For an area lying far in the north between boreal and temperate realms, half covered by permafrost, the Amur Basin has surprisingly rich diversity of species. Since its large area is split between three countries and 15 terrestrial and 7 freshwater ecoregions no one has calculated so far the overall basin-wide taxonomic diversity. There are at least 6000 species of vascular plants, at least 600 bird species, and about 200 mammal species.
The Amur-Heilong supports a tremendous diversity of habitats, populated with species originating from the northern boreal, temperate and subtropical biomes. Boreal species from flora and fauna complexes of East Siberia meet here with Mongolian, Okhotsk-Beringian, Manchurian species, providing unique cases of coexistence when tropical lianas are embracing boreal conifers and northern anadromous Chum Salmon is staring at Chinese Soft-shelled turtle in Amur River main channel.
Enormous Wetland Ecosystem Network
Rivers and lakes in the Amur-Heilong River Basin provide habitats for about 130 freshwater fish species, including seven species of migratory salmon and Kaluga – the largest sturgeon in the world that can weigh up to 1000 kilograms. At present, no dams block the river’s main channel, which runs nearly 4,500 kilometres from Mongolia into the Tartar Strait of the Okhotsk Sea. The river floods its banks between 4 and 6 times during the summer, mostly during the monsoon season in July and August, when it swells to 10-25 kilometres in width in years of heavy rainfall. Wetlands on the plains of the Amur-Heilong River are globally significant for migration of tens of thousands of geese and hundreds of thousands of ducks and waders. Endangered species such as Far Eastern curlew (Numenius madagascarensis), Scaly-sided merganser (Mergus scquamatus), Swan goose (Anser cygnoides), Baikal teal (Anas formosa) and many others depend on these stop-over areas. Each spring and autumn, birds stop here to feed and rest along the East Asian migration routes between nesting areas in the north and wintering grounds in the Yangtze River valley in China and on the Korean Peninsula and the islands of Japan.
As much as 95 percent of the world’s nesting population of Oriental white storks (Ciconia boyciana), is found in the Amur-Heilong floodplains, along with 65 percent of the Red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis), and 90 percent of the White-naped crane (Grus vipio) populations. This is the only place in the world where one can simultaneously observe 6 species of cranes on the same patch of wetland.
The Amur-Heilong contains some of the best preserved temperate forest ecosystems and still harbours about 500 Amur tigers and the last remaining viable wild population of Far Eastern leopard, estimated at less than 40 individuals. This mixed temperate forest ecosystem depends on the Korean Pine -“tree of life” producing food (pine nuts) and shelter: where there is Korean pine one also finds wild boar, which is the tiger's primary prey. Ginseng grows only under the canopy of Korean pine stands. The value of a living tree is ten times higher than its timber. Here Brown bears coexist with Asiatic black bears, Far Eastern leopard cross paths with lynx (Felix lynx). Korean pine-broadleaved forests are very often the only source of income for residents of remote villages.
The western part of Amur Heilong -Dauria - is the best-preserved example of Eurasian grassland and this region continues to support huge populations of larger migratory vertebrates - Mongolian Gazelle (Procapra gutturosa). Wetland-grassland landscapes withstand periodic droughts common in this climate. Cyclical climate fluctuation causes greater biodiversity and triggers migrations of many animal species. The area is also an important breeding and stopover site for millions of birds on several Asian flyways. Dauria is the only part of the Amur River Basin where indigenous peoples can continue their nomadic lifestyle.
Oriental white stork nesting in Amur-Heilong basin floodplains