In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section East Asian Biomes

  • Introduction
  • Definitions
  • Major Biomes of East Asia
  • Biomes versus Ecoregions
  • Geography
  • Climate
  • Biological Exploration
  • Biodiversity Characteristics
  • Precious and Special Species
  • Migratory Pathways
  • The Great Plateau
  • Human Dimension
  • Man-Modified Biomes and Landscapes
  • Conservation Status
  • Protection and Management
  • Divisive Issues
  • New Challenges
  • The Green Development Pathway

Ecology East Asian Biomes
John MacKinnon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0124


East Asian biomes include the major biological ecosystems that make up the land area of East Asia, specifically China with Taiwan, Mongolia, Japan, and the Korean Peninsula. These vary from northern tundra and boreal to southern tropical and subtropical ecosystems, include several major mountain ranges, and comprise forest ecosystems, grasslands, deserts, and also important wetland systems. One literally outstanding globally unique feature of the region is the Tibetan-Qinghai Plateau, which forms the source of many of Asia’s major rivers and also drives the monsoon climatic patterns of the entire region. The region includes the world’s most populated country, China, and some of the most densely populated areas but also some of the least populated areas of the planet, including Mongolia with the lowest density. The region is unusually rich in both flora and fauna and has many distinctive endemic features and relic species. The biome has been a great source of domesticated species and economically important species but faces severe conservation challenges as a result of rapid development and changing climate.


The term biome was coined by biogeographers attempting to map the globe into comprehensible and biologically meaningful units. A biome is a largish unit exhibiting generally similar climatic, geographical, and biological conditions and dominated by one major habitat type. The concept became central to the biogeographical classifications of Udvardy 1984, which followed works by earlier biogeographers in dividing the world into biodiversity realms (e.g., Sclater 1858) and then divided each realm into a two-tiered classification of provinces and biomes. Under the Udvardy system, East Asia lies within the eastern half of the Palearctic Realm and the major biomes mapped are various forest systems, grasslands, deserts, mountain systems, and lake systems. East Asia is an imprecise geographical term differentially used for different purposes by different authors and agencies. In its broadest sense, it could include much of eastern Russia, but it is increasingly nowadays used to denote a region or subregion comprising a definite number of whole countries or territories. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global authority and standard-setter for biodiversity issues, uses the term to denote a subregion of Asia (South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia) comprising the territories Mongolia, China with Taiwan, Japan, and Republic of Korea and People’s Democratic Republic of Korea. Inevitably, classification by administrative boundaries does not perfectly match any classification of natural physical units. Inclusion of all of China within East Asia necessitates including some tropical biomes that Udvardy 1984 classified as forming part of the Oriental Realm. Conversely, Eastern Russia becomes included in IUCN’s Europe.

  • Sclater, Philip Lutley. 1858. On the general geographical distribution of the members of the class Aves. Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London: Zoology 2:130–136.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1096-3642.1858.tb02549.x

    Original description of the terrestrial world into six zoological regions, including Palearctic) which is still more or less followed to this day and forms the basis for all subsequent biogeographical classification. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Udvardy, Miklos D. F. 1984. A biogeographical classification system of terrestrial environments. In National parks, conservation, and development: The role of protected areas in sustaining society; proceedings of the World Congress on National Parks, Bali, Indonesia, 11–22 October 1982. Edited by Jeffrey A. McNeely and Kenton R. Miller, 34–38. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute.

    This paper presents Udvardy’s 1975 system as followed by many international conventions and agencies. The map was first published in 1975 (A Classification of the Biogeographical Provinces of the World. IUCN Occasional Paper No. 18, Gland, Switzerland, 48 pp.), but the full-sized colored version was delivered to IUCN and its description and the methodology used in its production were published several years later. The huge map now hangs in the headquarters of IUCN in Gland, Switzerland.

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