RIVERS OF LIFE

Many species owe their evolution to the rows of high mountain ranges and isolated river valleys in Yunnan, China.

Over 25 million years ago, two tectonic plates began to push against one another with such force that they eventually buckled and created the highest mountains in the world - the Himalayas. This same collision caused the uplift of all of the North-South trending mountain ranges in China's Yunnan Province. As these mountains grew steadily higher, temperatures dropped at the higher altitudes, and widespread species that could only survive in warmer weather were relegated to a number of isolated river valleys, where they began to evolve independently from one another.

Today, in addition to hosting a unique group of terrestrial plants and animals, each river valley also supports a number of distinct aquatic species, like the Chinese sucker fish (Myxocyprinus asiaticus), which lives in the Yangtze River basin. Named for its fat, upturned lips, the Chinese sucker fish is often mistaken as a shark because of its high dorsal fin. The adults also boast a wide, red stripe around their bodies, for which they are considered to be symbols of prosperity and success.

Academy scientists are currently conducting research in Yunnan Province to document the other endemic species (those that cannot be found anywhere else) that inhabit the region's rich mountains and river valleys.

Chinese sucker fish are popular with fish hobbyists. The fish's lips assist with feeding on river (or tank) bottoms. Photo: www.akwafoto.com
Mingyong River Valley: Academy scientists are currently conducting a biodiversity inventory in Yunnan's Mingyong River basin, which lies at the bottom of the Gaoligong Mountains. Photo: Dong Lin, CAS
The Chinese sucker fish (popularly known as the "Chinese highfin shark") begins its life as brightly colored, but proceeds to turn mostly brown as it ages.
Photo: www.akwafoto.com