Some of the world's oldest Alpine plants are in China's Hengduan mountain ranges, study finds

Some plants that originated in the Hengduan mountains were found to be 30 million years old, older than any known Alpine flora.


A recent study has found that the alpine plants in the Hengduan mountains in Southwest China have continuously existed for a far longer than any other alpine plantation on Earth. With alpine flora growing increasingly vulnerable due to global warming, the study assumes importance in the field of biodiversity and agriculture.

Researchers from the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Field Museum of the US studied the climatological history of the mountain region to understand the biological processes that have led to the development of life that grows in this alpine region.

According to a news release by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the research team made some models of "biome occupation, evolution of geographic range, and lineage diversification". The data they collected was then analyzed to understand the evolutionary history of the 18 groups of flowering plants found in the alpine region.

Professor Xing Yaowu from XTBG explained their research, saying, “Our historical reconstructions indicate that an alpine flora had emerged in the Hengduan mountain region by the early Oligocene. This is much earlier than estimated origins of other extant alpine flora”.

 Some of the worlds oldest Alpine plants are in Chinas Hengduan mountain ranges, study finds

The Oligocene is a geologic epoch that covers a wide span of time roughly 34 million to 23 million years before the present. The study helped researchers gauge the rate at which new species were formed in the region, and how fast they spread from one region to another.

The researchers also studied whether major tectonic events shook the Hengduan mountains, or other places that boast similar "species-rich temperate alpine biota" like the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Himalayas, and whether they affected the way these Alpine plants grew.

An evolutionary biologist at the Field Museum, Richard Ree, revealed that some plants that originated on the Hengduan mountains were found to be 30 million years old, which is a lot earlier than other known Alpine flora growth. 

The findings of the study have been published in the journal Science.


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