Initiated in 2021, the comprehensive scientific survey project of Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has been a beacon of scientific and ecological advancements. As this ambitious endeavor progresses towards its scheduled conclusion in 2025, a multitude of groundbreaking discoveries have been brought to light.
With each passing year, the incremental efforts of the scientists involved have borne fruit, resulting in discoveries that have broadened the horizons of environmental understanding. The Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang, known for their natural splendor, have revealed an array of previously unknown species. Among these revelations, 39 novel insect species stand out as they act as parasitic natural adversaries to other insects. Moreover, the discovery of new moss and fungus species has added to the rich tapestry of Xinjiang’s biodiversity.
Of particular interest is the identification of a unique Laetiporus sulphureus exclusive to Xinjiang. Not only is this bracket fungus an edible delicacy, but it also holds considerable medicinal value. Additionally, a newly identified moss species growing on decaying wood has caught the attention of researchers. Gao Bei from the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, posited that the moss could provide invaluable insights into the evolution of terrestrial plants.
Liao Bo’er, an environmental resource researcher, emphasized the significance of these findings. They not only shed light on Xinjiang’s rich biological diversity but also serve as crucial reference points for the region’s ongoing ecological conservation efforts.
The survey’s scope is vast, with the Taklimakan Desert, China’s largest desert situated in the Tarim Basin, being a focal point. Zhang Yuanming, the director of the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, shared compelling evidence suggesting that the desert might have formed approximately 300,000 years ago. With this desert at its core, the project encompasses an exploration of five distinct areas, including the Irtysh River Basin. This expansive approach seeks not only to catalog Xinjiang’s ecological assets but also to uncover sustainable resources.
Surprisingly, the survey also unveiled numerous previously undetected rivers within the region’s remote terrains. These findings, originating from a reevaluation of local rainfall and overlooked water resources, contribute to China’s pool of usable water. As Zhang pointed out, precipitation estimates in regions like the northern Kunlun Mountains have been underrepresented by up to 40%.
Moreover, the survey is branching out to investigate the microbial communities in the region’s lakes, particularly their potential role in fertilization. The current survey is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessors, benefiting from technological advancements that were once out of reach. For instance, the deployment of an automatic weather station in the desert, equipped with UAVs carrying sensors, provides a comprehensive understanding of the desert’s terrain, soil structure, and density.
This survey, part of a national-level science and technology initiative, follows in the footsteps of the inaugural “Xinjiang survey” launched in 1956. While the primary aim back then was to map out Xinjiang’s natural resources, today’s goals are far more sophisticated. As Li remarked, China’s enhanced experience in environmental and ecological conservation ensures that this survey stands as a testament to its commitment to understanding and preserving its natural heritage.