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Case study 4: Rapid biodiversity survey across outer Mongolia


Mongolian transect: Siberian Taiga to Desert SteppeMost vegetation-based databases are either constructed at arbitrary ‘biome’ scales in which data and information are pooled in a non-uniform way, or else detailed, regionally specific accounts with little or no facility for inter-regional comparison. The Center for Biodiversity Management global database is arguably the most unique and comprehensive of its kind with respect to uniform coverage of plant ecological features. While CBM is continues to expand its coverage of global vegetation types, one region that is a significant information gap has been the Eastern Siberian Taiga and the continental deserts of Asia. One country that offers ready access to a gradient between these two extremes in Mongolia. Covering 1.564 million square kilometers, Mongolia encompasses an area larger than Britain, France, Germany, and Italy combined. It is the seventh largest country in Asia and one of the largest land-locked. countries in the world. The climate is distinctly continental with long, cold, dry winters and brief, mild, and relatively wet summers. Mid-winter, temperatures average -20 to -35ºC with extremes recorded as low as -58ºC. Summer temperatures in the Gobi desert may reach 40ºC. Annual precipitation ranges from 600 mm in the Khentii, Altai, and Khovsgol mountains to less than 100 mm in the Gobi. In some parts of the Gobi, no precipitation may fall for several years in a row. With 2.3 million inhabitants, its population density, 1.5 persons per square kilometer, is the lowest in Asia.

Mongolian dunes, Mongolian Steppe and Mogolian buttercups

On the biodiversity side, more than 3000 species of vascular plants, 927 lichens, 437 mosses, 875 fungi, and numerous algae have been recorded with many more yet to be classified. Mongolia's flora includes almost 150 endemic plants and nearly 100 relict species. Over 100 plant species are listed in the Mongolian Red Book as rare or endangered. As with the flora, the fauna represent a mixture of species from the northern taiga of Siberia, the steppe, and the deserts of Central Asia. Fauna includes 136 species of mammals, 436 birds, 8 amphibians, 22 reptiles, 75 fish, and numerous invertebrates.Http://www.un-mongolia.mn/archives/wildher/contents.htmAgainst this background, CBM conducted a gradsect survey of Mongolia which was designed to achieve maximum coverage of vegetation types and related physical environment with minimum logistic input (see map). The survey was undertaken by Andy Gillison using a single offroad vehicle with driver and cook. Altogether 42 spatially-referenced (200m2) transects were documented according to the VegClass protocol. At each site botanical voucher specimens were collected for all vascular plants. This collection has been curated and specimens identified by staff at the Institute of Botany, Mongolian Academy of Sciences in Ulaanbaatar. The survey covered approximately 3,500 km and was completed in 17 days. Despite the relatively short time, the survey appears to be the first of its kind ever undertaken in Mongolia.Preliminary analyses based solely on Plant Functional Types (PFTs) indicate that variation in Mongolian PFTs is consistent with that in other countries with similar environmental extremes.

Some exceptions include extreme reduction of leaf size in Gobi desert conditions and modifications of succulent leaves that are also very small when compared with desert succulents elsewhere – possibly due to lower mean temperatures. In a similar way, plant species and PFT richness vary predictably along a North-South (temperature-moisture) gradient, with typically 40 species and 25 PFTs in a 40x5m transect in the Taiga-like in the northern Khentii mountains and 4 species and three PFTs in a desert site.We anticipate the additional data and information acquired from this survey will enable preliminary modelling of the way vegetation adaptive features change with the physical environment. If successful this may have implications for forecasting the way vegetation may respond to climate change.

Mongolian transect map






 

 



 











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