Story | 16 Apr, 2015

Surveys funded by SOS lead to an increase of the known population of Yuanbaoshan firs

The known population size of the Critically Endangered Yuanbaoshan fir (Abies yuanbaoshanensis) more than doubled following extensive surveys in Yuanbaoshan National Nature Reserve (NNR), China in 2014. IUCN Member, Fauna & Flora International’s Xiaoya Li explains what this discovery means and how it will influence their conservation.


SOS funded surveys completed in late 2014 have led to an increase of the known population of Yuanbaoshan firs, from 280 to over 700 individuals, which included more than 250 saplings. This finding has more than doubled the known global population of the species.

Before the 2014 survey, the understanding was that there had been a significant and rapid decline in the Yuanbaoshan fir’s population. This conclusion was based upon various surveys conducted over the previous 30 years which recorded a decrease in population size from 900 individuals in 1982, to 589 in 1997 and just 280 in 2012.

These surveys did not all use the same methods, however, so to what extent these figures represent real changes in population over time or, reflect trees that were not incorporated in previous surveys is hard to judge. The fact that recent count included 250+ saplings is an encouraging sign that the species is reproducing in the wild and that the population may well have increased in recent years. The new global population estimate of 700 individuals, all of which occur at one site, means the species remains a high conservation priority.

The questions regarding reliability of previous data reinforces the need for the capacity building element of the SOS project, where in-country partners are training and mentoring Yuanbaoshan NNR staff. The support from SOS is helping to build the technical capacity of the reserve team, allowing them to consistently monitor the reserve’s population of trees and informing where the NNR chooses to monitor in the future which, is contributing to the development of effective management strategies for the species.

The continued support to the NNR staff provided by the project partners and SOS is vitally important for the on-going conservation of the Yuanbaoshan fir and particularly for the next steps which will focus on propagating seedlings to re-introduce into the wild.

It is clear that the Yuanbaoshan Fir still face significant on-going threats which, are heightened by its limited distribution. The team is building upon its new skills to initiate a long-term monitoring system based on the data gathered in the 2014 surveys, which will allow local conservationists to track the population more accurately and, inform any conservation actions apply to the entire population.

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