Biodiv Sci ›› 2017, Vol. 25 ›› Issue (2): 182-194.DOI: 10.17520/biods.2017014

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Geographic patterns of alpine flora in China in relation to environmental and spatial factors

Zehao Shen1,*(), Mingzheng Yang1, Jianmeng Feng2, Xinhui Li3, Peihao Peng4, Zhi Zheng5   

  1. 1 Department of Ecology, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, MOE Key Laboratory for Earth Surface Processes, Peking University, Beijing 100871
    2 School of Agronomy and Life Sciences, Dali University, Dali, Yunnan 671000
    3 College of Resources and Environment, Southwestern Forestry University, Kunming 650224
    4 College of Earth Sciences, Chengdu University of Science and Technology, Chengdu 610059
    5 State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093
  • Received:2017-01-08 Accepted:2017-02-09 Online:2017-02-20 Published:2017-03-06
  • Contact: Shen Zehao


Alpine areas are global biomes with extreme environments and distinct boundaries. Studies on the geography of alpine flora help us to understand the formation of flora in an extremely cold and segregated environment, as well as the floristic relations between mountains. We integrated alpine flora data from 14 main mountain ranges in China, measured floristic similarities using the Jaccard index, and explored the percentage composition of areal-types of seed plants and the effects of geographical distance and environmental variation on flora similarities using correlation analyses and Mantel tests. Results indicated that Chinese alpine zones harbor a flora characterized by high species richness, with 3,670 species (including 340 subspecies units) belonging to 489 genera and 65 families recorded in the alpine zone of 14 main mountain ranges. These genera are mainly constituted of areal-types of North Temperate distribution and their sub-types, Cosmopolitan, Old World Temperate, East Asia and Sino-Himalayan, while the Sino-Japanese type is absent. Those endemic to China revealed a distinct presence in alpine flora (5.2%). Based on the data from 14 alpine zones, geographical patterns of alpine floristic composition were characterized by a significant latitudinal decrease of tropic and East Asia areal-types, and an increase of northern temperate types. Along the longitudinal gradient, the percentages of Mediterranean types decreased while the northern temperate types increased, and East Asian elements peaked in the middle position. The alpine floras of 14 mountains were significantly correlated in terms of geographical element composition when measured at the genus level, revealing two groups of higher floristic correlations, mountains surrounding the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and separated northern mountains, respectively. The alpine flora of Taiwan Island is more closely related with that of the northern mountains rather than that of the mountains found in Southwest China, which have more comparable latitudes. We found that geographic distance was the primary factor for deviation between alpine floras, while the physiognomy of alpine zones also influenced floristic composition, and the maximum temperature of warmest month (MTWM) was a critical climatic factor for geographical deviation of alpine flora composition in China, which suggests the potential stress effects of global warming on alpine flora.

Key words: alpine zone, seed plant, floristic elements, geographic differentiation, composition similarity, Mantel test, spatial distance, physiognomy, climate