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The Natural Environment

Vegetation

Asia incorporates many different biomes, which are landscapes having similar combinations of climate, vegetation, and animal life.

The northernmost areas of Asia, which experience a subpolar climate, have tundra vegetation consisting of grasses, mosses, and other small plants. Farther inland from the Arctic coast, the tundra gives way to the taiga, a region of vast coniferous forests composed of trees such as spruce, larch, and fir. Farther south, the taiga merges with forests of broadleaf trees, or mixed forests of broadleaf and needleleaf trees.

In Asia’s north central interior the forests merge into vast grasslands, much of which is short, steppe grasses. Large portions of Southwest Asia and the continent’s interior have semiarid or desert vegetation. Short grasses and other vegetation that require minimal precipitation surround many of the most barren areas in the deserts.

Although tropical rain forest predominates along the southern coastal strip and on the island of Sri Lanka, the eastern side of South Asia is characterized by semiarid tropical vegetation. The Deccan Plateau has mainly tropical dry forest vegetation.

Mainland and island Southeast Asia once supported extensive areas of tropical rain forest, which thrived in the warm, moist climate. Significant tracts of forest remain in most countries, but legal and illegal harvesting are too rapid to support sustainable regrowth.

Inland from the coastal strips of mainland Southeast Asia and stretching into southern China, tropical seasonal forests predominate. These merge into temperate forests farther north. Around the rim of the Bo Hai gulf the vegetation is chaparral, woody shrubs that grow to 4 m (13 ft) in height.

Asia has three main crop production systems. Across a broad band encompassing the Middle East, Central Asia, much of Russian Asia, and the inner regions of China, subsistence livestock production is the mainstay. Around coastal China, and most of South and Southeast Asia, the major form of agricultural activity is subsistence crop production. Scattered throughout the region—especially in Japan, Southeast Asia, the western parts of Russia, and some fertile patches of the Middle East—are pockets of commercial crop production.

Economically important activities throughout Central Asia and Russia include the production of wheat and other grains, cotton, and vegetables. Southeast Asia and the southern parts of China and India are major rice-growing areas, although grain production and consumption is more common in the northern regions of China and India. Rubber trees and oil palm plantations are significant in Malaysia and Indonesia. Tea plantations are significant in India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.

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