Plant diversity and priority conservation areas of Northwestern Yunnan, China

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The Global Plant Conservation Strategy of the Convention on Biological Diversity calls for “protection of 50% of the most important areas for plant diversity.” All global biodiversity analyses have identified the mountains of northwestern Yunnan as a conservation priority for plant diversity. The challenge we were presented with was how to transform this sweeping global recognition into regional geographic priorities and measurable conservation action. This challenge is especially acute in Yunnan where there are no readily accessible data on the distribution and status of plant diversity, yet great conservation urgency due to the rapid pace of economic development. We used endangered and endemic species to represent plant diversity as a whole due to time and financial constraints. To identify conservation priorities, we relied on experts' knowledge, supplemented with a rapidly assembled plant diversity data base, rapid field assessments to fill knowledge gaps, and analyses of the spatial patterns of richness and habitat relationships. Ninety-eight endangered species and 703 endemic species occur in the project area. Experts identified nine Plant Diversity Conservation Areas for northwestern Yunnan, including eight specific geographies and one priority habitat. We found that the current nature reserve system is serving an important role in plant diversity protection, even though many of the reserves were not specifically designated for plant diversity considerations. This project provided a means for scientific experts to directly contribute to conservation decision-making by government and Non-Government Organizations, and essential information for the plant conservation in Northwestern Yunnan.

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