By Zhu Jinyi, Liu Fawei, People’s Daily
China has put 74 percent of its key wild animals and plants under protection and sees an better trend in the situation of threatened species than the global trend, said Ma Keping, deputy director and secretary-general of the Biodiversity Committee of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
The population of crested ibis in China has increased from seven when they were first found to at least 6,000; that of wild Asian elephants in the country has risen from 180 in the 1980s to around 300; and the country’s number of Tibetan antelopes in the wild has climbed to more than 300,000, according to Ma, also a researcher with the Institute of Botany under the CAS.
Biodiversity survey in China is much easier than that in the past when researchers could only identify species of animals and plants by carefully comparing them with illustrations in books and specimens through manual work.
Today, they can use an app to quickly identify species of flora and fauna and record the time, location, and environmental information about the place where a species is found.
The app was developed by Dr. Lin Congtian, a researcher in biodiversity informatics with the Institute of Zoology under the CAS.
Understanding the background of biological resources is the prerequisite for biodiversity protection, said Lin, who is devoted to the use of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in biodiversity surveys.
The CAS recently released an updated national species database, known as the Catalogue of Life China 2022 Annual Checklist. In 2008 when the first edition of the checklist was released, there were about 44,000 species recorded. The figure has reached 125,000 in this year’s updated edition, marking a new step in the country’s biodiversity research and protection.
Besides the identification of species, exploring the distribution of species and tracking the migration of species is also a must for understanding biodiversity.
With the support of the CAS’s Big Earth Data Science Engineering Program (CASEarth), China has gradually unfolded a biological map that contains more than four million pieces of data on the distribution of nearly 50,000 species.
The data-based map, which clearly shows the distribution areas of key groups of animals, plants, and microorganisms, plays an important role in the protection of key species.
Giant panda is one of the most beloved wild animals in the world and also a highlight of the protection of wildlife species in China.
In November 2021, activities of a plump and energetic wild giant panda were captured by an infrared camera installed on a state-owned forest farm in Dujiangyan city, southwest China’s Sichuan province. The giant panda was later recognized by experts as Xiaohetao, a giant panda released into the wild by China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda three years ago. Its reappearance was regarded as exciting news indicating its safety.
Over the past 40 years, China has seen its population of wild giant pandas grow 67 percent to 1,864.
“There are more than 8,000 other wild animal and plant species in the habitats of giant pandas, including endangered mammals like golden snub-nosed monkey and takin, as well as bird species and amphibians and reptiles endemic to China,” said Hu Yibo, a researcher with the Institute of Zoology under the CAS.
Efforts to protect flagship species in nature conservation like giant pandas can bring the “umbrella effect” and help maximize the benefits of biodiversity protection, Hu told People’s Daily.
Since the country officially set up its Giant Panda National Park, carnivores that live in the same habitats as giant pandas, such as leopard and snow leopard, have also been frequently seen in these areas.
As one of the countries with the richest biodiversity, China has not only established a comprehensive biodiversity protection system, but actively carried out international cooperation on biodiversity protection. While sharing important data, such as its national species database, with the rest of the world, it has also helped countries along the routes of the Belt and Road Initiative sort out and integrate biological resources, injecting positive energy into the building of a community of all life on Earth.
“We hope to establish a more mature mechanism for the sharing of global biodiversity data on the basis of ensuring data security so as to make biodiversity resources benefit more people,” Lin said.