Sino-German Symposium 2015

The Yunnan Biodiversity Hotspot – its history and future threats

August, 4th to 10th, Kunming, China

Yunnan Province, located in southwest China, includes the southeastern margin of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, characterized by variegated landscapes and a large altitudinal range. The present-day climate of Yunnan is distinctly monsoonal, but unlike other South and East Asian regions, either influenced by the Indian or the Southeast  Asian Monsoon, this region is under the influence of both monsoon systems. As regards the biosphere, Yunnan Province constitutes a hotspot of biodiversity, and therefore represents a crucial key area to study interactions of geological processes, climate and biology.
The biodiversity hotspot Yunnan has more than 15,000 extant plant species. Nearly half of the Chinese plants grow in this region, occurring in a variety of vegetation formations. The represented biomes span a considerable ecological range, from tropical ecosystems in the south of the province to alpine meadows existing in the north, near the Tibetan border. The high biodiversity is, on the one hand, connected to the present-day topography and the climatic situation of Yunnan. On the other hand, it is the result of the evolution of landscape triggered by substantial uplift processes and changes of climate and monsoon intensity. All these factors have exerted a strong natural selection on plant communities and shaped the modern vegetation. Yunnan is a region where diversification of biota happened in most recent times, and hence constitutes the ideal model area to study the link between the diversification of biota and changes of non-biotic factors.
Neogene continental strata containing plant fossils and vertebrate fauna are exposed in Yunnan in numerous isolated basins. During the last decade, comprehensive research by Chinese colleagues focused on taxonomy of the plant record and palaeoclimate reconstructions, including the study of the Neogene Asian monsoon systems. For all this recent progress made, the palaeobotanical and palaeontological record of Southwest China is far from being completely studied. In particular, the status of taxonomy, dating of sites and time control in the Neogene sequences needs improvement. Yet, the Neogene continental strata of Yunnan and their flora and fauna allow for a case study on how palaeoclimate and palaeoenvironmental changes impacted biodiversity. Thus, the history of the present-day biodiversity hotspot can be exemplified. To achieve this, interdisciplinary research is needed in order to unravel interactions of regional uplift and climate change with the biosphere, in the context of global cooling and changes in atmospheric CO2.
This symposium was funded by the Sino-German Center (GZ1200).

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