Plant Diversity ›› 2017, Vol. 39 ›› Issue (05): 233-244.DOI: 10.1016/j.pld.2017.09.001

• Reviews •    

Tibet, the Himalaya, Asian monsoons and biodiversity-In what ways are they related?

Robert A. Spicera,b   

  1. a Key Laboratory of Tropical Forest Ecology, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Menglun, Yunnan 666303, PR China;
    b School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, The Open University, MK7 6AA, UK
  • Received:2017-07-30 Revised:2017-09-06 Published:2021-11-05
  • Contact: Robert A. Spicer

Abstract: Prevailing dogma asserts that the uplift of Tibet, the onset of the Asian monsoon system and high biodiversity in southern Asia are linked, and that all occurred after 23 million years ago in the Neogene. Here, spanning the last 60 million years of Earth history, the geological, climatological and palaeontological evidence for this linkage is reviewed. The principal conclusions are that:1) A proto-Tibetan highland existed well before the Neogene and that an Andean type topography with surface elevations of at least 4.5 km existed at the start of the Eocene, before final closure of the Tethys Ocean that separated India from Eurasia. 2) The Himalaya were formed not at the start of the IndiaeEurasia collision, but after much of Tibet had achieved its present elevation. The Himalaya built against a pre-existing proto-Tibetan highland and only projected above the average height of the plateau after approximately 15 Ma. 3) Monsoon climates have existed across southern Asia for the whole of the Cenozoic, and probably for a lot longer, but that they were of the kind generated by seasonal migrations of the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone. 4) The projection of the High Himalaya above the Tibetan Plateau at about 15 Ma coincides with the development of the modern South Asia Monsoon. 5) The East Asia monsoon became established in its present form about the same time as a consequence of topographic changes in northern Tibet and elsewhere in Asia, the loss of moisture sources in the Asian interior and the development of a strong winter Siberian high as global temperatures declined. 6) New radiometric dates of palaeontological finds point to southern Asia's high biodiversity originating in the Paleogene, not the Neogene.

Key words: Tibetan Plateau, Himalaya, Uplift history, Monsoons, Biodiversity, Molecular phylogeny