Lake Baikal and the Endemic Species Created by Unique Conditions Research Paper

Pages: 10 (2674 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 12  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Animals

¶ … world's oldest, largest and deepest lakes, Lake Baikal in Siberia hosts an incredible array of endemic plants and animals. Created more than 25 million years ago, Lake Baikal remains geologically active today. Throughout the 20th century, though, the push for industrialization in the former Soviet Union contributed to the pollution of the lake, threatening both the flora and fauna of Lake Baikal. Despite the lake's designation as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and a groundswell of effort on the part of the Russian general public, lawmakers and other authorities, Lake Baikal's unique status and integrity continue to be threatened. This paper reviews the relevant literature to determine the lake's origins, its past and its current ecology, the lake's biodiversity and how endemism was possible, and rationale in support of Lake Baikal's designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A discussion of the endemic species in the region is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

The Endemic Species Created by the Unique Conditions of Lake Baikal

Locals call it the Sacred Sea, Russians consider it a national treasure and the world has declared it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Siberia's Lake Baikal is one of the world's oldest, largest and deepest lakes. Its age and isolation have created one of the richest and most unusual collections of freshwater plants and animals on earth, including some 1,700 species unique to the lake. -- Veronique Mistiaen, 2008

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Research Paper on Lake Baikal and the Endemic Species Created by Unique Conditions of the Lake Assignment

Many people in the West may have never even heard of it, but the epigraph above confirms that Lake Baikal is one of the world's oldest, deepest and largest lakes, containing about 20% of the entire world's fresh water. The evolutionary processes that have been at work for millennia have helped to create an enormous array of endemic animal and plant species, and Lake Baikal has been designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, having satisfied four of the 10 selection criteria, although satisfaction of only one criterion is required. To determine the lake's past and its current status, including its origin, past and present ecology and the endemic species created by its unique conditions, this paper reviews the relevant literature concerning Lake Baikal, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Background and Overview

Facts about Lake Baikal. The facts about Lake Baikal make it clear that this is a unique body of water:

1. Lake Baikal contains more fresh water than the Great Lakes combined (March, 1996).

2. Lake Baikal contains approximately 20% of the world's fresh water (Lake Baikal, 2010).

3. Selected for inclusion on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites list by satisfying four of the 10 selection criteria, when only one is required (Lake Baikal, 2010).

4. The lake hosts a wide array of endemic flora and fauna (the criteria for selection, 2010).

5. The Lake Baikal watershed comprises some 148 million acres in Russia's central Siberia and northern Mongolia. Much of the area is forested and is crucial to the quality of the lake, a World Heritage Site (Smith, 2007, p. 18).

6. Lake Baikal is one of the world's oldest, deepest and largest lakes (Mistiaen, 2008).

7. Lake Baikal is still threatened by Russia's rapidly growing oil and nuclear industries (Hoare, 2008, p. 98).

Origin of the Lake. As the world's oldest lake, the origins of Lake Baikal are truly ancient, with the formation of its geological structures occurring during the Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras (Lake Baikal, 2010). In this regard, Hudgins (1998) reports that, "By most measures, Baikal stands as a giant among the world's lakes. The oldest, deepest, and largest lake on earth, Baikal was formed at least twenty-five million years ago" (p. 134). Violent geological forces were responsible for the creation of the lake. For instance, according to Gladkochub, Donskaya, Wingate, Poller, Kroner, Fedorovsky, Mazukabzov, Todt and Pisarevsky (2008), "Collision and accretion of several microcontinents and fragments of intra-oceanic complexes of the Palaeoasian ocean onto the Siberian craton margin led to formation of strongly deformed and metamorphosed terranes in the contact zone between the craton and Central Asian Orogenic Belt" (p. 235). The region is still geologically active, with several tectonic forces still producing thermal vents in the deeper parts of the lake (Lake Baikal, 2010).

Past and Current Ecology. In their haste to industrialize as quickly as possible, the leadership of the former Soviet Union largely ignored pollution-control devices in their production methods. As a result, by the late 1960s, Volgyes emphasizes that, "The pollution in Lake Baikal had become a national scandal and some of the younger economists and city planners have begun to question the utility of headlong industrialization" (1974, p. 6).

Biodiversity and How Endemism was Possible. Lake Baikal's enormous biodiversity and high levels of endemism are directly attributable to the lake's size and geographic location. For instance, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO), "The great variety of plants in the basin is determined by its climatic asymmetry: the western part is occupied by light coniferous forests and mountain steppes; in the eastern part pine forests predominate; and the north is covered by deciduous forests" (Lake Baikal, 2010, para. 4).

Why Lake Baikal Was a Good Choice for a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In order to be eligible for inclusion on UNESCO's World Heritage List, sites "must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria" (the criteria for selection, 2010, para. 1). Lake Baikal satisfied four of the ten selection criteria established by UNESCO for designation as a World Heritage Site as follows:

1. To contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;

2. To be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;

3. To be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals; and,

4. To contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point-of-view of science or conservation (the criteria for selection, 2010, para. 3).

In support of its designation of the lake as a World Heritage Site, UNESCO's selection committee notes that Lake Baikal "is the oldest and deepest of the world's lakes containing nearly 20% of the world's unfrozen freshwater reserve" (Lake Baikal, 2010, para. 3). Moreover, the UNESCO selection committee also Lake Baikal is geographically situated in a region that contains a number of other protected areas with aesthetic appeal and the Russian government has taken steps to protect the area in recent years (Lake Baikal, 2010). The selection committee, though, also emphasized the need for Russian lawmakers and environmental authorities to address the numerous issues that continue to threaten the lake's integrity, including most especially pollution (Lake Baikal, 2010).


There are few other places in the world that contains the wide range of endemic species of flora and fauna as Lake Baikal. According to UNESCO, "The lake contains an outstanding variety of endemic flora and fauna, of exceptional value to evolutionary science. The basin supports a variety of plant and animal species, a number being endemic; the most notable of which is the Baikal seal, a uniquely freshwater species" (Lake Baikal, 2010, para. 4). Of the 1,340 species of animals located in Lake Baikal, more than half (745 or 55.6%) are not found anywhere else on earth; likewise, of the 570 species of plants, more than a quarter (150 or 26.3%) are endemic (Lake Baikal, 2010).

Besides the flora and fauna found in the lake, the surrounding forests contains another 10 species that are threatened as well as the entire range of species that are typically found in forested areas (Lake Baikal, 2010). Because it is the world's oldest lake, evolutionary processes have been underway for eons, contributing to the high levels of endemism found in Lake Baikal. In this regard, UNESCO advises that, "The evolution of aquatic life that has taken place over this long period has resulted in an exceptionally unique and endemic fauna and flora. As the 'Galapagos of Russia,' the lake is of exceptional value to evolutionary science" (Lake Baikal, 2010, para. 4).

Notwithstanding its designation as a World Heritage Site and recent efforts by the Russian government and general public to address the environmental issues threatening the lake's integrity, the entire region remains fragile and in danger of losing these unique ecosystem properties (Lake Baikal, 2010). In response, Russian authorities have sought remedies to protect the lake's fragile and valuable ecosystem. According to Hudgins, "The lake became the focus of Russia's first environmental protection movement in the 1960s to protest pollution of Baikal… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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