The Biogeography of Taiwan

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A. Taiwan: high biodiversity

Taiwan is a mountainous island rich in all kinds of animals and plants. Despite its small size (36,000 sq km), it has a wide variety of creatures, including many endemic species.

According to 1990 statistics, in terms of plants there are 3,579 angiosperm species, 31 gymnosperm, 638 fern, 521 lichen, and 1,129 bryophyte species in Taiwan. As to animals, there are 62 mammalian species, 29 amphibian, 80 reptilian, 450 bird, 60 fresh-water fish and 50,000 insect species.

B. Why?

a. Taiwan is a continental island on the eastern edge of the Eurasian plate. Its plenitude of species is due to its location at the meeting point of the holarctic kingdom and palaeotropical flora. Its alpine plants are similar to those in the Himalayas and the west of China. Its lowland or southern plants are akin to the palaeotropical flora in India and Malaysia. And the plants growing between the high mountains and lowlands resemble those in Japan and the north of China.

b. Taiwan's climate varies between tropical and subtropical. The year-round high temperatures and heavy rainfall enable its land to be very productive.

c. Located roughly in the middle of the festoon of East Asian island arcs, Taiwan has been a central point on sea-routes and a point of passage in both directions, not only for migratory birds and fishes but for other kinds of animals (carried by sea) as well. That is why its biodiversity is higher than that of other islands of the same size.

d. Taiwan has a varied topography. It provides appropriate ecological environments for various communities of plants and animals.

e. Taiwan's mountains have many "habitant islands," which are ideal for the growth of relics, endemic species, and sub-species.

C. Phytogeography

Taiwan's plants are divided into two zones by the Fengkang and Mutan Rivers. The "island zone," which covers northern Taiwan and Penghu, contains flora of the wooded savanna, forest, and tundra formations. The "Hengchun peninsula zone," including southern Taiwan and the islets of Lu Tao and Lan Yu, consists of flora of the tropical littoral and tropical monsoon-rain forest formations.

a. Wooded savanna formation

It is comprised of the linden hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus Linn.), India laurel fig (Ficus microcarpa L.f.), China berry (Melia azedarach Linn.), screw pine (Pandanus odoratissimus Linn.f.var.sinensis (Warb) Kanehira), swamp oak (Casuarinas equisetifolia Linn.), and family of Poaceae.

b. Forest formation

See table 1 for types of formation and typical plants.

c. Tundra formation

It is represented by woody plants such as the high mountain juniper (Juniperus squamata Lambert var.morrisonicola (Hay.) Li & Keng), Yushan rhododendron (Rhododendron pseudochrysanthum Hay.), and Ito wintergreen (Gaultheria itoana Hay.).

d. Tropical littoral formation

It is mainly made up of the India laurel fig (Ficus microcarpa L.f.), India almond (Terminalia catappa Linn.), Indian barringtonia (Barringtonia asiatica (L.) Karz), and screw pine (Pandanus odoratissimus Linn.f.var.sinensis (Warb) Kanehira).

e. Tropical monsoon-rain forest formation

Its typical florae are Taiwan acacia (Acacia confusa Merr.), negundo chaste tree (Vitex negundo Linn.), white fig tree (Ficus vasculosa Wall.ex King), red cedar (Bischofia javanica Blume), white fig tree (Ficus vasculosa Wall.ex King), and Fiji longan (Pometia pinnata Forst).

D. Zoological Geography

In Taiwan, most animals inhabit mountains, coasts, swamps, streams or lakes. Because of the rapid industrial development in recent years, their habitats have been damaged by human activities and their species are dwindling. The six categories of Taiwan's animals are: mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and invertebrates. Insects and fishes have the greatest diversity in Taiwan. See table 2 for their distribution and the number of species.

Table 1. Taiwan's forest formation and its typical plants

Forest formationTypical plants
Littoral forest formationLittorol foreste.g. linden hibiscus (Hiviscus tiliaceus Linn.), macaranga (Macaranga tanarius (L.) Muell.-Arg.), common lantana (Lantana camara Linn.), screw pine (Pandanus odoratissimus Linn.f.var.sinensis (Warb) Kanehira).
mangrovee.g. kandelia (Kandelia candel (L.) Druce), black mangrove (Avicennia marina (Forsk.) Vierh), lumnitzera (Lumnitzera racemosa Willd), and Rhizophora stylosa Griff.
Tropical rain forest formatione.g. India laurel fig (Ficus microcarpa L.f.), common paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera (L.) L'Herit. Ex Vent.), Formosan nato tree (Palaquium formosanum Hay.), incense nanmu (Machilus zuihoensis Hayata), Taiwan acacia (Acacia confusa Merr.).
Sulfatara formatione.g. bird-lime tree (Trochodendron aralioides Sieb. & Zucc), Japanese euscaphis (Euscaphis japonica (Thunb.) Kanitz), azalea (Rhododendron longiperulatum Hay.), usawa cane (Paeudosasa usawa (Hay.) Makino & Nemoto).
Subtropical and warm-temperate rain forest formatione.g. camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora (L.) Sieb.), yellow basket willow (Engelhardtia roxburghiana Wall.), Formosan michelia (Michelia compressa (Maxim.) Sargent), Taiwan gordonia (Gordonia axillaries (Roxb.) Dietr.), common schefflera (Schefflera octophlla (Lour.) Harms).
Warm-temperate mountain coniferous forest formatione.g. Taiwan red cypress (Chamaecyparis formosenisis Matsum.), Taiwan cypress (Chamaecyparis obtuse Sieb. & Zucc. var. formosana (Hay.) Rehder), Ranta fir (Cunninghamia konishii Hay.), Taiwan keteleeria (Keteleeria davidinan (Franchet) Beissner var. formosana Hay.), dragon spruce (Picea osperata Mast.).
Cold-temperate mountain coniferous forest formatione.g. hemlock spruce (Keteleeria davidinan (Franchet) beissner var. formosana Hay.), dragon spruce (Picea osperata Mast.), Yushan rhododendron (Rhododendron pseudochrysanthum Hay.).
Sub-alpine coniferous forest formatione.g. Yushan cane (Yushania niitakayamensis (Hay.) Keng f.), Formosan juniper (Juniperus formosana Hay.), mountain viburnum (Viburnum propinquum Hemsl.).
Source: Li Huei-lin & Liu Yeh-jing (1972)

Table 2. Taiwan's most common animals and their species and distribution
AnimalsNo. of speciesDistributionRepresentative animals
Mammal60Taiwan island and outlying isletse.g. Formosan rock-monkey (Macaca cyclopis Swinhoe), white-faced flying squirrel (Petaurista alborufus lena Thomas), Formosan black bear (Selenarctos thibetanus formosanus Swinhoe), Formosan red-bellied tree squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus roberti Bonhote), coastal whale and dolphin.
Bird450Taiwan island and outlying isletse.g. serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela hoya Swinhoe), yellow tit (Parus holsti Seebohm), magpie (Pica pica sericea Gould), Styan's bulbul (Pycnonotus taivanus taivanus Styan), brown shrike (Lanius cristsatus lucionensis Linnaeus).
Reptile80Taiwan island and outlying isletse.g. hundred pace snake (Akistrodon actutus Gunther), turtle-designed snake (Trimeresurus mucrosquamatus Cantor), Hsueshan's grass lizard(Takydromus hsuehshanensis Lin & Cheng), umbrella snake (Burgarus multicinctus Blyth), Chinese cobra (Naja naja atra Cantor).
Amphibian29Taiwan island and outlying isletse.g. Sonan's salamander (Hynobius sonani Maki), Formosan salamander (Hynovius formosanus Maki), rice frog (Rana limnocharis limnocharis Boie), Taipei green tree frog (Rhacophorus taipeianus Liang & Wang),Ornata narrow-mouthed toad(Microhyla ornate Dumeril & Bibron).
Fish60Taiwan island and outlying isletse.g. Taiwan trout (Oncorhynchus masou formosanum Jordan et Oshima), common carp (Cyprinus carpio Linnaeus), Tilapia (Tilapia niloticus), swamp eel (Anguilla marmorata Quoy et Gaimard), grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus Cuvier et Valenciennes).
Invertebrate: Butterfly200Taiwan island and the plains and mountains of the outlying isletse.g. Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio memnon heronus Fruhstorfer), Taiwan yellow butterfly(Eurema blanda arsakia (Fruhstorfer)),Chin-ban-dieh (Parantica sita niphonica Moore),Shau-shieh-mou-dieh (Mycalesis francisca formosana Fruhstorfer), Sheh-chian-dieh(Cyrestis thyodamas formosana Fruhstorfer).
(source : Third Forest Resources and Land Use Inventory in Taiwan, Council ofAgriculture Executive Yuan, the Manuals of Wildlife Resoures Inventory in Taiwan (1~6))

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