California Academy of Sciences Researchers Return From Trip to China to Study 'Biodiversity Hotspot' in Yunnan Province

SAN FRANCISCO (September 2000)–In August, researchers from the California Academy of Sciences returned from their second expedition to China where they are engaged in a long-term collaboration with Chinese scientists to survey the rich biological diversity of the Gaoligong Shan, a mountain range in western Yunnan province. The team of entomologists, herpetologists, ichthyologists, botanists and mammalogists joined forces with the Kunming Institutes of Botany and Zoology to inventory the biodiversity of this relatively unspoiled region as part of a global, collaborative effort to preserve biodiversity. During the expedition, Academy scientists endured extreme physical conditions such as monsoon rains, heat and humidity. "It was a physically demanding expedition, but our discoveries and collaborative interactions made it well worth the effort," said David Kavanaugh, Director of Research for the Academy and entomologist on the expedition. The Academy’s China Natural History Project was inaugurated in May 1998 and its first two expeditions have provided new insights into the biological make-up of the flora and fauna. Many new species of plants, insects, spiders, and snakes have been discovered. The Gaoligong Shan region, recently recognized as a "Biodiversity Hotspot" by the World Wildlife Fund, hosts one of the most diverse assemblage of plant and animal species in all of China. The ecologically diverse region is comprised of a range of environments extending from high mountain meadows to lowland sub-tropical forests. The physical geography of Yunnan lends itself to the evolution of a vast array of species types, but extreme isolation has resulted in poor documentation of its faunal and floral treasures. The concentrations of endemic species (i.e., those found no where else) support the theory that the region is an isolated paleoenvironment, an environment that has remained isolated and relatively unchanged for millions of years. Academy scientists joined the international team in focusing their studies on the forests and rivers of the Gaoligong Shan borderland adjacent to Myanmar (formerly Burma). The Academy hopes to send a third team of scientists into this region in 2001 to continue biological inventorying. Results from the expeditions will be of major interest to policy makers, conservationists, students and scholars. Once studied and described by taxonomists, the region’s flora and fauna will have a better chance of being protected.

Academy Field Team to Yunnan Province: Bruce Bartholomew and Peter Fritsch (botanists); Dave Kavanaugh, Charles Griswold and Darryl Ubick (entomologists); Joe Slowinski (herpetologist); Dave Catania and Carl Ferraris (ichthyologists); and Richard Tenaza, mammalogist from the University of the Pacific. The team was accompanied by Academy photographer Dong Lin and California Wild editor, Keith Howell.