Shirakami-Sanchi

Outstanding Universal Value

(ix) Ecosystem
The largest primeval beech forest in East Asia which features rich biodiversity

A Surviving Primeval Forest

Shirakami-Sanchi contains the largest primeval beech forest in East Asia, having been untouched by human development. Beech forests were once distributed in the area around the Arctic region when the Earth was warmer than it is now. They were home to a diverse array of vegetation including Siebold's beech, Silene aomorensis, and Hylotelephium ussuriense var. tsugaruense, which are said to be surviving remnants (relicts) from the ice age. When the ice age arrived, the beech forests moved south in response to the cooling of the climate. However, shrubs and herbaceous plants were blocked by mountains stretching from east to west in Europe and many other regions throughout the world, making it impossible for them to move south. Since only beech trees moved south, the vegetation in the beech forests came to be simplified. In Japan, there were no mountains blocking the southward movement of their distribution, and so the species composition of the plant community in the area around the Arctic region was largely maintained. For this reason, in Shirakami-Sanchi a distinctive beech forest close to the one around the Arctic region approximately 30 million years ago has been preserved.

A Surviving Primeval Forest

A Forest Museum

During the winter, Shirakami-Sanchi receives the damp air from the Sea of Japan side, and so it receives an extremely large amount of snow from an international perspective. Vegetation that is reflective of the heavily snow-laden environments can be seen on the ground in the beech forests, as is represented by Sasa kurilensis. More than 500 species of plants grow here, including Silene aomorensis endemic to this region. Shirakami-Sanchi is also home to a diverse array of animals, which includes 14 species of medium to large mammals, 94 species of birds, and approximately 2,000 species of insects. These include rare birds like golden eagles and black woodpeckers, as well as Japanese serows and Japanese black bears. The beech forests of Shirakami-Sanchi could be called a museum for forest ecosystems based primarily around Siebold's beech, a species endemic to Japan.

A Forest Museum

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