List of Life

Academy scientists are compiling a list of all the birds and mammals in a threatened corner of China.

The holiday season often inspires people to start making a list (and checking it twice), but this year two Academy scientists are working on a list of a different kind - an inventory of all of the birds and mammals that live in China's Gaoligong Mountains. Rising from the western edge of Yunnan Province, the steep slopes of the Gaoligong Mountains have become a last refuge for a large number of endangered species in China, including clouded leopards and Bengal tigers. However, hunting and logging loom as threats to the area's rich wildlife. To document this biodiversity before it disappears, Academy scientists Douglas Long and Maureen Flannery recently met up with a team of Chinese colleagues from the Kunming Institute of Zoology and spent five weeks conducting a survey of the birds and mammals that inhabit the Gaoligong range.

While in the field, the mammalogists documented 25 different species of poorly known small mammals, including three types of bats that likely represent new records for southwest China. They also trapped an intriguing insectivore called a gymnure, which is distantly related to hedgehogs. Scientists have yet to determine the gymnure's place on the evolutionary tree, so the team took tissue samples that can be used to conduct DNA analysis. Meanwhile, the ornithologists captured and studied over 75 species of birds. They documented altitude and habitat information for each species - data that can be used to inform future conservation decisions.

Map by Colleen Sudekum, CAS


The team documented four different bat species during the expedition, three of which appear to be new records for the region. Photo: Maureen Flannery, CAS.
Academy ornithologist Maureen Flannery studies one of the bird species collected. Photo: Dong Lin, CAS.
Douglas Long, Collections Manager for the Academy's Ornithology and Mammalogy Department, frees a bird from one of the team's nets. Photo: Dong Lin, CAS.