[by Giancarlo Sadoti]
Tom and I recently returned from a week-long trip to Urumqi in the Xinjiang Province of China where we attended the International Symposium on Invasive Plants and Global Change. The meeting was organized by the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, the Chinese Academy of Sciences Key Lab of Biogeography and Bioresource in Arid Lands, the Xinjiang Agricultural Institute, and the University of Nevada, Reno. Attendees were supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the United Nations Development Programme. UNR graduate students were also supported by the Graduate Student Association.
The meeting featured international collaborations and independent research on plant invasions from the U.S., China, Australia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. U.S. researchers came from UNLV, BSU, BYU, USGS, USDA, Rutgers, NCSU, and NAU. A number of U.S.-China collaborations were strengthened or born during the meeting and promise to result in research helpful to resource management in both countries. Both Tom and I presented research related to cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), an annual grass particularly invasive in the Great Basin of North America. The meeting schedule allowed interested participants to attend two days of field trips into the Junggar Basin desert east of Urumqi and into the forested foothills of the Tien Shan mountains south of Urumqi. These trips let us poke around looking at plants – some native to Asia but invasive in North America – and a number of birds new to most of us from the U.S.
This was my first trip to China and Tom’s fifth (and his third to Xinjiang). Urumqi is the most inland city in the world. For a sense of its remoteness, it took us an additional four-hour flight from Beijing across massive deserts to reach Urumqi (on top of the 12-hour flight from San Francisco). While residents of many Chinese cities have seen Americans for decades (or longer), Urumqi is still remote enough that our party got plenty of stares when out in public. Despite the dominant Han culture, Urumqi is still a crossroads for a diverse group of central Asian cultural groups, making for great people-watching and a diverse cuisine. Both in and outside Urumqi, I was struck by the pace of development. An increase in income and population has led to a boom in building construction and traffic in the city, while the demand for energy has led to development of huge surface coal mines and the construction of new coal-fired power plants. It will be interesting to see how Xinjiang attempts to responsibly develop its future, much as it will be here in the U.S.