Overview of the Natural Landscape
The focus area between 40 degrees and 50 degrees latitude makes the transition between warm temperate deciduous forests in the southeast and dry grasslands and boreal forests in the northwest. The dense human population has impacted this landscape for thousands of years, but many valuable near-natural landscapes remain. This transition area has resulted in the assemblage of boreal, temperate forest, and grassland species known as the Daurian flora.
The extensive grasslands are managed by three countries, China, Mongolia, and Russia. A study in the 1990s of pasture degradation found that the pasture degradation was worst in Inner Mongolia and Russia and the pasture was in better condition in Mongolia. This was believed to be due to the assignment of individual allocations, which led to the year-round grazing of animals in one spot. This low-mobility system creates pressure on the steppe vegetation and topsoil (Sneath 1998).
China has embraced the geopark concept and has established one park in the map area. The Hexigten Geopark consists of eight units representing different geological features at the southern edge of the Greater Hinggan Range. The three countries have established biosphere reserves and Ramsar sites that are representative of the range of habitats.
A road project across Mongolia, the Millennium Highway (Asian Highway 32) would bisect the migration corridor of the Mongolian gazelle, the last great migratory gathering of hoofed mammals in Asia. Because of concerns about disruptions, environmental groups recommend that the road be constructed in a way to avoid this migratory corridor (http://www.wcs.org/saving-wildlife/hoofed-mammals.aspx).
In the area of the map coverage, there are 11 ecoregions of the Paleoarctic (PA) Biome asI delineated by the World Wildlife Fund. These are described below, along with important sites found in each area. The forested ecoregions are in Part 2, while the grassland and deserts are in Part 3.
Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests
Central China loess plateau mixed forest (PA 411). This ecoregion developed on wind-blown loess 200 m thick and is a transition from the deciduous temperate forests to the steppes and deserts to the north and west. The forest is mostly degraded due to land use practices, but forest reserves have relic habitat. The forest is a mixed broadleaf deciduous forest of oak, birch, maple, and linden. There are four world heritage localities and one geopark in this ecoregion, which is found in Beijing Municipality, Hebei Province, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and Liaoning Province in the map area.
World Heritage Sites in the Central China loess plateau are the Great Wall, Eastern Qing Tombs, Ming Tombs, and Mountain Resort. The Great Wall, actually not one wall but many, is found in Beijing Municipality, Hebei Province, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Liaoning Province, and Shanxi Province in the map area. The world’s largest military structure was built from 220 BC to 1600 AD and served a single strategic purpose for 2,000 years. Most visited is the Badaling section (1), 70 km northwest of Beijing. Here the wall is six meters wide and brick. Sections in Mutianyu (2), Juyongguan (3), Simatai (4), Jinshanling (4), and Huanghua (2) may also be visited. The Simatai section has watchtowers, plunges, and ascents, along with internal obstacle walls. The Jinshanling section has 24 watchtowers and is undeveloped (Harper 2011).
The Eastern Qing Tombs and Ming Tombs are part of the Imperial Tombs multi-unit World Heritage Site. The world heritage unit is composed of 14 sites, two of which are in the map area. These tombs are sacred cultural landscapes, a testimony to a cultural and architectural tradition that for 500 years dominated eastern Asia. The imposing mausolea were an affirmation of authority. Ming tombs attempted to achieve a harmony with a natural site, consistent with principles of Confucianism and Taoism. The desired location offered a mountain to the north, a lower elevation landscape to the south, and must be framed to the east and west by hills. One waterway needs to be featured. Buildings are constructed along a main access raod several km in length and secondary ways to lead to other mausolea. The Eastern Qing Tombs complex, Zunhua, Hebei (6), stretches over 80 square km and is the largest mausoleum complex in China. Each tomb has a spirit way, palaces, and offering kitchens. They date from the 1600s to 1900s. The Ming Tombs are in Beijing Municipality (5). Located in the Changping District northwest of Beijing, this site was chosen for tombs based on feng shui principles by the third Ming Dynasty emperor. A seven-km road, the spirit way, leads to the complex where 13 Ming emperors are buried, dating from the 1400s to 1600s.
The Mountain Resort and Its Outlying Temples is a World Heritage Site in Chengde, Hebei (7), built from 1703 to 1792. This vast complex of palaces and ceremonial buildings was the escape from the summer heat for rulers of China. It was designed during the Qing dynasty to be a harmonious landscape of lakes, pastures, and forests.
Hexigten Geopark, Chifeng Prefecture, Inner Mongolia (8), is part of the Global Network of Geoparks. The eight scenic areas making up the geopark are the Arshihaty granite forest, Qing Mountain granite features, the Dali Lake volcanic landform (also an Important Bird Area, or IBA), the Huanggang Quaternary glacial vestige area, the Reshuitang thermal spring, the Pingding Mountain cirque, the Xilamulun River, and Hunshandak sand dunes.
Other sites of ecological interest or scientific interest in the Central China loess plateau shown on the map are listed below.
Bayan Obo Nature Reserve, Chifeng city, Inner Mongolia (9). This area of grassland and shrubland is an Important Bird Area (IBA) for the great bustard, cranes, and Oriental white stork.
Beijing Forest Ecosystem Research Station, Beijing City (10). This is a research site for warm temperate forest ecosystems.
Dongling Mountain, Beijing City (10). This area west of Beijing is an IBA for the brown-eared pheasant and grey-sided thrush.
Dongwanzi, Hebei (11). Site of a 2.5 billion year old seafloor spreading deposit, suggesting plate tectonics is an ancient phenomenon on Earth (see overview).
Fengning Autonomous County, Hebei (62). Site of discovery of a primitive bird (see overview).
Guanting Reservoir, Beijing city (12). The wetlands around the reservoir northwest of Beijing are an IBA for the Oriental white stork and waterbirds.
Jianchang, Liaoning (63). Site of the discovery of fossil pterosaurs (see overview)
Jixian, Hebei (64). Site of 1.7 billion year old multicellular organisms (see overview).
Miyun Reservoir, Beijing Municipality (13). The wetlands around the reservoir are used by ducks during the fall and spring migrations, resulting in the designation of this area as an IBA.
Nincheng County, Inner Mongolia (14). Site of fossil insect deposits (see overview).
Pingquan County, Hebei (15). Site of fossil insect deposits (see overview).
Song Mountain Nature Reserve, Beijing City (16). This area northwest of Beijing is an IBA for the imperial eagle.
Wangyedian Nature Reserve, Chifeng, Inner Mongolia (17). This area is an IBA for the grey-sided thrush, as well as the leopard.
Xiaowutai Mountain Nature Reserve, Hebei (18). This forested area is an IBA for the brown-eared pheasant.
Huang He Plain mixed forests (PA 424) are only in the southeastern corner of the map area. This mostly deciduous forest area is characterized by oak, elm, pistachio, and pines. Only the northern edge of this ecoregion extends into the map area. It is found in Beijing Municipality, Hebei Province, and Tianjin Municipality in the map area. The Shanhaiguan section (19) of the Great Wall is where the wall meets the sea, and tourists hike to Jiao Mountain, the first high peak near the sea.
Manchurian mixed forests (PA 426) are mixed broadleaf and pine forests of Korean pine, fir, spruce, oaks, ash, birch, tilia, maple, and walnut, found in the southern and eastern Greater Hinggan Mountains, mostly to the east of the map area. They are found in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in the map area.
Northeast China Plain deciduous forests (PA430) are a mixture of hardwoods and conifers, including oaks, maples, elm, ash, and pine. This ecoregion is mostly to the east of the map area, occupying the low-lying basin extending north from the Bo Sea along the Liao River. The ecoregion is found in Inner Mongolia and Liaoning in the southeastern corner of the map area.
Sites of ecological and scientific interest in the Northeast China Plain deciduous forests are listed below:
Lingyuan, Liaoning (66). Fossil beds.
Longtan Reservoir, Liaoning (20). This IBA provides wetland habitat for Oriental white stork, black-faced spoonbill, and Baer’s pochard (a duck).
Shangyuan, Beipiao, Liaoning (65). Site of a fossil insect deposit (see overview).
Temperate Coniferous Forests
Da Hinggan-Dzhagdy Mountains conifer forests (PA505) are characterized by a unique flora (Daurian) of larch, oak, hazel, alder, birch, poplar, and elm, found in this mountain area in the northeast corner of the map. The mountains are the southern limit of wolverines, lynx, and elk. The Greater Hinggan Mountains divide the Manchurian plain from the Mongolian plateau and are found in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in the map area. Within this ecoregion, the Honggolj Nature Reserve, Hulun-Buir, Inner Mongolia (21), is a grassland and pine forest area and an IBA for the great bustard.
Trans-Baikal conifer forests (PA 609) are found in the East Aimag, Khentii Aimag, and Zabaykalsky Krai in the map area. Forests of larch and pine are adjacent to Lake Baikal. The southern slopes have steppe, and there is permafrost over a wide area. There is one biosphere reserve in the map area, the Sokhondinskiy Nature Reserve, Zabaykalsky Krai (22). This 347,000-ha area preserves an isolated mountain, Sokhondo, at the boundaries of the Siberian taiga and Mongolian steppe. Altitudinal vegetation belts with steppe, taiga, alpine meadows, and high mountain tundra are present. Another site of ecological interest in the Trans-Baikal conifer forests is the Onon-Balj National Conservation Park, Khentii Aimag, Mongolia (23). The confluence of the Onon and Balj Rivers contains lakes, steppe, and willow groves. The park is an IBA for the swan goose, Baikal teal, Pallas’s fish eagle. Mammals include Daurian ground squirrel, grey wolf, and raccoon dog. Rare fish in the rivers include eastern brook lamprey and Amur sturgeon.