New individuals found of China’s ‘most threatened fir’

Posted on by Victoria Price

The known population size of the Critically Endangered Yuanbaoshan fir more than doubled following expeditions in Yuanbaoshan National Nature Reserve (NNR). Project Manager, Xiaoya Li explains what this discovery means and how it will influence their conservation.

The future of the Yuanbaoshan fir (Abies yuanbaoshanensis), a Critically Endangered tree species found in a single nature reserve in China (Yuanbaoshan NNR), received a boost late in 2014 when surveys revealed a significantly higher number of individuals than previously thought. The surveys, supported by SOS Save our Species and the Global Trees Campaign (GTC), led to an increase in the known population of Yuanbaoshan firs, from 280 to over 700 individuals (which included more than 250 saplings). This finding has more than doubled the known global population of the species.

The results of the surveys, which were carried out by staff of Yuanbaoshan NNR in collaboration with the Guangxi Institute of Botany, GTC and SOS are promising findings for the survival of the species and represents a significant step towards ensuring its long-term future. A larger population means the species will be more secure against disturbances and also ensure a wider genetic pool on which to base on-going recoveries.

Before the 2014 survey, the understanding was that there had been a significant and rapid decline in the Yuanbaoshan fir’s population. This conclusion was based upon various surveys conducted over the previous 30 years which recorded a decrease in population size from 900 individuals in 1982, to 589 in 1997 and just 280 in 2012.

Rangers excited about taking photos and using GPS - skills to do patroling and monitoring Credit: Yang Jiqin/FFI

Rangers using new skills to monitor Yuanbaoshan fir sapling. Credit: Yang Jiqin/FFI

However, these surveys did not all use the same methods, so to what extent these figures represent real changes in population over time or, simply reflect trees that were not incorporated in previous surveys, is hard to judge.

The fact that recent counts included more than 250 saplings is an encouraging sign that the species can reproduce in the wild and that the population may well have actually increased in recent years. However the population size is likely to continue to fluctuate as it is not guaranteed that all of the saplings will reach maturity. Nonetheless, the new global population estimate of 700 individuals, all of which occur at a single site, is encouraging but also means the species remains a high conservation priority.

The questions regarding the reliability of previous data reinforces the need for capacity building, where in-country partners are training and mentoring Yuanbaoshan NNR staff in tree conservation techniques. The financial support from SOS is helping the GTC to build the technical capacity of the reserve team, allowing them to consistently monitor the reserve’s population of trees and inform where to monitor in the future. This will contribute to the development of effective management strategies for the species.

Project team taking a closer look at a specimen. Credit: Xingfeng/FFI

Project team taking a closer look at a specimen. Credit: Xingfeng/FFI

The continued support to the NNR staff provided by GTC, project partners and SOS is vitally important for the on-going conservation of the Yuanbaoshan fir and particularly for the next steps which will focus on propagating seedlings to re-introduce into the wild.

It is clear that the Yuanbaoshan fir still faces the significant on-going threat of its extremely limited distribution. The team in China is building upon its new skills to initiate a long-term monitoring system based on the data gathered in the 2014 surveys. This will allow local conservationists to track the population more accurately and ensure that in the future, appropriate conservation actions support the entire population of Yuanbaoshan firs.

Written by Victoria Price

Victoria works as a Programme Officer at Fauna & Flora International. In her role she provides support to the Global Trees Campaign and is responsible for the delivery of several field projects including Central Asia & Madagascar.

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