Plant biodiversity in China: richly varied, endangered, and in need of conservation

López-Pujol, Jordi; Fu-Min Zhang; Song Ge
November 2006
Biodiversity & Conservation;Nov2006, Vol. 15 Issue 12, p3983
Academic Journal
China is among the world's richest countries in terms of plant biodiversity. Besides the abundant flora, containing some 33,000 vascular plants (30,000 angiosperms, 250 gymnosperms, and 2600 pteridophytes), there is extraordinary ecosystem diversity, as well as a large pool of both wild and cultivated germplasms. China is also considered one of the main centers of origin and diversification for seed plants on Earth, and is especially profuse in phylogenetically primitive taxa and/or paleoendemics due to the refuge role glaciation played during the Quaternary period. The collision with the Indian subcontinent significantly enriched Chinese flora and led to the formation of many neoendemisms. However, flora distribution remains uneven, and some local floristic hotspots are found across China, such as Yunnan, Sichuan and Taiwan. Unfortunately, this biodiversity faces enormous threats, which have increased substantially over the last 50 years. The combined effects of habitat destruction and/or fragmentation, environmental contamination, over-exploitation of natural resources, and to a lesser extent, introduction of exotic species, have caused irreparable damage to China's plant biodiversity. Burgeoning economic and population growth have also contributed to this deterioration. It is believed that up to 5000 flora species are currently endangered in China, with some taxa having already become extinct. Although in recent years government authorities have made some efforts to preserve biodiversity, much work remains to be done. While China has established an extensive network of nature reserves and protected areas, encompassing more than 16% of the total land area, insufficient budgetary and staffing commitments are common limitations in their management structures. Ex-situ conservation is also deficient, primarily because the botanical gardens are not representative of several local floras, nor are they often of adequate size or representative of endangered species.


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