Our province contains snow-capped mountains, some of the tallest in the world, and also true tropical environments, thus supporting an unusually full spectrum of vegetation types. During summer, the Great Plateau of Tibet acts as a barrier to monsoon winds, trapping moisture in the province. This gives the alpine flora in particular what one source has called a "lushness found nowhere else."
Yunnan is in southwest China and borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. Yunnan is China's most diverse province, biologically and culturally.
This topographic range combined with a tropical moisture along the southern border sustains extremely high biodiversity and high degrees of endemism, "likely the richest botanically in the world's temperate regions." Over 15,000 species of higher plants, of which perhaps 2,500 are endemic, can be found in the province. The fauna is nearly as diverse. Yunnan Province, an area the size of Germany, has less than 4% of the land of China, yet contains almost half of China's plants, birds and mammals.
The word "unique" is greatly overused, but Yunnan Province has a legitimate claim that its combination of great natural biodiversity with great cultural diversity is unique in the world. Yunnan has 26 of China's 56 ethnic minority groups, including the Dai, Zhuang, Buyi, Yi, Bai, Hani, Lisu, Lahu, Naxi, Jingpo, Pumi, Nu, Miao, Yao, Wa, and Tibetan peoples. It is difficult not to feel that this great ethnic diversity springs in some way from the great biological diversity. It, too, is imperiled by the province's rapid development.
Yunnan has been designated:
1) "Center of Plant Diversity" (IUCN/WWF: Davis et al. 1995);
2) "Global 200 List Priority Ecoregion" for biodiversity conservation (WWF: Olsen and Dinerstein 1998);
3) "Endemic Bird Area" (Birdlife International: Bibby, C. et al. 1992);
4) "Global Biodiversity Hotspot,"as a part of the Hengdu Mountain Ecosystem (Conservation International: Mittermeier and Mittermeier 1997).
The overall diversity of the province is so great that it is difficult to describe comprehensively, but these are some of the specific regions within the province.
* River valleys -- provide dispersal corridors northeast from the Indo-Malayan lowlands and northwest from the East Asian lowlands. These valleys have some of the highest overall levels of species endemism and richness in the world's temperate zone.
* Mountain ranges -- with glaciated peaks of in excess of 6,500 m and deep gorges create a remarkable diversity of broad vegetation zones, subtropical to alpine. These provide dispersal corridors for upland flora and fauna southeast from the Tibetan Plateau and southwest from the Sichuan Highlands.
* Northwest Yunnan -- contains some of the last remaining primary forests in all of Asia. These forests were listed as "Priority A" for conservation by China's Ministry of Forestry.
* Tropical Yunnan -- bordering Vietnam, Laos and Burma, Yunnan's southernmost reaches are true tropical areas, much altered unfortunately to grow rubber trees, though substantial preserves exist. Elephants once, millenia past, roamed much of China, but the few that remain today are in Yunnan's Xishuangbanna prefecture. Many plants are shared with the three neighboring countries.