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Introduction

The State Reserve of Laso is situated in the South-eastern part of Primorsky Kray in Russian Far East at the slopes of Sichote Alin ranges facing the Japanese sea and bordered by the valleys of rivers Kyevka and Tchornaya. The South-easternmost border line of the reserve stretches along the sea coast, including the two small islands Petrov and Belzov. The reserve is belonging completely to the district of Laso.

The area has been closed for land use immediately after arrival of Russian settlers. The run of borderlines of the reserve is changed considerably in time. In 1928 at the area of the nowadays state reserve (zapovednik) a protected area (zakaznik) of somewhat lower state of protection was established on 70 thousands of hectares. To give protection to rare animals such as Goral, Sika deer, and Sabel and to the biocoenosis of the mixed broadleaved-cedar forests the area was improved to the state of a zapovednik in 1935 and 1940 for 150 thousands of hectares. The reserve also was established to give opportunity for scientific investigations.

Size and border lines of the reserve were subject to frequent changes in size and status, its recent status dates from 1989, when the zapovednik was enlarged by 3.5 thousands hectares. The reserve is named after the zoologist Lew Georgevitch Kaplanov who was killed by poachers in 1943.

Today Lasovsky Zapovednik encloses some 121 thousand of hectares, surrounded by a protected area of additional 15 thousand hectares. Length of borderlines is runing 240 km, of that 36 km along the seacoast. The reserve is financially supported by the Russian Federation, and also by beneficial organisations and foundations. Main departments are the state inspection for nature conservation, the scientific department, and department of ecological teaching. The territory of the reserve belongs to three forest districts which have wooden houses, technical support, and transport on their disposal. The scientific staff is investigated dynamics of natural processes and also focuses on rare and endangered animal species. The teaching staff works in an eco-centre and a museum of natural history. The office is situated in Laso, the capital of the district.

Short historical comment on the scientific work in the reserve

Research on mammals of the reserve and its surroundings were started by K. G. Abramov and A.A. Yemelyanov in the 1930 years. Officially the reserve had just a single scientist in 1936 and 1937; this was O. V. Wendland who worked mainly on Goral and Sika deer. In these years were started to work also the botanist B. P. Kolesnikov, and from 1941 L. G. Kaplanov and finally L. P. Belopolski (birds) and G. F. Bromley (mammals).

After pause 1959 the scientific work was newly started and reorganized. O. D. Forsch, S. G. Valova, N. N. Stezyura, A. A. Taran, S. I. Tchabanenko researched the flora of zapovednik. Investigations on mammals are carried out by V. Ye. Prisyashnyuk, L. I. Makovkin (Deer), V. I. Shivottshenko, G. P. Salkina (Tiger), V. V. Glebov, N. V. Solomkina, S. A. Chochryakov (Goral), M. V. Ochotina, N. Ya. Poddubnaya (small mammals), on birds by V. M. und N. N. Polivanov, Yu. W. Shibayev, N. M. Litvinenko, A. A. Laptev, N. N. Kolomizev, W. P. Shochrin. Reptiles and Amphibians were treated by S. I. Tshitshikina, Yu. V. Korotkov, other animal groups by T. I. Oliger (spiders), T. G. Romankova (wild bees), Yu. N.Sundukov (beetles). Investigations were partly supported by specialists of foreign organisations.

By means of many contributors the first species list of the vertebrate fauna within the reserve could be published in 1995.

Physical-geographic Survey of the Lasovsky Reserve

Geographical situation and overview

The territory of the reserve belongs to the Southern part of the Sichote Alin ranges. After L. G. Berg it is part of the broad-leaved and mixed forest of the Far-east, and after B. P. Kolesnikov part of the Southern sub-zone of coniferous-broad-leaved mixed forests. Geographical Primorsky Kray is characterized by its situation at the eastern border of the huge Asian continent next to the Pacific Ocean, dominated by mountain landscape, and strong monsoon climate. The latter is responsible for catastrophes in nature like typhoons, cloud-bursts, overflows, landslides, and strong ice flow. The territory was settled very unequally, and use of the land was very different. Consequently, side by side areas are existed with high ecological damage or with very low human influence.

Sichote Alin ranges are existed as a volcanic area since some 100 million years. Later geological and climatic events had no severe influence on landscape as well as life forms. However, contact with different biogeographical regions and several changes of boundaries of vegetation zones during ice age of relict zones have created a very high biodiversity. Intensive development of new species as well as survival of older forms has contributed to a level of species richness, which is seldom reached within temperate zones. Life communities of high productivity and complex structure developed especially along the sea coast, in mountain forests and in salmon rivers.

The "Ussurian Taiga" represents a specific complex of temperate and cold-temperate mountainous ecosystems within the biogeographic region of Eastern Asia. Flora and fauna is composed of subtropical and relict elements, of Mandgurian, nemoral, boreal, okhotskian, and euro-siberian elements. This unique ensemble established due to constant evolutionary development and subsequent intrusion of northern elements. Thermophil elements, which have survived in Primorye, are Mandgurian Walnut, Japanese Yew, Aralia-species, Ginseng, Amur-Corktree, Amur Tiger, Leopard, Asian Black Bear, Sika Deer, Goral, Pheasant, and Azure-winged Magpie. Elements from Siberian and Okhotskian regions are represented by Birch, Spruce, Larch, Aspen, Brown Bear, Wolverine, Sabel, and Hazel Grouse.

Relief

The Lasovsky reserve is situated within the Southern mountains of Sichote Alin between the river valleys of Kyevka and Tchornaya. The mountain ridge "Zapovedny" divides the reserve into a Northern more continentals part and in a Southern more maritime part. The average altitude is about 500 to 700 m a.s.l., some mountain tops reach 1200 or 1400 m. The slopes are steep, in general 20° to 25°, the crests and hill tops are small and narrow.

Block streams and stony slopes are extending large areas. Mountain ridges lower down towards the sea, but form a rocky coast with steep slopes up to hundred meters high. The highly separated mountainous landscape is a prominent character of the region and this is the reason for difficult access to most parts of the reserve.

Climate

The climate in Primorye is dominated by the polar front in winter and by monsoon influence in summer. Consequently strong gradients develop and big changes in weather conditions from year to year are normal. The moist and cloudy summer with Eastern or Southern winds from the sea is followed by clear and dry winter with winds from the inner continent. The Southwest to Northeast course of the main ridges of Sichote Alin Mountains and of the coastline cause a big difference in maritime and continental climate. Differences in temperature during seasons are much smaller at the coastal side of the mountain slopes and in those valleys which open to the sea than at the continental side. Mountain basins have a more severe climate temperature inversions; climates in some valleys are also complicated by local wind systems.

These general features also hold true for the reserve area. Average yearly temperature is 5.2° at sea level and 3,5°C in the continental valleys. Average rainfall is 733 mm resp. 694 mm.

Winter lasts for about 3,5 months, with strong winds of West or Northwest. The coldest month is January, average temperature at coastal stations range from -5.1° to -12.5°, at continental ones from -10.4° to -17.5°C. In the Northern part of the reserve temperature can lower down to -30°C, and in the coastal region it is often thawing. There is only little snow and snow cover lasts between 1,5 and 5,5 months. Southern slopes are most of the time free of snow. Winters with heavy snow are occured every nine to ten years.

Spring begins in the middle of March and is characterized by unsteady weather conditions with returns of cold weather and snow. Summer is short, moist, often with fog. Winds come mostly from over the sea and bring drizzling rain. Mainly in August and September heavy rainfalls can cause floods with huge damages in some years. The warmest months is August, average temperatures are between 17.4° and 23.5°C. Autumn brings clear and still warm weather, in October however first frosts occur. Also it is somewhat less warm in the coastal region during summer, autumn is longer and begin of winter is retarded.

Hydro-geography

According to amount of precipitation continental part of the reserve belongs to the hydro-geographic region with a surplus of humidity, coastal part to the region with optimal humidity in "normal" or dry years.

Nearly all of the territory of the reserve drains by the river systems of Kyevka and Tchornaya to the Japanese sea. The main river is Kyevka, and two of its tributaries — Lasovka and Krivaya — are as big as Tchornaya. Total length of all rivers and creeks within the reserve is 2881 km. Density of watercourses is 1.1 km/km², which is more than average in Primorye (0,73 km/km²) or Russia (0.22 km/km²). However, rivers are not navigable and even small for floating. River Kyevka has economic importance because of its spawn places for Keta and Sima salmon.

The hydrological regime of all water courses is characterized by monsoon. High waters occur after snow melting and after heavy monsoon rains in summer. Nearly all water courses are mountainous and therefore characterized by small v-shaped valleys, stony river beds, high fall and consequently strong stream. Only Kyevka and Tchornaya rivers show in their lower courses a more calm flow and form several water branches. Here the valleys are relatively broad and old dried up river beds are abundant.

There are several small lakes are situated near the coast: Selyushino, Sarya, Latvya, and Topkoye, all with a length not bigger than 3 km. Some of the lakes own unique vegetation and other nature treasures. They are protected as "nature monuments".

Soils

Soil processes are increased by humidity and rather warm conditions in summer. Litter decays quickly and supports humus development. Monsoon rainfalls cause erosion at steep slopes, especially when vegetation cover is disturbed, and washes out minerals and nutrients. In the reserve brown forest soils are most widely distributed and specially connected with stone pine – broadleaved mixed forests. Soil depth and physical and chemical characters can change with relief, altitude and with former and actual vegetation cover. In former times at high altitudes under dark coniferous forests existed a specific alluvial version of raw humus-brown soil; nowadays it is replaced by typical brown soils. Outside the valley ground podsolic soils can occur. Lower parts of the slopes and valley ground often show Gley soils. Recent water courses are accompanied by sediments of sand and gravel with less developed raw soils. Some coastal plains and mountain basins show black, chernozem-like soils.

Vegetation and Fauna of the reserve

The reserve originally showed three altitudinal levels: Broadleaved (mostly oak) forests, stone pine-broadleaved mixed forests, and finally dark coniferous forests. Recently these series are disturbed and mixed forests dominant. Lasovsky reserve is due to protect the unique Ussurian Stone pine-broadleaved forests at the eastern slopes of Sichote Alin Mountains.

Original stands of Stone pine–broadleaved forests of Mandgurian type have survived only despite that they have covered large parts of Primorye not long ago. They are very productive, complex in structure and diverse in species. It is the most valuable forest type. Emergent tree species are Korean Stone Pine and Black Spruce. Stone Pines can reach an age of 500 years, a height of 50 m, and a diameter of 2 m. There are never more than a few dozens of those trees per hectares even in never disturbed stands. Under these predominant trees in the main tree cover are growing about 60 species of broad-leaved trees (birch, maple-tree, lime-tree, elm, ash, and hornbeam, Mandgurian Walnut), yew, and some bushes. Climbers often occur, and herb vegetation is also rich. This forest type contains most of the rare and valuable plant species of the region, especially of the family of Aralia (e.g. ginseng).

Recent stands of stone pine-broadleaved mixed forests at moist sites lower slopes and higher parts of the flood plain come quite near to the original Mandgurian type of these forests. In the top layer of trees Korean pine sometimes is accompanied also by Ayan and Korean spruce, Japanese elm, Mandgurian ash, Amur Cork tree, and Mandgurian walnut. Lower tree canopy is formed by younger trees and of smaller species of maple trees, cherry trees, and Maackia species. The undergrowth contains bushes like Mandshurian mockorange, Mandshurian hazel, several species of Honeysuckle, False-spirea, and Panax. Moist stands with mixed stone pine forests are typical sites of ginseng. Also young growth of Korean pine does well in those sites, and its further spreading is expected.

Zonal broad-leaved forests always have covered only small areas in the bigger valleys. As a result of long and intensive impact by man, e. g. wood cutting and fire, these forest types have changed and also spread beyond their original sites. Mostly Korean pine - broadleaved forests, but also dark coniferous forests have been replaced by oak forests. The latter now form on large areas structured, but stable stands. Mongolian oak has mostly replaced Korean pine; oak forests are rather light and consist of oak or few other deciduous tree species like birch, lime-tree, and others. Because of abundant fires the forest trees stay small (up to 10-12 m) and form gnarled stems. Under growth consist often-dense bushes of hazel and Lespedeza, accompanied by roses and viburnum. Out of the climbers wild vine must be mentioned.

Dark coniferous forests cover only a small area within the reserve as they only grow above 1100 m in altitude. In adjacent northern territories they are wide spread.

Within the territory of the reserve there have been recorded following numbers of species: vascular plants: 1284; mosses 285; alga 685; lichens 407; fungi 1189. 168, or 7.5 %, of the indigenous species are endemic or rare. Out of these 50 species are included in the Red Data book of former RSFSP (2001) resp. 124 in the Red Data Book of Primorsky Kray (2002). Biogeographic situation, good state of the ecosystems, and diversity of ecological conditions have created the concentration of higher plants within the reserve. Lasovsky reserve contains more species than all other reserve in the Russian Far East, and more than 60 % of all flora of Primorye are concentrated here. Concerning that reserves in Russia mostly represent 20 to 80 % of the floras of its region, the floristic value of Lasovsky Reserve must be judged as good.

The invertebrate fauna is rich, but investigations have been carried out only of few groups. More than 3000 insect species have been recorder. A list of rare or missed insect species of the reserve which are mentioned in the Red Data book of RSFSP (2001) resp. of Primorsky Kray (2002) includes 10 species.

In the waters of the reserve lives 18 species of fishes and eight of amphibians. Two species of lizards and six of snakes have been recorded. Avifauna is represented by 344 species, this is 74% of all species in Primorye. 140 species reproduce in the reserve. The Red Data book of RSFSP (2001) includes 44 species, Red Data book of Primorsky Kray (2002) 67 species. Species with special need of protection are Scaly-sided Merganser, Mandarin Duck, and Whit-tailed Sea-eagle. Mammals include 58 species, this represents about 70 % of all species in Primorye. Many species belong to the category of rare and specially protected animals like Amur Tiger, Amur Goral, Sika Deer, and Asian Black Bear. The Red Data book of RSFSP (2001) includes 5 species, Red Data book of Primorsky Kray (2002) 12 species.

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