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Vietnam: A Natural History

Vietnam: A Natural History

Eleanor Jane Sterling
Martha Maud Hurley
Le Duc Minh
with illustrations by JOYCE A. POWZYK
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    Vietnam: A Natural History
    Book Description:

    A country uncommonly rich in plants, animals, and natural habitats, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam shelters a significant portion of the world's biological diversity, including rare and unique organisms and an unusual mixture of tropical and temperate species. This book is the first comprehensive account of Vietnam's natural history in English. Illustrated with maps, photographs, and thirty-five original watercolor illustrations, the book offers a complete tour of the country's plants and animals along with a full discussion of the factors shaping their evolution and distribution.

    Separate chapters focus on northern, central, and southern Vietnam, regions that encompass tropics, subtropics, mountains, lowlands, wetland and river regions, delta and coastal areas, and offshore islands. The authors provide detailed descriptions of key natural areas to visit, where a traveler might explore limestone caves or glimpse some of the country's twenty-seven monkey and ape species and more than 850 bird species. The book also explores the long history of humans in the country, including the impact of the Vietnam-American War on plants and animals, and describes current efforts to conserve Vietnam's complex, fragile, and widely threatened biodiversity.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12821-5
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xix)
  5. ONE An Introduction to Vietnam
    (pp. 1-21)

    Vietnam, officially known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, holds within its boundaries a great variety of the world’s richest and grandest natural places, including vast deltas, fantastically eroded limestone towers, high-elevation cloud forests, red sand-dune coastal forests, and savanna-like grassland and forest mosaics. Yet Vietnam remains relatively unstudied when compared with other regions of high biodiversity. Since the mid-twentieth century, war and political turmoil have made research difficult and many parts of the country inaccessible. Despite these challenges, Vietnam’s biodiversity draws scientists for several reasons: the country harbors a globally significant diversity of species; scientists have described an unexpectedly...

  6. TWO Humans and the Environment
    (pp. 23-43)

    Complex interactions between people and their environment have stretched over millennia in Vietnam. Tracing their course and ramifications over such a long time frame is not easy. Scholars are still revealing the prehistory of Southeast Asia, so knowledge of the initial relations of humans with the natural world resembles a tattered ancient volume with blurred ink or missing pages.

    The earliest histories derive fromarchaeological evidence and fromoral traditions, such as the telling ofmyths and legends. Later written down and embellished, these myths and legends are often the only sources of information about prehistoric times. In the historical era, the Chinese...

  7. THREE Biogeography of Vietnam
    (pp. 45-69)

    Our knowledge of Vietnam’s wildlife and vegetation is incomplete, but when we examine what we do know of the country’s plants and animals, intriguing patterns emerge. The field of biogeography—the study of the current and historic geographic distribution of plants and animals—can help us discern these patterns and reflect on their causes. Biogeographers look to the ecology of a species and degree of evolutionary relatedness among species as a key to understanding distribution patterns.When studying the current distribution of a species (or set of species) they consider the distributions of closest living relatives and information on when the...

  8. FOUR Vietnam’s Living Environments
    (pp. 71-95)

    A region’s biogeography, the product of its geological, climatic, and evolutionary history, is often best recorded in the distribution, diversity, and evolutionary affinities of its flora. Plants are relatively ancient for fair-sized living creatures; the origin of seed-bearing plants (including cycads, conifers, and flowering plants) dates back more than 350 million years. With the evolution of seeds, plants became less dependent on moisture for reproduction, but seed dispersal is generally limited and geographical ranges migrate slowly. Combined with their frequent longevity, these traits make seed plants an excellent group for examining an area’s long-term history. The presence on northern Vietnam’s...

  9. FIVE The Fauna of Vietnam
    (pp. 97-155)

    Vietnam’s diversity of animals reflects the richness of its vegetation. A wide variety of habitats provides many opportunities for organisms to diversify because it allows them to become differentiated from others by where they live and what they eat. And the more complex environments, such as the multi-storied broad-leaved evergreen forests of the Truong Son Range, provide a greater variety of niches for species to exploit successfully. Not all environments are equally rich in all faunal groups, however, since general characteristics such as sensitivity to temperature (dipterocarp trees, Family Dipterocarpaceae), reliance on aquatic environments for breeding (amphibians, Class Amphibia), and...

  10. SIX Northern Vietnam: Termination of the Himalayas
    (pp. 157-209)

    Northern Vietnam is geologically and environmentally complex, a mixture of granite and limestone, uplands and delta, jagged peaks and humid lowlands, and tropical and subtropical species. This diversity reflects northern Vietnam’s position near the intersection of the tropical and subtropical zones and the biotic influence of three biogeographic units: Indochina, south China, and coastal Indochina. During the French colonial period northern Vietnam formed the administrative district of Tonkin; the Vietnamese refer to the area as Bac Bo. It is bordered by China’s Guangxi Province to the northeast and Yunnan Province to the northwest, and by Laos along its western border...

  11. SEVEN Central Vietnam and the Truong Son Range: From Wet Mountains to Dry Forests
    (pp. 211-259)

    Vietnam’s central region circumscribes a curving ribbon of mountains, lowlands, and coastal plains that offers the country’s widest range of habitats, including both its wettest and driest regions. Bounded by the Nghe An Province’s Ca River to the north and by the eastern edges of Binh Phuoc, Dong Nai, and Ba Ria Vung Tau Provinces to the south, it comprises most of the area known to the Vietnamese as Truong Bo (fig. 37). During the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, central Vietnam formed the majority of Annam, an administrative district of colonial France.

    Central Vietnam’s dominant geological feature is the...

  12. EIGHT Southern Vietnam: Ascendancy of the Mekong
    (pp. 261-313)

    Southern Vietnam is dominated by the vastMekong Delta, a broad, fertile plain that blankets the southern two-thirds of the region. Called Nam Bo in Vietnamese and Cochinchina by the French, southern Vietnam stretches from south of the Truong Son to the tip of Ca Mau Peninsula, the country’s southernmost mainland point (fig. 50). The Mekong is Southeast Asia’s largest river; scientists estimate that in its number of fish species it ranks third globally, behind only the Amazon and Congo Rivers. The biodiversity of the delta and southern Vietnam as a whole depends on cycles of water and resources originating upstream...

  13. NINE Threats to Vietnam’s Biodiversity
    (pp. 315-347)

    Paradoxically, as Vietnam’s biodiversity is becoming better understood, many species as well as entire ecosystems face intense pressures that imperil their existence. A high proportion of Vietnam’s plants and animals are threatened with extinction. In 2004, IUCN biologists listed roughly 16 percent of Vietnam’s mammals, 9 percent of its reptiles (including all but four turtles), and 5 percent of its birds as globally threatened. Many plant species have also been listed, including 63 percent of the country’s twenty-four cycad species. These figures are surely underestimates since little is known about most plant and animal abundances and distributions, much less the...

  14. TEN Conservation The Future of Vietnam’s Living World
    (pp. 349-378)

    Many Vietnamese individuals and government agencies recognize an array of human activities that threaten Vietnam’s species, habitats, and ecosystems and the need for rapid conservation efforts to counter them. As a result, individuals and organizations, both national and international, are undertaking a wide range of conservation efforts that include improved legislation regarding wildlife protection, development of a protected area system, species-level conservation efforts, and economic incentives to conserve biodiversity. Vietnam, along with neighboring countries, ranks as a high priority for conservation action by the major international conservation organizations. These organizations, limited by scarce resources, employ a variety of strategies to...

  15. Appendix 1. Ethnic groups and their distribution in Vietnam
    (pp. 379-380)
  16. Appendix 2. Endemic and restricted-range mammals and birds in Vietnam
    (pp. 381-384)
  17. Appendix 3. New terrestrial vertebrates described from Vietnam, 1992–2004
    (pp. 385-387)
  18. Appendix 4. New plant genera described from Vietnam, 1992–2004
    (pp. 388-388)
    (pp. 389-406)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 407-423)