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15 Biodiversity resources, economic values and conservation in China

Shi Zuomin[24]


Biodiversity resources in China are very rich. Characteristics of biodiversity resources in China at gene, species and ecosystem levels are briefly introduced. Direct utilization value, indirect utilization value and potential utilization value of biodiversity resources in China are evaluated generally. Measures that have been adopted for biodiversity resources conservation in China are reviewed in terms of law and policy, management, conservation and sustainable utilization, scientific research and international cooperation.


Biodiversity resources have been eroding dramatically because of the following reasons: loss and fragmentation of habitats, over-utilization, environmental pollution, signalization of varieties used in agriculture and forestry, invasion of exotic species, global climate change, construction of dams and reservoirs, and other natural disasters. But biodiversity resources have direct and potential significant economic, social and ecological values. So conservation of biodiversity resources has become one of the hot spots globally. China is one of the countries with abundant biodiversity resources and is the largest developing country in the world. Conservation of biodiversity resources has important significance for China, and the world.


A vast territory, old geological history, various landforms, climate and soil types have formed complex and various habitats and determined the abundant biodiversity resources in China. The biodiversity has the following characteristics.

Abundant species resources

There are more than 30 000 higher plant species in China, less only to Brazil and Columbia by world-wide comparison. In Asia, the number of species in China is highest. It accounts for about 10 percent of the total species number in the world (Table 1).

Many endemic and species

Specific geological and historical conditions have resulted in many relic and new genera and/or species endemic to China (Table 2). The former such as Ailuropda melanoleuca, Lipotes vexillifer, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, Ginkgo biloba, Cathaya argyrophylla and Cycas panzhihuaensis are all called living fossils. There are about 17 300 endemic higher plant species. They account for about 57 percent of the total higher plant species in China.

Table 1. Species number in China and in the world


Species number in China

Species number in the world




4 181



1 186

9 040




63 000




4 010



2 804

21 400



40 000

751 000


Higher plants

30 000

285 750



8 000

69 000




3 000




5 000



5 000

40 000


Table 2. Some animal and plant species (or genera) endemic to China


Number of known species (or genera)

Number of endemic species (or genera)



581 species

110 species



1244 species

98 species



376 species

25 species



284 species

30 species



3862 species

404 species



494 genera

13 genera



224 genera

6 genera



34 genera

10 genera



3123 genera

246 genera


Old flora and fauna

Most parts of China became land at the end of the Mesozoic period and were not affected by continental glacier in the Quaternary glacial period. Thus old and relic species of the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods have been preserved all over the country in different degrees. For example, there are seven families of pine and fir in the world now, and China has six of them. There are many old or original families and genera of angiosperma in China such as Liriodendron, Magnolia, Manglietia, Michelia, Altingia, Distyliopsis, Exbucklandia, Rhodoleia, Theaceae, Lauraceae, Illiciaceae, Schisandraceae, Calycanthaceae, Trochodendraceae, Tetracentraceae and Bretschneideraceae. The origin of the fauna of terrestrial vertebrates can also be traced to the Hipparion fauna of Pliocene of the Tertiary period. The fauna north of Qinling belongs to the Palearctic realm and that south of the Changjiang River belongs to the Oriental realm.

The current flora and fauna in China also have close relationships to the flora and fauna in the tropical area. Many tropical families and genera are distributed in the south of China. For example, Nepenthaceae, Dipterocarpaceae, Daphniphyllaceae, Rhoipteleaceae and Ditiscaceae are common old families in the paleotropical area. Dibamidae, Varanidae, Irenidae, Artaidae, Trogonidae, Eurylaimidae, Psittacidae, Bucerotidae, Pteropidae, Tupaidae, Lorisidae, Hylobatidae, Tragulidae and Elephontidae derive from the tropical area.

Additionally, many monotypic genera and oligotypic genera in the flora and fauna of China also reflect their old characteristics.

Plentiful genetic resources

Genetic diversity is very vast in China. The plentiful animal, plant and microbial species are valuable pools of genetic diversity.

Genetic diversity of cultivated plants is very large. It includes economic crop, fruit tree, vegetable, grazing grass, flower, medicine and timber species. For example, there are more than 1000 economic tree species found in China, including Ziziphus spp., Castanea mollissima, Camellia spp., Vernicia spp. and Toxicodendron vernicifluurn that are specific to China. China is even the original and distributional centre of wild and cutivated fruit tree species; the number of cultivated fruit tree species in China is the most in the world, such as Malus spp., Pyrus spp., Prunus spp., Diospyros spp., Actinidia spp., Citrus sinensis, Litchi chinensis, Dimocarpus spp., Eriobotrya spp. and Myrica spp. China is one of the original areas of Oryza sativa and the original place of Glycine max. China also has more than 11 000 medical plant species and 4215 grazing grass species.

As for animals, China has the most varieties and categories of domestic animals in the world. According to the current statistics, there are 1938 varieties and categories of domestic animals in China, including endemic economic animals and domestic insects.

Various ecosystem types

China has all the ecosystem types that occur in the northern hemisphere, including forest, grassland, desert, wetland, coast and marine, and farmland ecosystems. From north to south, the main forest ecosystem types are cold temperate coniferous forest, temperate coniferous and broad-leaved mixed forests, warm temperate deciduous broad-leaved and coniferous forests, subtropical evergreen broad-leaved and coniferous forests, and tropical monsoon and rain forests. Grassland ecosystem can be divided into three main types, viz. temperate grassland, high and cold grassland, and mountain grassland. Desert ecosystem can be divided into four main types, viz. small tree desert, shrub desert, subshrub and small subshrub deserts, and high and cold deserts. Wetland ecosystem includes mainly lake, river and marsh. Coast and marine ecosystem can be divided into beach, estuary, coast, wetland, mangrove forest, coral reef, island and ocean ecosystems. Farmland ecosystem is even more plentiful and diverse.


Biodiversity resources have historical, present and future economic and social values and this plays an important role in poverty reduction, especially in rural areas. But, because there are many uncertainties in their exact values, we can now only evaluate them generally.

Generally, economic values of biodiversity resources can be divided into direct utilization, indirect utilization and potential utilization values. Direct utilization values include direct utilization values of biodiversity resources products and materials for processing other products; indirect utilization values include the values of organic matter production, CO2 sequestration, O2 production, cycling and storage of nutrient matter, water and soil conservation, water resources retention and reduction of environmental pollutants; potential utilization values include potential option value and potential reserve value.

Direct utilization value

· Economic values of direct products and processing materials. Based on the national statistical data, economic values of biodiversity resources in terms of forestry, agriculture, stockbreeding, fishery, industrial draw materials and consumptive utilization in 1993 were calculated generally as RMB33.57x109, RMB358.21x109, RMB137.01x109, RMB51.80x109, RMB438.78x109 and RMB126.0x109 respectively.

· Service value. This value includes tourism, scientific and cultural values, and utilization value of livestock power. Their values in 1993 were RMB710x109, RMB2.88x109 and RMB70x109 respectively.

Indirect utilization value

· Value of organic production. It means the economic value of primary productivity and biomass of various ecosystems. The value of organic matter production of terrestrial ecosystem in 1995 was RMB23.3x1012.

· Value of CO2 sequestration and O2 production. The methods of afforestation cost and carbon tax were used for calculating the economic value of CO2 sequestration of terrestrial ecosystem in 1995. The result was RMB3.27x1012. The value of O2 production of terrestrial ecosystem in 1995 was RMB3.11x1012, calculated by the methods of afforestation cost and industrial producing O2 shadow price.

· Value of cycling and storage of nutrient matter. Based on the approximate calculation for the annual uptake and total storage of important nutrient matter such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, its economic value was calculated by the average price of fertilizer. The result showed that the indirect economic value of nutrient matter fixation during its cycling of terrestrial ecosystem was RMB324x109 per year.

· Value of water and soil conservation. The value was calculated in the following three parts: reducing loss of surface soil, reducing loss of soil fertility and alleviating disaster of alluvial mud and sand. The values of reducing losses of surface soil, soil organic matter and soil inorganic nutrient matter, and alleviating of alluvial mud and sand of terrestrial ecosystem per year were RMB3.89x109, RMB202.53x109, RMB6.42x1012 and RMB12.27x109 respectively. The total annual value of terrestrial ecosystem for reducing soil erosion was RMB6.64x1012.

· Value of water resource retention. The value has been evaluated mainly for forest ecosystem. It was about RMB271.28x109 per year.

· Value of reduction of environmental pollutants. The value has been calculated just for forest ecosystem. Its value for SO2 absorption was RMB9.70x109 and for dirt removal was RMB390x109.

Potential utilization value

· Potential option value. The value has been evaluated by the method of willing insurance payment. It was RMB89.3x109.

· Potential reserve value. Potential option species only account for a small part of the total potential species; potential reserve value should be larger that the value of potential option value. According to the calculation, the value of potential reserve was RMB134x109.


The Chinese Government always pays attention to biodiversity conservation and has gained great achievements in the country. Currently, the following has been carried out:

Making of laws, systems and policies

· law: constitution, laws, administrative regulations, local regulations and rules;

· system: environmental impact assessment system, natural reserve system and license system;

· policy: payment for utilization of natural resources, sustainable utilization of biological resources, financial and tax subsidies, compensation for ecoenvironment.

Management measures

· institution establishment: some administrative institutions for biodiversity have been established in the relevant management departments of the state council and relevant institutions have also been established in local governments;

· dissemination and education: news, reports, films and television programmes, exhibitions, memorial activities of special festivals and education of young people;

· training: training courses or workshops mainly for the staffs of basic management departments.

Protection and sustainable utilization measures

· protection: establishment of more than 900 reserves, 700 scenic and famous areas, 500 forest parks, 200 zoos, 150 arboreta and some seed and gene pools;

· sustainable utilization: breeding and cultivation of wild animals and plants, ecotourism and eco-construction.

Scientific research

· Biodiversity listing: Ecosystem listing includes China’s vegetation, forest, grassland, lake, marsh, etc. Species listing includes China’s flora, economic plants, economic animals, birds, red plant book, red animal book, etc. Genetic resources listing includes collection of seed resources such as seed of crop, vegetable and grazing grass, and livestock species.

· Studies on conservation theories and techniques: Studies focus on the basic theories on conservation biology and the artificial breeding techniques for specific species such as Davidia involucrata and Ailuropda melanoleuca.

· Monitoring and information system: Ecological stations and monitoring sites established include 64 ecological stations of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in different ecosystem types, 13 ecological stations of the State Forestry Administration (SFA) in different forest types, ecoenvironmental monitoring centre, wetland resources monitoring centre and wild animal and plant resources monitoring centre of the SFA, monitoring network of the State Environment Protection Administration(SEPA), State Ocean Administration (SOA) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA). Information systems including the biodiversity information systems of the CAS and relevant information systems of the SFA, SEPA, MOA and SOA have also been set up.

· Publishing books and journals on biodiversity: More than 400 relevant books have been published in the past 20 years including tens of national journals on nature conservation and biodiversity and over a hundred journals on biological science, agricultural science and forestry.

International cooperation

· implementation of international conventions such as the Biodiversity Convention, Ramsar Convention and CITES Convention;

· multilateral cooperation and cooperation with government and non-government organizations such as World Bank, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, WWF, IUCN and Wetland International;

· bilateral cooperation such as with Japan and Australia on migration birds, with the U.S. and Germany on the giant panda, and with Russia on natural reserves and forest fire;

· relative civil cooperation.


China is one of the countries with numerous and varied ecosystem types, species resources and genetic resources in the world. The biodiversity resources have vast economic values and play an important role in poverty reduction, especially in the rural areas. Many activities in different ways of conserving biodiversity resources have been conducted and prominent achievements have been gained in the country. But because of China’s fast economic development, large population, and some irrational traditional lifestyles, more work on biodiversity resources conservation should be done in the future.


Biodiversity Committee of Chinese Academy of Sciences. 1994. Principles and methodologies of biodiversity studies. Beijing, Chinese Science and Technology Press.

Chen Lingzhi. 1993. China biodiversity-current situation and their conservation strategies. Beijing, Science Press.

Editing Committee of Country Study Report of Biodiversity in China. 1998. Country study report of biodiversity in China. Beijing, Chinese Environmental Science Press.

Liu Shirong, Jiang Youxu & Shi Zuomin. 1998. A study on the biological diversity in warm temperate forests in China. Beijing, Chinese Science and Technology Press.

[24] Institute of Forest Ecology, Environment and Protection, Chinese Academy of Forestry, Beijing, China; E-mail:

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