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New Research Work Uncovers Plant Wonderland inside China's Caves

Over the course of 5 long years (2009-2014), researchers have dug deep into China's most concealed and undiscovered in their largest ever study on cave floras. The study involved surveying more than 60 caves located in Guizhou, Guangxi and Yunnan regions. The data was published in PLOS ONE from Royal Botanical Gardens - Kew and the Guangxi Institute of Botany in China. The work enabled the researchers to assess the vascular diversity of the cave flora in much more detail than ever before.

Following an increase in the demand for charcoal as a result of massive industrialization at the time of China's Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, there was vast deforestation during 1950 - 1970. The study records 31 species that are specific to the caves which might mean that the cave populations are all that remains of the plant species which once used to grow in 'understory' (layer of vegetation that grows between ground and the forest canopy). This makes the vegetation growing inside the caves valuable and important to conserve. Over the course of the research held, a total of 418 species of vascular plants were documented with 7% of these species endemic to the caves and around 37% of the species endemic to China. When exploring the caves of China, the researchers also found out that almost half of the caves were influenced by tourism or agriculture. However, tourism was more persistent and impactful than agriculture.

 By: Neha Maheshwari