Sorrow and Hope for Biodiversity in a Degraded Landscape


The Ecology and Biodiversity of Hong Kong . Dudgeon, D., and R.Corlett . 2004 . Joint Publishing (HK) Company Limited , Hong Kong . 336 pp . $20.00 (paperback) . ISBN 962-04-2388-7 .

Lying at the southern tip of China is the Special Administration Region of Hong Kong (22°09′–22°37′N). Total land area of Hong Kong is 1100 km2, which comprises part of the Chinese mainland and several off-shore islands. Hong Kong had been under British rule since 1842 but was transferred back to the People's Republic of China in 1997. It is classified by climatologists as subtropical because of the 13°C difference between its coolest (January) and warmest (July) months. In the past few centuries, Hong Kong's population has grown rapidly from about 3000 to 7 million. The land conversion there, however, started before the population explosion. It is believed that deforestation started in Hong Kong as early as 1000 years ago and was completed at least 300 years ago with the demise of the primary forest (Hau et al. 2005). Thus, Hong Kong represents the “day after” for the tropics, where massive deforestation is now unfolding. As expected, Hong Kong is devoid of charismatic fauna such as hornbills, pheasants, trogons, bears, rhinoceros, elephants, and tapirs. All of these presumably succumbed to the extensive deforestation (Hau et al. 2005).

Should conservation biologists be interested in such a degraded landscape? The answer is affirmative for several reasons. First, Hong Kong is a “mirror” showing us what massive deforestation can do to native biotas. Second, Hong Kong provides a relatively large-scale experiment that shows which species stay in or return to the degraded landscape. Third, it provides an opportunity for humans, through effective management (e.g., protection, restoration, and reintroductions), to facilitate the process of “healing” its diminished biodiversity and disrupted ecological interactions.

This book, written mainly for undergraduates and general public, gives an excellent introduction to the past and present of Hong Kong's biodiversity and ecology. It is a comprehensively updated version of the previous one penned by the same authors (Dudgeon & Corlett 1994). The book is divided into 10 chapters: “Evolution and Adaptations,”“Environment and History,”“Biogeography,”“Seasonality,”“Terrestrial Communities,”“Land and Water,”“Food and Feeding,”“Biodiversity,”“Bad Biodiversity: Aliens and Their Impacts,” and “Conservation.” Although all chapters are excellent, I particularly enjoyed the one on the environment and history because it reports the chronology of forest loss. The chapter on conservation discusses local extinctions, management of protected areas, careful development, listing of protected species, restoration of habitats, and reintroductions. The chapter on bad biodiversity, I hope, will teach the Buddhists not to release alien species during religious ceremonies. It is also my hope that the following ending lines will be heeded not only by Hong Kongers but also by people throughout the tropics: “Saving what we have and restoring what we have lost will require more than knowledge: it will also require action.”

The Ecology and Biodiversity of Hong Kong is written lucidly and illustrated with excellent photographs. It contains a wealth of information, and it is an interesting read. I think the book should be of value to everybody and anybody interested in tropical conservation biology.