Rangers putting monitoring guidance into practice during a patrol in Southern China. Credit: Lin Wuying/FFI.

Ziyuan fir discovery brings new hope for one of China’s most threatened trees

Posted on by YangJiqin
Twenty-one Ziyuan fir (Abies ziyuanensis) trees have been discovered after 8 months of intensive fieldwork in Yinzhulaoshan Provincial Nature Reserve (NR), Guangxi, China.

The Ziyuan fir (Abies ziyuanensis) is an Endangered tree from southern China with less than 600 individuals remaining in the wild.

It is known from only three places in the world, including Yinzhulaoshan Provincial Nature Reserve (NR), in North Guangxi. The reserve is home to a genetically unique population of Ziyuan firs that had undergone a severe decline from 2,500 individuals in 1979 to 50 individuals in 2012.

Although several field surveys have been carried out since the 1980s, nobody has ever completed a comprehensive survey of the whole nature reserve (forming a size of over 5000 ha). There was therefore hope that additional Ziyuan firs might be hanging on in unexplored pockets of forest.

One of fifty Ziyuan fir trees known to exist in the reserve before surveys were carried out. Credit: Lin Wuying/FFI.

One of fifty Ziyuan fir trees known to exist in the reserve before surveys were carried out. Credit: Lin Wuying/FFI.

With support from SOS – Save Our Species, Fauna & Flora International’s China programme and Guangxi Institute of Botany, the Yinzhulaoshan reserve team undertook pilot field surveys in January 2014. Forest rangers were trained to use a GPS and digital camera which they used to record the location of any trees or evidences of threats to the species.

After three months of planning, formal field work began in March, and was accompanied by patrolling and monitoring of the reserve. A team of 4 nature reserve staff and 6 rangers took turns to comb the reserve for new trees by walking zigzag lines across different topographies.

Yinzhulaoshan PNR in the fog. Credit: Lin Wuying/FFI

Yinzhulaoshan PNR in the fog. Credit: Lin Wuying/FFI

After two months of intensive fieldwork, the good news finally came. The first new individual was located in an area of dense forest adjacent to the existing population, spurring on hope that more individuals would be found in the reserve. By the time fieldwork was completed in October a total of 21 new Ziyuan fir individuals were identified – each of which will play a key role in the survival of the species.

The new findings include both small seedlings and adult trees clustered in three different regions of the Nature Reserve. The reserve staff will now be modifying their patrol routes to improve the protection of these important trees.

Newly discovered Abies ziyuanensis seedling. Credit: Lin Wuying

Newly discovered Abies ziyuanensis seedling. Credit: Lin Wuying

This has provided a fantastic boost to all of the people working on the conservation of Ziyuan fir – one of China’s most threatened trees. On the back of this news, Yinzhulaoshan NR has applied to local government to upgrade its status from a provincial to a national level nature reserve, highlighting the importance of the area for the conservation of this species.

Meanwhile, the project team is continuing apace with activities funded by SOS – Save Our Species. and the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. Over the coming months a team of NR staff, botanists and conservationists will be working with communities to improve management of the reserve and to carry out propagation trials, needed to replant trees back into the wild.

 

Written by YangJiqin

Yang Jiqin is a field assistant for the FFI China Programme. She provides technical support for a range of projects related to threatened trees and climate change adaptation.

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