Taiwan, the largest island off the coast of China, is located at the edge of the tropics between Japan and the Philippines. It is comprised of steep, granite mountains that rise on the eastern slope from a deep oceanic trench to nearly 4,000 meters (m) in elevation at the summit of Mt. Yushan. The western and northern sides of the island include a gently sloping coastal plain that once supported extensive moist broadleaf forests. Because of the north-south alignment and the large vertical relief, Taiwan possesses a wide range of habitats and a correspondingly high biodiversity. Today, forests (subtropical to subalpine) remain on mountain slopes while the coastal plains have been largely converted to agriculture. Taiwan’s system of national parks and nature reserves offers a good measure of protection to the montane forests, while lowland and coastal areas would benefit from increased conservation measures.
Location and General Description
The island of Taiwan is located about 200 kilometers (km) off the east coast of China. Most of the island is mountainous. Several ranges trend from northeast to southwest and the highest peaks approach 4,000 meters (m). The east side of the island rises steeply from the Pacific, while the west side includes some coastal plains that lie adjacent to the East China Sea. Taiwan includes two ecoregions. Taiwan subtropical evergreen forests occupy most of the island including its mountainous interior. South Taiwan monsoon rainforests occupy low-elevation coastal areas and some interior mountains at the southern end of the island, located within the Tropic of Cancer.
Tropical forests of South Taiwan are quite similar in their ecology and species composition to the coastal forests of southeastern mainland China (Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces). In the southern part of Taiwan, tropical montane forests are more seasonally variable in temperature and precipitation than are the lowland forests of the coastal plain. The montane forests include both evergreen tree species such as banyan (Ficus microcarpa), Cryptocarya chinensis, and Schefflera octophylla and deciduous species such as kapok (Bombax malabaricum) and the leguminous Albizia procera. Both of these deciduous trees are wide ranging, extending to the southern foothills of the eastern Himalaya. The tropical lowland forests include many tree species. Three of the most common are the nutmeg (Myristica cagayanensis), the commercially valuable timber species, Pterospermum niveum, and the wild jackfruit (Artocarpus lanceolatus).
This southern part of Taiwan also supports coastal mangrove forest communities in which the dominant tree species are Rhizophora mucronata, Kandelia candel, and Bruguiera conjugata. The two former species tend to grow at the front edge of the mangrove, facing the open water. While Asian mangrove forests at the latitude of Taiwan have a lower species richness than the mangrove forests in the equatorial regions, they still provide important ecosystem services such as protecting the coastline from ocean storms and catching sediment transported from land to sea. Mangrove communities also support many species found nowhere else and provide nursery habitat for many marine fish species, some of which have commercial importance.
Kenting National Park (326 square kilometers [km2]) protects natural habitat at the southern tip of Taiwan. It includes both marine and terrestrial habitat and is heavily affected by tourism. The park provides winter habitat at Lungluan Lake for shorebirds and waterfowl that migrate from breeding areas in Japan and the Russian Far East. Larger mammals in the park include the Taiwan Sika deer (Cervus nippon taiouanus) and the Taiwanese macaque (Macaca cyclopis).
Tawu Shan (470 km2) is Taiwan’s largest nature reserve. Although it lies within the South Taiwan monsoon rain forests ecoregion, the habitat here is montane subtropical to temperate. It does not support tropical forest, but it does provide habitat for several mammals and birds rare in Taiwan. These include sambar deer (Rusa unicolor), Taiwan black bears (Selenarctos thibetanus formosanus), and Swinhoe’s pheasant (Lophura swinhoei). Two mammal species thought to have been extirpated from this reserve are clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa) and otters (Lutra lutra).
Several of Taiwan’s restricted-range bird species are shorebirds that overwinter here. These include Japanese night-herons (Gorsachius goisagi), Nordmann’s greenshanks (Tringa guttifer), and spoon-billed sandpipers (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus).
Some interesting tropical and subtropical conifer stands occur within the South Taiwan monsoon rain forests. Small nature reserves in the southern mountains protect stands of Amentotaxus formosana, a yew-like conifer, and Keteleeria formosana in the pine family.
With 20 million people and a vigorous economy based on agriculture and industry, Taiwan’s natural environments have been severely affected by anthropogenic activity. Most of the natural habitat occurs in mountain areas where several nature reserves and national parks have been established. Today, forest cover is estimated to be about 52 percent, but much of this consists of monoculture plantations of non-native species.
Types and Severity of Threats
Additional information on this ecoregion
- For a shorter summary of this entry, see the WWF WildWorld profile of this ecoregion.
- To see the species that live in this ecoregion, including images and threat levels, see the WWF Wildfinder description of this ecoregion.
- World Wildlife Fund Homepage
- Chinese Vegetation Map Compilation Committee. 1979. Vegetation map of China. Map (1:10,000,000). Science Press, Beijing, China.
- MacKinnon, J. 1996. Wild China. The MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ISBN: 0262133296
- Mackinnon, J., M. Sha, C. Cheung, G. Carey, Z. Xiang, and D. Melville. 1996. A biodiversity review of China. World Wide Fund for Nature, Hong Kong.
- Stattersfield, A.J., M.J. Crosby, A.J. Long, and David C. Wege 1998. Endemic Bird Areas of the World: Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation. Birdlife Conservation Series, No. 7. Birdlife International, Cambridge, UK. ISBN: 1560985747
- Zhao, J. editor. Zheng Guangmei, Wang Huadong, Xu Jialin. 1990. The Natural History of China. McGraw Hill Publishing Company, New York. ISBN: 0070107521
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