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Alpine ecosystems of northwest Yunnan, China: an initial assessment for conservation


Implementing conservation actions on-the-ground is not a straightforward process, especially when faced with high scientific uncertainty due to limited available information. This is especially acute in regions of the world that harbor many unique species that have not been well studied, such as the alpine zone of the Hengduan Mountains of Northwest Yunnan (NWY), a global biodiversity hotspot and site of The Nature Conservancy’s Yunnan Great Rivers Project. We conducted a quantitative, but rapid regional-level assessment of the alpine flora across NWY to provide a broad-based understanding of local and regional patterns of the alpine flora, the first large-scale analysis of alpine biodiversity patterns in this region. Multivariate analyses were used to classify the major plant community types and link community patterns to habitat variables. Our analysis indicated that most species had small distributions and/or small population sizes. Strong patterns emerged with higher diversity in the more northern mountains, but beta diversity was high, averaging only 10% among sites. The ordinations indicated that elevation and geographic location were the dominant environ-mental gradients underlying the differences in the species composition among communities. The high beta diversity across the alpine of these mountains implies that conservation strategies ultimately will require the protection of large numbers of species over a large geographical area. However, prioritization should be given to areas where potential payoffs are greatest. Sites with high species richness also have a greater number of endemic species, and, by focusing efforts on these sites, conservation investments would be maximized by protecting the greatest number of unique species.

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Correspondence to Ruth Sherman.

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Sherman, R., Mullen, R., Li, H. et al. Alpine ecosystems of northwest Yunnan, China: an initial assessment for conservation. J. Mt. Sci. 4, 181–192 (2007).

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  • Biodiversity hotspot
  • cluster analysis
  • plant community ecology
  • conservation action
  • grazing
  • Hengduan Mountains
  • non-metric multidimensional scaling
  • plant species richness
  • World Heritage Site
  • Yunnan Great Rivers Project (YGRP)
  • alpine ecosystems
  • China