudistykh rastenii Mongolii, Leningrad.

Haase, G. 1983. Beitrage Zur Bodengeographie der Mongolischen Volksrepublik. Studia geogr. 34:231-367.

Hilbig, W. 1995. The vegetation of Mongolia. SPB Academic Publishing, Amsterdam.

Mongolia Ministry for Nature and Environment, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/Global Environment Facility (GEF), and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). 1996. Mongolias Wild Heritage, edited by C. Finch. Avery Press, Boulder

National Atlas of the Mongolian People’s Republic. 1990. Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Ulziihutag N. 1989. Flora of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar (in Mongolian).

Prepared by: Enhee Devee
Reviewed by: Batbold D. Otgoid