Hengduan Shan Coniferous Forests

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Tang Jia He Nature Reserve, Sichuan Province, China.
© WWF-Canon / Donald G. REID

About the Area

This Global ecoregion is made up of 3 terrestrial ecoregions: Hengduan Mountains subalpine conifer forests; Qionglai-Minshan conifer forests; and Nujiang Langcang Gorge alpine conifer and mixed forests.

The Qionglai-Minshan Mountains are among the steepest and tallest mountains on Earth, with some peaks reaching nearly 7,500 meters (25,000 ft). Gonga Shan, the highest summit at 7,556 meters (2,479 ft) is so steep that the glaciers on its east face tumble down below the tree line before they finally melt. It includes peaks from 1,300 meters to 3,500 - 4,000 meters in elevation in the north-south trending mountain system, which defines the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau.

This altitudinal zonation gives the region a high degree of habitat complexity and a resulting high biological diversity. A flagship species of this ecoregion is the rare and endangered giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), for which a system of nature reserves has been established. Much of this ecoregion escaped glaciation during ice ages, making it a refuge for many endemic and relict species.

The Hengduan - which means ‘to transect’, or cut downward - is a complex system of high ridges and deep valleys. Because of its remoteness, the Nujiang forests remain one of the most intact and biologically diverse parts of China. The Gaoligong National Nature Reserve is of great ecological importance. It includes forests that vary from subtropical evergreen broadleaf forests at low elevations to subalpine conifer forests at higher elevations.

Size:
262,446 sq. km (101,330 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Temperate Coniferous Forests

Geographic Location:
China

Conservation Status:
Relatively Stable/Intact

Local Species
Some of the best-known species in this ecoregion are giant panda, and the distantly related red panda (Ailurus fulens). Foremost among the relict plant species is the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), which until recently was presumed extinct.

Others include the Chinese yew (Taxus chinensis), Manglietta (Manglietia fordiana), and Chinese cedar (Cryptomeria fortunei). Many of these plants represent the last vestiges of once widespread vegetation types.

Several rare but wide-ranging mammals are found here like the takin (Budorcas taxicolor), Chinese stump-tailed macaque (Macaca thibetana), tufted deer (Elaphodus cephalophus), Indian muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak), jungle cat (Felis chaus), spotted linsang (Prionodon pardicolor), the vulnerable clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), and the Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus).
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Susan A. MAINKA
Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), Wolong Nature Reserve, Sichuan Province, China.
© WWF-Canon / Susan A. MAINKA

Featured species

The Jungle Cat (Felis chaus), also called swamp lynx, is a small cat with a rather short tail (length 70 cm, plus 30 cm tail). The fur is generally sandy brown, reddish or grey, and is unpatterned except for stripes on the legs and occasionally the throat. Due to the pointed ears and the long legs this cat resembles a small lynx (hence the name - swamp lynx). It inhabits various habitats, for instance savannas, tropical dry forests and the reed along rivers and lakes, but it is not found in rainforests. The Jungle Cat lives at heights of up to 2,500 meters, but is more common in the lowlands. They are usually active in the daytime, and return to a den in case of danger or to rest.

The jungle cat's hunting technique is like that of most other cats, stalking and pouncing. They feed on rats, mice, hares, and can jump high in the air to catch pheasants and other large birds. They will even kill and eat porcupines, deer fawns, snakes and frogs. Those cats living close to bodies of water are able to swim and dive in order to catch fish. During mating season, the male barks, sounding like a large dog.

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Threats
A growing human population and the resulting demand for non-timber forests and wildlife products for medicinal and other uses have proved to be a major threat. Local villagers earn money from tourists by posing in phony ethnic costumes that include pelts of red panda and feathers from Lady Amherst’s pheasant. Merchants in towns all over the region sell bear and leopard parts as folk medicine.
WWF’s work
WWF has identified the Minshan mountain range in Sichuan and Gansu as a particularly outstanding landscape for unique and endangered wildlife, with important populations of giant panda, clouded leopard, golden monkey and the world’s richest variety of pheasants. The Minshan covers parts of 6 counties and 19 nature reserves and is populated by close to one million Han, Tibetan, Qiang, and Baima people.

WWF is conducting a biological assessment of the Minshan landscape to determine priority areas for conservation intervention. The assessment will produce a map of current land uses such as protected areas, farmland, and state forest enterprises and indicate the potential for ecotourism and development of environmentally friendly livelihoods such as beekeeping. WWF will then work with stakeholders, ranging from provincial officials to community representatives, to develop and reach agreement on a conservation strategy for the landscape which ensures sustainable economic growth.

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