Objective The Golden Mountains of Altai straddle China, Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. Owing to their unique geographical position, these mountains harbor unique species of north Asian mountain flora and fauna. The Altai Mountain in Xinjiang Province of northwestern China has been included in the preliminary list of World Natural Heritage sites and is the key area for China to apply for world natural heritage status. However, the typical landscape patterns and habitat changes for the key species in the border areas between China and the other three countries are unclear. The evaluation of this issue can clarify the advantages and problems of the region in China and provide support for its efforts to apply for world heritage for this region.
Method Taking a point of the junction of the four countries in the Golden Mountains of Altai in 1996 and 2016, with an average radius of 72.95 km as the study area, the remote sensing image interpretation and cluster analysis were carried out based on the Kanas Nature Reserve in China, compared the main vegetation landscape types and the habitat pattern and change characteristics of typical species in the regions of China, Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.
Result (1) During the 20-year period, the area of Pinus sibirica in China increased by 9.32%, which was higher than that in the other three countries. However, the area of Larix sibirica, Picea obovata and Abies sibirica all decreased. (2) In China, the suitable habitat area of Panthera uncia, Ovis ammon, Capra sibirica, Lepus timidus and Cervus canadensis decreased from −18.4% to −9.62%, lower than that of the other three countries. The suitable habitat area of Equus hemionus and Gazella subgutturosa increased slightly in China (3.08%), while it decreased in the other three countries. (3) A cluster analysis showed that for the characteristics of vegetation patches, China and Mongolia were more similar in general. The characteristics of the suitable habitat patches of P. uncia, O. ammon, C. sibirica, L. timidus and C. elaphus were more similar between China and Russia.
Conclusion Compared with the other three countries, the area that belongs to China has the following advantages: (1) the study area preserves a large area of regional representative patches of vegetation; (2) the potential habitat area of P. uncia, O. ammon, C. sibirica, E. hemionus and G. subgutturosa is larger or tends to increase. However, the area that belongs to China has the following problems: (1) the area of forest dominated by L. sibirica, P. obovata, A. sibirica, L. timidus and C. elaphus tends to decrease; (2) The potential habitat area of forest-dwelling animals decreases. Simultaneously, the area of artificial land in China has increased four-fold, which should not be overlooked by future conservational activities.