Almost a Desert
Travel to the Junggar Basin of northwestern China and Mongolia, and you'll find yourself mostly surrounded by mountains. A gap in the mountains to the north plays a key role in defining the habitat of this ecoregion. It admits air masses that carry enough moisture to keep these lands in semi-desert rather than true desert conditions. As a result, a thin layer of vegetation grows in these arid lands, sustaining populations of wild camels, jerboas, and other wild species.
Exposed to the climatic influence of Siberia, the Junggar Basin has colder temperatures and more precipitation than basins to the south. Temperatures can dip as low as -4° F (-20° C), and precipitation ranges from 3 to 10 inches (80 to 250 mm). The basin receives enough runoff from the surrounding mountains to support several lakes. Meadows, marshlands, and rivers are among the biologically rich habitats that were traditionally found here, most of which have now been converted to irrigated agricultural land.
Small mammals called jerboas tunnel and jump in the sandy habitats of this ecoregion. These little rodents are capable of leaping nearly as high as 10 feet (3 m)! The beautifully colored plate-tailed gecko skitters across the ground in the dark of night. Rare, wild bactrian camels browse on scrub vegetation. Herds of goitered gazelles and wild asses roam within parts of the Great Gobi National Park, which lies partially in this ecoregion. Another protected area in this ecoregion, Ganjia Hu, features saline lakes that support breeding colonies of migratory birds. And some parts of the ecoregion once contained populations of the world's last wild horse, Przewalski's horse, which is a candidate for reintroduction in the future.
Cause for Concern
To reduce population density in its most crowded areas, the Chinese government has supported a translocation program that brings more people to the Junggar Basin. That's led to increased pressures on resources and wildlife. Oil exploration and extraction also threaten parts of the ecoregion. And uncontrolled motor-vehicle use, overgrazing, and depletion and pollution of water resources have degraded parts of the pristine Dzungarian region in Mongolia.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001