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The Effects of China’s Policy and Biodiversity Loss on Camptotheca acuminta

Nicholas Italia
Department of Biology
Lake Forest College
Lake Forest, Illinois 60045

The world we live in today is rapidly evolving and changes are taking place around the globe that many people are not aware of which are dramatically affecting not only the world as we know it today, but that will also greatly impact our future. Society seems to be continuously running as fast as it can just to stay in place. Similarly, the tropical ecosystem in China, which is always adapting, is beginning to show clear signs that globalization and urbanization have substantially impacted this ecosystem. This change is dramatically affecting China’s ecological footprint, a footprint that is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. China, being the third most biologically diverse nation in the world, has felt a tremendous loss due to the country’s explosive development (ESSC. 2012). Habitat loss and the degradation of nature due to human activities and development have caused the most significant threats to biodiversity in China. In turn, this has led to the destruction and possible extinction of many animals residing in these habitats, as well as the devastation of critical plant life being researched, many being used for medicinal purposes. The local consequences of biodiversity and deforestation loss, a weak government system, and urbanization factors all affect China’s endemic, medical resources such as the cancer-fighting tree, Camptotheca acuminta.
Biodiversity Loss and Deforestation in China
China covers one of the greatest ranges of climates and ecological diversity in the world. In total it contains 10% of all species living on Earth (Cao et al. 2014). Due to these high levels of endemic species, there should be a tremendous focus on the protection and preservation of China’s forests and natural ecosystem. Finding a solution to this problem should be a major priority, not only due to how detrimental this loss is for the people of China, but how this loss effects of the entire world. Approximately 61% of China’s wildlife is facing extinction (Cao et al. 2014), many species of which have already become extinct or are very close to extinction, and a loss this substantial has a dramatic impact on the world in which we live (Priya et al., 2014). One of the many factors that affects China’s biodiversity is they’re among the highest contributors to global pollution in the world, emitting 30% of world’s CO2 total in 2014 (Wang et al. 2015). In turn, China’s biodiversity is one of the largest in the world, and much of the resources contained within are endemic to the country of China. With continued fragmentation of their land, the impact is a loss of important natural resources the entire world depends on.
Local Consequences
China’s tropical ecosystems have been vulnerable to human disturbance and have been affected tremendously by urbanization. China’s government uses Contradiction Policy, in which the national administrations hold power over the local communities, having them implement certain laws and regulations (Guan et al. 2011). This has caused a negative effect on biodiversity due to a confusion caused by overlapping duties and authorities created by the government and have resulted in a lack of participation from locals due to their feelings that there is a complete lack of benefits to be gained from preserving the natural resources (Guan et al. 2011). As the locals perceive that there is no benefit to be made by assisting the government, instead they use the land for personal gain (Guan et al. 2011). These governmental reforms resulted in lack of “safeguards,” and thus caused poor management of natural resources to help protect the environment (Guan et al. 2011). These safeguards, which gave the upper hand to economic growth for China, have had priority over environmental conservation for decades (Grumbine and Xu 2011). This has resulted in the lack of benefits for locals and weakening the participation of these indigenous groups, and instead the main focus turning to exploration and exploitation of nature and natural resource use.
The government has tried to implement many types of conservation efforts and by the end of 2011, had established 2640 nature reserves. Almost 55 % of China’s ecological zones and 81% of its natural vegetation communities are represented in these reserves (Wu et al. 2011). China’s government truly believes that this has been the answer to resolve ecological problems and feels that their efforts have been effective, though there is no evidence that supports this (Wang et al. 2007). Unfortunately, China’s government lacks the understanding of how the reserves affect local communities and impacts the land. However, many locals and environmentalists do have this understanding, but unfortunately the government doesn’t ask for their expertise (Cao 2011). The government, by implementing weak policies, is actually creating an invasion of urbanization in China because of the lack of advantages for locals to maintain these areas as reserves. Instead, this has caused beliefs amongst the locals that that there is less of a benefit and effort to preserve and protect this land, rather than use this land for their own personal benefit. China is rapidly increasing the creation of these reserves, yet the area per reserve is decreasing (NBA. 2000-2011). This is due to the reserves becoming fragmented as a result of human activity and disturbance that is rapidly isolating these reserves and also disturbing or altogether eliminating dispersal corridors (Zheng et al. 2014). This shows that economic forces are putting stress on these national reserves. Many of the locals greatly depend on the natural resources that lie in the reserves, for food, fuel, wood, medical herbs etc. Due to the lack of safeguards that would restrain users from activities such as harvesting, mining, and hunting, the benefits are lacking for locals to not disturb the lands and instead preserve them (Grumbine and Xu. 2011).
The result from this increasing number of reserves and the corresponding disturbance on the ecosystem has been significant. The increase of development and commercial demand to the country of China has elevated the levels of poaching, trade of endangered species, establishment of artificial cultivation, valuable medicinal trade, artificial harvesting, development of roads, logging, along with many other activities. This all contributes to this fragmentation of China’s tropics (Guan et al. 2011). Most of these activities have been banned and made illegal but, due to the lack of safeguards, along with a weak government, understanding and implementing these environmental policies, as well as the weak participation of locals, has made it extremely difficult to stop these illegal acts (Guan et al. 2011). A huge contributing problem is the logging-taking place in China. China is the largest global consumer of tropical timber, with more than one half of timber being shipped globally, is derived from China (Global timber 2011). This has caused a tremendous depletion of one of China’s most important resources.
There have been major consequences resulting from the large areas of reserves and the Urbanization, which is taking place. Such practices have led to the huge isolation of habit patches and are creating a strong barrier to dispersal for many species, as well as seriously damaging local biodiversity and leaving species on the brink of extinction (Wang et al. 2015). Species are being held on these reserves and are being cut off from edge effects, causing species to survive under heavy constraints that they are usually not native to their environment (Wang et al. 2015). The types of Urbanization happening on the edges of the reserves are preventing gene flow by removing surrounding corridors so there can be an expansion of species (Wang et al. 2015). With the prevention of gene flow, there is a much higher likelihood of loss of genetic diversity, thus letting colonize and compete with native plants (Laurance et al. 2015). This is due to the competitive pioneer species from cultivation and artificial plantations (Laurance et al. 2015), and thus will cause a devastating situation for the endemic species in reserves.
Many endemic plants have implications of medical usage and invasive species are causing further extinction of endangered wildlife. Around, 74% of the commercially available anticancer drugs are from natural sources and making them very important to the society we lived in today (Tyagi. 2014). China is home to some of the world’s most important and useful plants with thousands of species of edible plants and upwards 15,000 species of medicinal plants (Tyagi. 2014). However, many of these species are going extinct due to habitat loss before their potential can be realized.
Effects on Camptotheca acuminta
The effects being seen by species and habitat loss has been substantial, and in turn do impact the entire world in which we live. An example of this is the C. acuminta; this, which is among the 10,000 species of medical plants that are being harmed by this loss of biodiversity and the increase in deforestation (Tyagi et al. 2014). This tree is thought to hold chemicals exclusively from in its roots, bark, flowers, seeds, fruits, leaves, or branches. C. acuminta holds derivatives of Camptothecin, Topotecan and Irinotecan (Newman. Et al. 2016), which are chemicals that have been used in chemotherapy treatment for helping cure various forms of cancer
(Tyagi. 2014), such as ovarian and small cell lung cancers, as well as colon cancers (Tyagi. 2014). Therefore, this tree is potentially an extremely important new discovery in the field of cancer research. Approximately 60% of the commercially available anticancer drugs are from natural sources (Tyagi et al. 2014) and the medicinal plants herbal properties have aided in the discovery of new drugs to help fight the toxic effects on the individuals being treated for various diseases and disorders, such as cancer (Newman et al. 2016). The treatment of cancer by natural products and traditional medicine has been found to be the most effective form (Lakshmi et al. 2015).
Important medical plants are starting to disappear and botanic gardens are beginning to be implemented for synthetic replication of these medicinal plants (Tyagi et al. 2014). These botanic gardens do not produce the same benefits as the original plants and makes them more chemically based, which is a problem. Camptotheca acuminta may become a synthesized drug, which will take away from its natural properties and won’t be as effective as it once was (JNCI. 2008). There are only an estimated 4,000 individual species left of Camptotheca acuminta, and this number is decreasing at a rapid pace while the destruction of Chinas tropics is still occurring (Newman et al. 2016).
As previously discussed, conservation efforts of the Camptotheca acuminta and medicinal plants in general are problematic. The national governments Contradicting Policies are taking precedence over the local policies. Because the local governments are not receiving any benefits from the Contradicting Policies, the locals do not have any incentive to participate in the conservation of natural reserves on their land. The C. acuminta is native to the southern tropics of China, right in the heart of these exploration and conservation (Newman et al. 2016). The Camtotheca acuminta has extremely important natural properties that can be used to save many lives, but if policies don’t become stronger and invading forces are not stopped, then these crucial plants will be pushed to extinction. The causes from losing this important plant may be detrimental to not only the wildlife, but also may impact the entire medical world.
The future of Camptotheca acuminta is very important because of its natural compounds that have the ability to make change in the medical community and contribute to the advancement of cancer research. This important medicinal plant is endemic to the country of China and is very hard to synthesize in botanic gardens. The number of Camptotheca acuminta trees has been rapidly decreasing and if policies continue to be weak, then there will be further loses of this important medicinal tree. The further fragmentation of reserves won’t just affect the Camptotheca acuminta, but will also contribute to the extinction of a multitude of other natural medicinal plants in general. Issues with conservation policies seem to be the leading factor in the damage being done to China’s tropics. Related issues such as weak Contradiction policies enacted by China’s government, weak participation by the locals to implement these policies, and the outcome of human disturbance causing fragmentation of China’s natural reserves, are all factors contributing to the loss of China’s natural, endemic vegetation.
Possible solutions to this ever-growing problem are providing the government with knowledge and education about the importance of this land and making it understood the effects that are coming from their weak preservation policies. Additionally, educating locals and the government about the importance of biodiversity in general and Camptotheca acuminta specifically will help resolve these issues. Also, local communities aren’t given any benefits from these conservation policies, so there should be financial incentives for locals to preserve the land instead of utilizing the natural resources for their personal gain. Government needs to find a way to meet the needs of humans without sacrificing ecological needs. This will in turn stop extinction of the important endemic Camptotheca acumita and also help save the entire ecosystem of China’s tropics.

Note: Eukaryon is published by students at Lake Forest College, who are solely responsible for its content. The views expressed in Eukaryon do not necessarily reflect those of the College.


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Eukaryon is published by students at Lake Forest College, who are solely responsible for its content. The views expressed in Eukaryon do not necessarily reflect those of the College.

Articles published within Eukaryon should not be cited in bibliographies. Material contained herein should be treated as personal communication and should be cited as such only with the consent of the author.