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Heavenly Plant Explorations in the Celestial Mountains of Kazakhstan


Heavenly Plant Explorations in the Celestial Mountains of Kazakhstan John and Hilary Birks NBF 8th December 2009 2. Forested zone 1500-1875 m Open Juniperus ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Heavenly Plant Explorations in the Celestial Mountains of Kazakhstan

Heavenly Plant Explorations in the Celestial
Mountains of Kazakhstan
  • John and Hilary Birks
  • NBF 8th December 2009

Where Why How When How does one identify Tian
Shan plants? General ecological setting Northern
Tian Shan Western Tian Shan Conclusions Acknowledg
Kazakhstan (Kazakstan) Extends from Caspian Sea
in the west to China in the east, and from
Siberia in the north to the Tian Shan in the south
Twice as large as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan,
Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan together. 2.7
million km2 ninth largest country in the world,
about the size of western Europe
Population 17.2 million one of the least densely
populated places on Earth (6.3 people per
km2) Broad ethnic mix 40 Kazakhs 5
Ukrainian 38 Russian 2 Uzbekian 6
German 2 Tartar 100 other ethnic groups
Koreans, Greeks, Poles, Jews, Turks, etc. We
visited the Tian (Tien) Shan mountains in
Tian Shan massive mountain range mainly in
Kyrgyzstan and NW China, with northern and
western spurs extending to Kazakhstan
Tian Shan is Chinese for Celestial Mountains,
sometimes written as Tien Shan. Tien is the
older romanisation of the Chinese word and is not
in general use any more. Tian Shan has replaced
the original Kyrgyz name Tengri-Tag meaning
Mountains of the Spirits or Mountains of
Heaven. Tian Shan Celestial Mountains
Mountains of Heaven
Hence Heavenly plant explorations in the
Celestial Mountains of Kazakhstan
  • Tian Shan is biggest of the three major mountain
    ranges of the former Soviet Union
  • Total length is 2800 km and 800 km wide
  • Four different chains within the Tian Shan all
    running west-east
  • Central - Northern
  • Western - Inner
  • Visited Western and Northern Tian Shan
  • Central Tian Shan is the highest, reaching 7439 m
    (Pik Pobedy or Peak of Victory) and 7010 m
    (Khan-Tengri). Most central and northern
    mountains above 7000 m.
  • Eastern Tian Shan is mainly in China many
    magnificent peaks.
  • Majority of summits are 4500-5000 m, many passes
    between 3500 and 4500 m, and more than 30 peaks
    over 6000 m.

Very well glaciated due to high altitude and
abundant snow. Has 7787 glaciers, with the
biggest (South Engilchek) 60 km long. Not
retreating quite as rapidly as Sino-Himalayan
glaciers (12.5 since 1965). Old and dynamic
geological history. Former marine sediments
folded during the Caledonian and later by
Hercynian and Alpine orogenies and modified by
high temperatures and pressures to various
metamorphic bedrocks. Limestone is relatively
rare, shale and slate are common.
Climate is strongly continental with January
temperatures often below -20C, mean July
temperature of 20C, and long summers. Snow-line
about 3500-4500 m. Most distinguished animal is
the elusive snow leopard (Panthera uncla).
Thought to be about 450 animals in Tian Shan,
about 60 of worlds population.
Steve Winter
Very rich flora consisting of European, Siberian,
Chinese, Mongolian, and Himalayan elements, plus
some endemics. Plant geographical
meeting-point. Over 5000 species recorded. Much
unspoilt alpine areas. New adventures!
How and When
GreenTours Expedition 6-21 June 2008
London ? Almaty 4x4 land-cruisers in Northern
Tian Shan Overnight train (!) Almaty ? Zhambyl
and Dzhabagly Horses (!!) into and within
Aksu-Dzhabagly Reserve (est. 1923), Central Tian
Shan 4x4 land-cruisers in Northern Tian
Shan Almaty ? London
How does one Identify Tian Shan Plants?
With great difficulty!
Flora of Kazakhstan (3 volumes) 1978-1987 long
out of print and impossible to find. Also in
Russian and no pictures!
Pavlov 1980
Ivaschenko 2008
Ivaschenko 2005
The key is
Anna Ivaschenko
Vladimir Kolbintsev
Two outstanding local botanists and all-round
natural historians
General Ecological Setting
Strong east-west gradient in precipitation and in
precipitation seasonality. Major differences
between northern Tian Shan and western Tian Shan
in terms of tree-line composition and structure.
1. Northern Tian Shan, near Almaty
Mildly Asian monsoon climate with summer
precipitation About 800 mm yr-1 Tree-line about
2500 m
Miehe et al. (2007)
Conifer forest islands in Central Asian
Mountains (Picea, Larix, boreal conifer forest)
Picea schrenkiana with Sorbus tianschanica and
near tree-line prostrate Juniperus sibirica
2. Western Tian Shan near Aksu-Dzhabagly
No monsoon influence, climate driven by
Westerlies Winter precipitation, dry
summers About 300 mm yr-1 (Mediterranean
climate) Tree-line formed by Juniperus
semiglobosa Tree-line about 1900 m
(No Transcript)
Above Juniperus semiglobosa, prostrate junipers
(J. turkestanica) dominate and merge into alpine
tundra at about 2000 m
Juniperus turkestanica
Open forests in arid mountain areas often consist
of Juniperus e.g. Utah, Idaho, parts of Oregon
(USA) Mediterranean mountains (e.g. Crete,
Greece) parts of Armenia, Iran, and Turkey
Hindukush Karakoram and parts of central Nepal
and Tibet Plateau.
Climate diagrams from areas of open Juniperus
forests. All have summer aridity.
Miehe Miehe (2000)
South-facing slope, 3300-3500 m, Jomosom, central
Nepal. Annual precipitation lt300 mm
Miehe Miehe (2000)
  • Open rocky, well-drained slopes
  • Much destroyed in many parts of Eurasia
  • Lower-limit moisture limited, heavily influenced
    by humans
  • Upper-limit possibly temperature limited
  • May have been more widespread on Tibetan Plateau
    in early Holocene

In ravines and sheltered seepage areas in western
Tian Shan, local stands of Betula turkestanica
and B. talassica, closely related to B. utilis of
Betula turkestanica
Betula talassica
Balance between Juniperus-dominated slopes and
Pinus wallichiana or Picea smithiana-dominated
slopes within a mountain range can be a result of
aspect alone. Critical threshold.
Schickhoff (2005)
  1. Major differences in tree-line species between
    northern and western Tian Shan related to
    monsoonal or westerly influences.
  2. Tree Juniperus forests characteristic of
    summer-dry climates not only in central Asia but
    in Europe and USA. Also in Patagonia where
    Austrocedrus chilensis (looks like a juniper!)
    dominates in semi-arid areas between steppe and
    mountain Nothofagus slopes.
  3. Local occurrences of Betula spp. in moist areas
    in western Tian Shan relics of a once more
    widespread distribution?

Northern Tian Shan
  • Forested zone 2050-2480 m
  • Picea schrenkiana forest with Sorbus
    tianschanica and prostrate Juniperus sibirica
    near tree-line at about 2500 m
  • Also species-rich meadows and river gravels and
    lake-shore vegetation

2. Sub-alpine zone 2480-2890 m Species-rich
grasslands and meadows, and scattered scrub,
often amongst rocks and on cliffs Dracocephalum,
Aquilegia, Primula, Cortusa, Anemone,
Leontopodium, Ranunculus, Pedicularis,
Alchemilla, Viola, Trollius
3. Alpine zone 2890-3550 m Grasslands, cliffs,
screes, and snow-beds Saussurea, Saxifraga,
Draba, Androsace, Gentiana, Papaver, Oxygraphis,
Primula, Astragalus
Western Tian Shan
1. Steppe zone 725-1500 m Dry grassland and
steppe, dry rocks Delphinium, Phlomis, Ephedra,
Cousinia, Salvia, Onosma, Rosa, Eremurus,
2. Forested zone 1500-1875 m Open Juniperus
semiglobosa and J. seravschanica woodlands with
some Betula talassica and B. turkestanica Campanu
la, Linum, Aconitum, Codonopsis, Swertia, Pyrola
3. Sub-alpine zone 1900-2300 m Species-rich
steppe, grasslands, and meadows, some Juniperus
turkestanica, snow-beds, cliffs, and
screes Iris, Allium, Ligularia, Eremurus, Linum,
Tulipa, Corydalis, Trollius, Gagea
4. Alpine zone 2300-2800 m Grasslands,
snow-beds, cliffs, screes, and wind-exposed
areas Androsace, Saxifraga, Parrya, Primula,
Erigeron, Astragalus, Veronica, Papaver, Hedysarum
  1. Very diverse and challenging flora many
    plant-geographical elements.
  2. Very rich flora saw over 420 photo-worthy
    species new to us. Total flora over 700 species
    in 16 days. On a species seen per day basis,
    richer than Himalaya.
  3. Vast wonderful mountain ranges much still to be
    discovered. Added one Draba to Kazakhstan flora!
  4. Horses are a (not particularly comfortable) way
    of getting round in such mountain areas.

5. Wonderful fauna marmots, ibex, bears, pikas,
vultures, etc.
6. Eastern Tian Shan in China rarely visited by
western botanists.
Howard-Bury 1990
Konta Shimizu 1995
Anna Ivaschenko Paul Green Vladimir
Kolbintsev Joan Liam McCaughey Ian
Hedge Cathy Jenks Sulik Tora
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