Mongolia is located in Central Asia, landlocked between Russia and China. Like few places in the world, Mongolia possesses a great range of natural ecosystems within its borders. It is a transition zone, where the flora and fauna of Siberia meet the very different species of the desert and arid steppes of Central Asia. Mongolia’s rich natural heritage and special biological diversity are wild treasure. Largely unknown to the rest of the world until recent years, Mongolia’s unique combination of diverse landscapes, unspoiled habitat, and rare wild plant and animal species has become the subject of growing international attention and conservation efforts.
Large distances and high mountain chains separate the country from the oceans. It has an extreme continental climate with marked differences in seasonal and diurnal temperatures and low precipitation.
Although most of the country is flat, with rolling hills, there are several significant mountain ranges, notably the Altai, Khangai, Khentii and Khovsgol. About half of the land is at an altitude of about 1400 m or more above sea level. The altitude range from 560m (above sea level) at the lowest point of Khokh Nuur in the eastern steppes, to the highest of 4374m (above sea level) at Khuiten peak in the Altai Mountains.
Administratively, the country is divided in 21 aimags (province) each of which is divided into sum (territorial administrative unit subordinate to district) and bag (smallest administrative unit in rural district).
Mongolia’s position, size and topography have resulted in a unique assembly of ecosystems or natural zones. Studies of the flora and fauna of the country together with climatic and geographic data have resulted in the classification of Mongolia into 6 broad ecological regions, 16 provinces and 47 bio-geographical zones. Mongolia also has been divided into 6 broad vegetation zones. (Alpine, Taiga, Forest-Steppe, Steppe, Desert-Steppe and Desert). Ecosystems are fragile and extremely vulnerable to many forms of economic exploitation.
Alpine: High mountains rising above the tree line occur in the Altai, Khangai and Khentii and Khovsgol ranges. Top of these mountains are relatively flat, with few sharp peaks. Vegetation exists of low shrubs and herbs, sedges, mosses, algae and lichens and there are few birds and mammals living in this altitude.
Taiga: Mountain taiga forest covers areas of the Khovsgol and Khentii mountains, the area north of the Tarbagatai mountains, the upper reaches of the Orkhon river, and the Khan Khokhii range. It is the southern edge of the Siberian taiga, the largest continuous forest system in the world.
Forest-Steppe: This zone lies between the steppe and the taiga in the Khangai and Altai mountain chains, including parts of Orkhon and Selenge river basins and Khyangan Mountains of eastern Mongolia. Coniferous forests are found on the northern slopes, while the southern slopes are covered with open steppe vegetation.
Steppe: The steppe zone extends from the Western Great Lakes Depression past Khangai and the middle Khalkha highlands to the steppes of Khentii, Dornogobi and Dornod. It is characterized by flat plains and rolling hills covered in feather grass and shrubs.
Mongolia’s desert-steppe or semi-desert is characterized by a dry climate with mean annual precipitation of 100-125 mm and vegetation dominated by low grasses and shrubs. Many of Central Asia’s endemic plants occur in this zone.
Gobi occurs predominantly in the south. The Mongolian Gobi is dry, with mean annual rainfall lower than 100 mm, and some areas remain without rain for several years at a time. High winds and dust storms are frequent in spring and summer. There are oases with poplar, but for the most part the desert consists of bare sandy plains and rocky mountains.
With its territory of 1.5 million square km, Mongolia occupies 17th place by the size of territory and first place by per capita land resources (65 ha) in the world. Per capita agricultural land in Mongolia (53.8 ha) accounts for 20 times over the world’s average.
There are more than 3800 rivers and streams with regular run-off in Mongolia. The total length of the river network is about 6500km. There are 186 glaciers and 3500 lakes covering total surface area of 15.600 square km.
Mongolia is a country through which world watershed line crosses. There are three major drainage basins: rivers in the west drain to the enclosed Basin of Central Asia; rivers in the north drain to Arctic Ocean Basin; and rivers in the east drain to Pacific Ocean Basin.
Water quality is found to be good in mountainous areas of Mongolia. Rivers and surfaces streams originating in high mountain areas carry absolutely clean water.
Forest resources The recorded forest resources of Mongolia accounts for about 11.6% of its land area. Mongolia’s forest resources consist of 140 species of trees, shrubs and bushes such as Siberian larch, pine, cedar, Siberian spruce, fir, saxaul, birch, poplar, willow and shrubs.
Animals Mongolian fauna is relatively rich in animal species, which inhabit different habitats of the country’s variable natural zones, such as forests, steppes, deserts and high mountains. The Mongolian fauna includes many species that are common in Siberian Taiga, European forests, in West Asian, and Triennia deserts. But there are also species, which are endemic to the steppe and deserts of Central Asia, and are common in Mongolia. Mongolia is one of the richest countries in the world by prehistoric remains of various animal species.
Mammals: Altogether 138 mammalian species in Mongolia.
Birds: 449 species of birds have been recorded so far in Mongolia. More than 330 species from this total are migratory, and the remaining 119 species inhabit Mongolia year around. 322 species nest in spring in Mongolia. More than 10 species, nesting in the Tundra and in Arctic Ocean coasts, stay over winter in Mongolia. Approximately 50 species migrate through Mongolia. Half of the bird species in Mongolia are insectivorous, about 25% are herbivorous and 10% fed mostly on water plants and animals.
Amphibians and Reptiles: Habitats for reptiles and amphibians are fairly scarce in Mongolia due to high altitude and extreme continental climate. Similarly with other dry areas of Central Asia, Mongolia has relatively few species of reptiles and amphibians; 22 species of reptiles and 6 species of amphibians exist in Mongolia.
Fish: There are 75 species of fish living in Mongolian rivers and lakes.
Insects: 13 000 insect species have been registered in Mongolia.
Plants: There are over 3000 species of flowering plants in Mongolia. There are 845 species of medicinal plants, 68 species of soil-binding plants and 120 species of important food plants in Mongolia.