Ecological and biogeographical studies on the tropical rain forest of south Yunnan, SW China with a special reference to its relation with rain forests of tropical Asia


Present address: Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden. The Chinese Academy of Sciences. Yunnan 650223, P.R. China.


Abstract. Ecological and biogeographic analyses of the tropical rain forest in south Yunnan were made using data from seventeen sample plots and floristic inventories of about 1000 species of seed plants. The rain forest is shown to be a type of true tropical rain forest because it has almost the same profile, physiognomic characteristics, species richness per unit area, numbers of individuals in each tree species and diameter classes of trees as classic lowland tropical rain forests. As the area is at the northern margin of monsoonal tropics, the rain forest differs from equatorial lowland rain forests in having some deciduous trees in the canopy layer, fewer megaphanaerophytes and epiphytes but more species of lianas as well as more species of microphylls. In its floristic composition, about 80% of total families. 94% of total genera and more than 90% of total species are tropical, of which about 38% of genera and 74% of species are tropical Asian. Furthermore, the rain forest has not only almost the same families and genera, but also the same families rank in the top ten both in species richness and in dominance of stems, as lowland forests in southeast Asia. It is indisputable that the flora of the rain forest is part of the tropical Asian flora. However, most of the tropical families and genera have their northern limits in south Yunnan and most have their centre of species diversity in Malesia. More strictly tropical families and genera have relatively lower species richness and importance compared with lowland rain forests in tropical southeast Asia. Thus, the flora also shows characteristics of being at the margin of the tropics.

Based mainly on physiognomy and floristic composition the tropical rain forest of Yunnan is classified into two types, i.e. seasonal rain forest and wet seasonal rain forest, the latter is further divided into two subtypes, i.e. mixed rain forest and dipterocarp rain forest.

From analysis of geographic elements it is also shown that the tropical rain forest of Yunnan occurs at a geographical nexus with its flora coming mainly from four sources, i.e. Malesia, south Himalayas, Indochina and China.