Trans-Baikal, Stanovoy, and Greater Hinggan

Dinosaurs with feathers, the world’s largest forest fire, and the Vitim comet explosion

Map coordinates: 50 to 60 degrees north, 112 to 126 degrees east

Countries: China (Inner  Mongolia, Heilongjiang); Mongolia (Eastern); Russia (Amur, Buryatia Republic, Irkutsk, Sakha Republic, Zabaykalsky).

This area includes the watersheds of the Vitim, Olekma, and Aldan Rivers (tributaries to the Lena), as well as the upper Amur River/Heilongjiang River watershed. These rivers drain a mountainous region of boreal forests and tundra, with the Stanovoy Range, Stanovoy Plateau, Vitim Tableland, Yablonovoy Range, Greater Hinggin Range, and Dzhagdy Range being prominent. Although boreal forest occupies most of the area, mixed deciduous forests are in the southeast and grasslands are in the south of the map area. The Daursky Biosphere Reserve (Torey Lakes Ramsar Site) is described under the Mongolian grasslands ecoregion (PA 813). This region has been the site of recent fossil discoveries that changed the way we think about evolution.  For example, based on findings at the Kulinda Fossil Site, it can be concluded that feathers were not unique to the ancestors of birds and may even have been quite widespread.

Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests

PA 426, Manchurian Mixed Forests, occupies portions of Amur, Heilongjiang, and Inner Mongolia.The diverse mixed forest of pine and broadleaf deciduous trees supports species of birch, poplar, willow, oak, and ginseng. One Ramsar Site, the Heilongjiang Nanweng National Nature Reserve (N51˚19’ E125˚23’) is 229,523 ha located in the Songling District of Inner Mongolia, administered by the Da Hinggan Ling Prefecture of Heilongjiang province. Extensive marshes in the Nen River system on the south slope Yilehuli Mountains are forested with mixed conifer forests. Siberian crane and musk deer are present. It is an Important Bird Area for swan goose, lesser white-fronted goose, and scaly-sided merganser.

Huma River Nature Reserve, Heilongjiang (N52˚21’ E124˚48’ west end) is 60,000 ha and extends along the river from east of Tahe to the confluence with the Heilongjiang River. It is an Important Bird Area for swan goose, lesser white-fronted goose, Baer’s pochard, and scaly-sided merganser.

PA505, Da Hinggan-Dzhagdy Mountains conifer forests are found in Amur, Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia,and Zabaykalsky. A unique flora (Daurian) of larch, oak, hazel, alder, birch, poplar, and elm is found in this mountain area. The forests were mostly uncut until the 20th century and constitute the largest single timber stand in the world. The mountains are the southern limit of wolverines, lynx, and elk.  The Greater Hinggan Mountains divide the Manchurian plain from the Mongolian plateau. The area is the site of one of the largest wildfires in recent history, known as the Black Dragon fire. It took place in 1987. It was started by a temporary employee operating a brush cutter, which caught fire and spread to grasslands and nearby woods on May 6, 1987. Other fires started burning about the same time in Russia and China. The fire eventually burned millions of acres in China and Russia (Pyne, 1989; Salisbury, 1989).

The Gen River and the Genhelengshuiyu Nature Reserve (N51˚0’ E122˚0’) is an Important Bird Area for Baikal teal, redlk-crowned crane, and Siberian crane.

Hanma Nature Reserve, Inner Mongolia (N51˚35’ E122˚42’), is 107,348 ha on the main ridge of the Greater Hinggan Mountains. It is an Important Bird Area for scaly-sided merganser and red-crowned crane.

Huma River Nature Reserve, Heilongjiang (N52˚21’ E124˚48’ west end)  is 60,000 ha and extends along the river from east of Tahe to the confluence with the Heilongjiang River. It is an Important Bird Area for swan goose, lesser white-fronted goose, Baer’s pochard, and scaly-sided merganser.

Huzhong Nature Reserve, Heilongjiang (N51˚37’ E123˚3’), is a conifer forest of 167,213 ha. It is an Important  Bird Area for swan goose, lesser white-fronted goose, Baer’s pochard, and scaly-sided merganser.

Mangui, Inner Mongolia (N52˚8’ E122˚12’) is an Important Bird Area for swan goose, scaly-sided merganser, red-crowned crane, and Siberian crane.

Boreal Forests/Taiga

PA601, East Siberian taiga, is the most extensive natural forest of larch in the world. The portions on the map are in Amur, Buryatia Republic, Irkutsk, Sakha Republic, Zabaykalsky and Inner Mongolia.

Baissa, Buryatia Republic  (N53˚18’ E112˚6’) is the most important locality for fossil insects from the early Cretaceous. More than 10,000 specimens of insects have been collected, many of which are aphids. Fossils of spiders, ostracods, snails, bryozoans, and fish also have been found (Homan, Zyla, and Wegierek, 2014).

Ivano-Arakhleisky State Natural Landscape Reserve (Zakaznik), Zabaykalski Krai (N52˚13’ E113˚54’) consists of six large lakes in a larch, aspen, and birch forest zone along the Khilok River, a tributary of Lake Baikal.

Oak Grove Natural Monument, Zabakalsky Krai (N52˚40’ E120˚0’) is a Mongolian oak forest among pines and larches overlooking the Argun River.

Olekminsky Nature Reserve, Sakha Republic (N59˚0’ E121˚45’) is 847,100 ha along the Olekma River. The virgin boreal forest is known for larch pine, and 40 taiga animals, including the Siberian sable. A rock formation, the Devil’s Finger, overlooks the Olekma River.

Along the Tungur and Nenyuga Rivers, Zabaykalsky Krai (N54˚49’ E121˚7’) are lowland swamps which are an Important Bird Area for Siberian crane.

Vitimsky Nature Reserve, Irkutsk (N57˚0’ E117˚0’), includes larch forest and tundra in the Kodar Mountain range.

Vitim Event, Irkutsk (N58˚16’ E113˚27’), an explosion that flattened trees over a wide area, took place in 2002 and is believed to be the site of a comet explosion, similar to what occurred in Tunguska.

PA 609, Trans-Baikal Conifer Forests, are forests of larch and pine adjacent to Lake Baikal.  The portion shown is in Zabaykalsky Krai and includes Chita. The southern slopes have steppe, and there is permafrost over a wide area.

Temperate Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands

PA 804, Daurian forest steppe, is a mostly grassland area supporting scattered forests of birch and willow.  Mongol Daguur (Mongolian Dauria) Strictly Protected Area, East Aimag, Mongolia (N50˚3’ E114˚50’) is across the border from the Russian Daursky Biosphere Reserve.  It is a low mountainous area with grasslands and numerous lakes, ponds, and wetlands supporting migratory birds.  It is an IBA for six species of crane, the swan goose, and waterbirds and is also habitat for the Daurian hedgehog.  Khukh Lake on the Teel River in the southern part of the area is an IBA for swan goose, white-naped crane, and hooded crane.  Forests of willow, birch, and aspen are also present.

Alkhanai National Park, Zabaykalsky Krai, Russia (N50˚40’ E113˚25’) is 105,000 ha surrounding Mount Alkhanai, an ancient volcano. The park contains rock formations, springs, and waterfalls and is also a sacred center for northern Buddhists.

Aginskaya Steppe Zakaznik, Zabaykalsky Krai, Russia (N50˚44’ E115˚0’) is part of the Aginskaya Lakes IBA for breeding swan goose, saker falcon, great bustard, and yellow-breasted bunting. This is a saline lake and marsh area. Within the reserve, Gorbunka Lake is an alkaline lake with cyanobacteria and meadow vegetation northwest of Kunkur.

Argun’ River, Zabaykalsky Krai (north end N50˚17’ E119˚19’; south end E117˚57’) is an IBA for Baer’s pochard, breeding swan goose, Baikal teal, and Siberian crane.

Bain-Tsagan Lake Natural Monument, Zabaykalsky Krai (N50˚41’ E113˚37’) is a thawed permafrost lake on a tributary of the Taptanay River.

Borzhigantai Spring Funnel Natural Monument , Zabaykalsky Krai (N51˚17’ E114˚54’) is an area of five springs near Mogoytuy.

Dzeren Valley Zakaznik, Zabaykalsky Krai (N50˚19’ E115˚17’), is a grassland steppe and IBA for swan goose, saker falcon, great bustard, white-naped crane, and yellow-breasted bunting.

Gornaya Steppe Zakaznik, Zabaykalsky Krai (N50˚0’ E113˚22’) is along the Middle Onon River, which is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area for the swan goose, saker falcon, great bustard, and Siberian crane.

Kulinda Fossil Site, Zabaykalsky Krai (N52˚30’ E116˚30’, location approximate), is on the Olov River west of Chernyshevsk.  This is the location of the recent find of Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, a 1.5-meter-long bipedal herbivorous dinosaur. The animals had small scales around the distal hindlimb, larger imbricated scales around the tail, monofilaments around the head, and featherlike structures around the humerus, femur, and tibia. Feathers coexisted with scales and were potentially widespread among the entire dinosaur clade. Feathers were for insulation and signaling and only later co-opted for flight. The dinosaur is from Cherynyshevsky District, Olov Depression, in a deposit with abundant well-preserved fossils of plants, insect larvae, and freshwater crustaceans that suggest deposition in a low-energy, probably lacustrine, freshwater environment. There was local volcanic activity. The pedal scales of birds were derived from feathers; the development of scales requires inhibition of feather development. This inhibition is lost in breeds with feathered feet (Godefroit et al., 2014).

Tsasucheisky Bor State Natural Reserve (Zakaznik), Zabaykalsky Krai (N50˚25’ E115˚10’) is a high terrace on the right bank of the Onon River. This 40-km-long river terrace contains Krylov pine forests, a subspecies of scotch pine.

Urul’guveem hollow, Zabaykalsky Krai (N50˚25’ E117˚24’) is a grassland steppe area and IBA for the black stork and great bustard.

PA 813, Mongolian-Manchurian grasslands. Flat to rolling grasslands provide habitat for wild ungulates and are used for sheep and goat grazing. Torey Lakes Ramsar Site and Daursky Biosphere Preserve, Zabaykalsky Krai (N50˚0’ E115˚32’), is an area of steppe, rivers, and islands which support 90 species of breeding birds and 42 mammals.  The lakes are an IBA for Baer’s pochard and Siberian crane. The area also supports patches of Pinus sylvestris forest.  The Torey Lakes are salty and dry up every 20 or so years. North of the lakes are granite hills. Evidence of human settlement dates back to 4,000 years.

Argun’ River, Zabaykalsky Krai (north end N50˚17’ E119˚19’; south end 49˚31’ E117˚57’) is an IBA for Baer’s pochard, breeding swan goose, Baikal teal, and Siberian crane.

Bab’e Lake Natural Monument, Zabaykalsky Krai (N50˚15’ EW116˚16’), is a saline lake near Borzinsky with cyanobacteria. The ud is used for health reasons.

Barun-Shivertuy Lake Natural Monument, Zabaykalsky Krai (N50˚3’ E116˚44’) is a saline steppe lake with black therapeutic mud. Flies on the lake are attracted to algae and detritus.


PA 1112, Trans-Baikal and Bald Mountain Tundra, is found on mountain peaks in Amur, Buryatia Republic, Irkutsk, Sakha Republic, and Zabaykalsky.

Dzerginsky Nature Reserve, Buryatia Republic (N55˚12’ E112˚0’) is 237,800 ha of steppe, taiga, and larch forests.

Vitimsky Nature Reserve, Irkutsk (N57˚0’ E117˚0’), includes 585,000 ha of larch forest and tundra in the Kodar Mountain range.


Center for Russian Nature Conservation. Wild Russia website. Olekminsky Zapovednik (

Godefroit, Pascal et al. 2014. A Jurassic Ornithischian Dinosaur from Siberia with Both Feathers and Scales. Science 345:451-455 (25 July 2014).  Supplementary materials at DOI: 10.1126/science.1253351,

Homan, Agnieszka, Dagmara Zyla,and Piotr Wegierek. 2014. Bajsaphididae fam. nov. from the Lower Cretaceous of Baissa, Russia: A New Family of Aphids and its Evolutionary Significance. Cretaceous Research,

Magnificent Trans-Baikal.

Pyne, Stephen J. 1989. Apocalytic Fire and Other Exaggerations. BioScience 39:732-733.

Russian Nature.

Salisbury, Harrison E. 1989. The Great Black Dragon Fire: A Chinese Inferno. Little, Brown and Company, Boston.

Boynes Islands and Elan Bank

Left Behind When India Moved North

I. Map boundaries: 50 to 60 degrees South; 56 to 70 degrees East

II. Country: France (French Southern and Antarctic Lands overseas territory)

III. Overview

This map area includes a small group of islands, Isles de Boynes, on the western edge of the Kerguelen Plateau, the second largest volcanic plateau in the world (the largest is called Ontong Java, and is northeast of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands along the equator). Volcanic activity has extended over the area for the last 130 million years, but most of the plateau is believed to have initially formed during two bursts of volcanic activity—one in the southern area between 109 and 115 million years ago and one in the central plateau about 85 to 88 million years ago. This was during the Cretaceous Period. During that burst, at least part of the plateau formed islands. Most of the plateau is now under water and has been so for millions of years, but at one time (Cretaceous Period), it was emergent or under shallow water. During the Cretacenous, Kerguelen was part of a land bridge between Antarctica and India-Madagascar. Wood fragments, charcoal, spores, and seeds found in late Cretaceous sediments now under more than 1,000 m of water indicate that the plateau was covered with forests. Continue reading

Labrador and the Eye of Quebec

Caribou, a Nickel Mine, High Tides, and Meteor Craters

I. Map boundaries: 50 to 60 degrees North; 56 to 70 degrees West

II. Country and Administrative Subdivisions: Canada (Newfoundland and Labrador including Nunatsiavut; Nunavut-part of Qikiqtaaluk Region; Quebec including Katavik Regional Government, Cote-Nord Administrative Region)

III. Overview

To the north of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the wilderness of Quebec and Labrador begins. There are mountains near the coast of Labrador and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and plateaus in a central lake area. Lowlands are around Ungava Bay. This region is home to the George River caribou herd, one of the great wildlife migrations, which is undertaken by several hundred thousand animals. The 5,000-mile migration extends from the coast of Labrador to James Bay (west of the map area). This map area is also home to two large First Nations territories—Kativik in Quebec and Nunatsiavut in Newfoundland and Labrador. Continue reading

Cape Horn and the Falklands

Avenue of the Glaciers at the End of the World; Goldman Sachs Gets in Park Business; Tame Wolf Noted by Darwin Goes Extinct

Map boundaries: 50 to 60 degrees South; 56 to 70 degrees West

Countries: Argentina (Santa Cruz, Tierra del Fuego, Burdwood Bank), Chile (Region XII-Magallanes), United Kingdom (Falklands overseas territory)


At the southern tip of South America, the Patagonian grasslands meet the southern beech forests. Santa Cruz province of Argentina and the northern and eastern parts of Tierra del Fuego are covered by Patagonian grassland and semiarid vegetation. Tierra del Fuego was given its name by Fernando de Magellan, who referred to the fires lit by Indians along the coast of the Straight of Magellan. The native people’s name for Tierra del Fuego was Karukinka, which is the name of a new natural park managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society and donated by Goldman Sachs. Continue reading

Ural Mountains and Turgay Plateau

Waterfowl, Mountain Meadows, and Nuclear Legacy

Map of the Month: Ural Mountains-South, Turgay Plateau, and Ishim Steppe

Map boundaries: 50 to 60 degrees North; 56 to 70 degrees East

Countries: Kazakhstan (Akmola, Aktobe, Karagandy, Kostanay, and North Kazakhstan) and Russia (Bashkortostan Republic, Chelyabinsk, Kurgan, Orenburg, Perm Territory, Sverdlovsk, Tyumen, Khanti Mantsia Autonomous Region)


This map area marks the transition from the Central Asian Desert to the vast boreal forest that covers northern Europe and Asia. In between are the steppes, which in this area contain patches of forests. The European and Asian steppes are separated by the forested Ural Mountains. East of the Urals in Chelyabinsk and Sverdlovsk are areas affected by the legacy of nuclear weapons production. The boreal forest is separated from the steppe by a band of deciduous forest. East of the Urals, thousands of lakes and wetlands dot the steppe, deciduous, and boreal forest, providing vital habitat for waterfowl in a dry region. The Turgay Plateau is a major watershed boundary, separating north-flowing polar rivers from the temperate Volga or Caspian Sea drainage to the west. To the south of the plateau, the Irghyz and Turgai rivers evaporate in the Central Asian desert. Continue reading