Chengjiang Fossil Site

Country
China
Inscribed in
2012
Criterion
(viii)
The conservation outlook for this site has been assessed as "good" in the latest assessment cycle. Explore the Conservation Outlook Assessment for the site below. You have the option to access the summary, or the detailed assessment.

A hilly 512 ha site in Yunnan province, Chengjiang’s fossils present the most complete record of an early Cambrian marine community with exceptionally preserved biota, displaying the anatomy of hard and soft tissues in a very wide variety of organisms, invertebrate and vertebrate. They record the early establishment of a complex marine ecosystem. The site documents at least sixteen phyla and a variety of enigmatic groups as well as about 196 species, presenting exceptional testimony to the rapid diversification of life on Earth 530 million years ago, when almost all of today’s major animal groups emerged. It opens a palaeobiological window of great significance to scholarship. © UNESCO

© IUCN / Patrick McKeever

Summary

2020 Conservation Outlook

Finalised on
01 Dec 2020
Good
The Outlook for the Chengjiang Fossil site remains good overall. The site is protected under law and relatively effectively administered by a management authority with the guidance of comprehensive management plans. The newly constructed Natural Museum of Chengjiang Fossils plays a positive role in scientific research and enhances the values of the site. Former low-level threats have been addressed, but continued threats such as the illegal collection of fossils (albeit mostly outside the site boundaries) and future demand for more infrastructure development associated with growing visitor numbers will require ongoing careful management.

Current state and trend of VALUES

Good
Trend
Stable
The current state of the palaeobiological-geological values of the property is good and the trend is stable. The site is relatively limited in area and the fossil localities are inherently vulnerable to disturbance or damage. However, these have not proved to be a problem for protection of the site and its fossils to date, and no future problems are envisaged given the effective protection and management regime of the property. The property benefits from having no permanent resident population and currently relatively few visitors, many of whom are scientists. However, the recent construction of the museum along with new development nearby has likely brought some disturbance and visitation is likely to grow in the future. This may compound previous concerns of illegal collection and sale of fossils from associated localities outside the site, which has not yet been fully addressed and which is of concern.

Overall THREATS

Low Threat
Current threats are few and a likely substantial increase in visitor numbers in the near future is the major potential threat to the property. Current threats from inappropriate tourism infrastructure development and inappropriate use of introduced species in re-forestation are partly recognized and active measures are being taken to address the issue. Former mining activities occurred in the buffer zone only and have been completely halted. However, illegal collection and sale of fossils continues to be a key threat to the site, which so far has received little attention. Overall, the threat level to the outstanding geological values of the site is low.

Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT

Mostly Effective
Overall the protection and management of the the Chengjiang Fossil Site can be assessed as mostly effective. The protection laws, management system, research and environmental monitoring are of excellent standard. Funding and staffing appear adequate for present needs. Inappropriate visitor infrastructure development has caused concerns in the past, however the newly built Natural Museum of Chengjiang Fossils is reported to have addressed this and plays a positive role in scientific research, exhibition, science popularization and education at the site. The management authority will need to be vigilant regarding potential impacts from any future increase in visitation levels in the context of a recent focus from local government on developing the site for tourists.  There should be more engagement with the local community and more transparency about actions taken to protect the site. Improved protection is desirable for some fossil localities in the area surrounding the property, although not necessarily within the remit of the management authority at the World Heritage site.

Full assessment

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Finalised on
01 Dec 2020

Description of values

An exceptional fossil record of the rapid diversification of life on Earth during the early Cambrian period, some 520 million years ago

Criterion
(viii)
The palaeontological evidence of the site is unrivalled for its rich species diversity for early Cambrian times. To date at least 20 phyla, plus a variety of enigmatic groups, and at least 281 species have been documented. Taxa recovered include algae, sponges and cnidarians along with numerous bilaterian phyla, including the earliest known chordates. The quality of fossil preservation is exquisite, including both the soft and hard tissues of animals with hard skeletons, along with a wide array of organisms that were entirely soft-bodied and, therefore, relatively unrepresented in the global fossil record. The fossils and rocks of the property, together, present the most complete known record of an early Cambrian marine community (Babcock et al., 2001; State Party of China, 2011; Dzik, 2004; Hagadorn, 2002; IUCN, 2012; Hou et al., 2004; Hou et al., 2017; IUCN Consultation, 2020).

Assessment information

Low Threat
Current threats are few and can be rated as low to high in terms of their impacts. Mostly, they relate to former activities and impacts and effective mitigation measures are now partly in place.
Mining/ Quarrying
(Mining and industrial development)
Very Low Threat
Outside site
Until 2004 phosphate mining occurred in the buffer zone, however the mines were subsequently closed in 2008. The complex process of mine rehabilitation has begun but will take many years to complete (World Heritage Committee, 2012; State Party of China, 2011; IUCN, 2012).
Other Ecosystem Modifications
(Re-forestation)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Extent of threat not known
Since 1997 there has been replanting as part of a forest restoration programme. Originally, non-native species were used in the programme, however this practice was subsequently replaced by the use of native plants (IUCN, 2012).
Tourism/ Recreation Areas
(Tourism infrastructure development)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
Outside site
Construction of a walkway involved excavation of a fossil locale and a museum was built over the site of the first fossil discoveries (World Heritage Committee, 2012; State Party of China, 2011; IUCN, 2012; IUCN Consultation, 2017).
Other
(Illegal fossil collections)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
Outside site
Illegal fossil collecting can cause damage on the site and the loss of valuable fossil material. However, efforts have been made on behalf of the local authority to protect against illegal fossil collection, specifically through the regulations and installation of video surveillance systems in Chengjiang Fossil World Natural Heritage. As such illegal collection inside the site does not represent as big a threat as other similar locations outside the strict confines of the World Heritage site boundary, in the immediately surrounding areas that have the same type of rock, and in areas to the west – for example in the Haikou district. A check of fossils for sale on the web indicates that Chengjiang fossil material is still being illegally offered for purchase on the open market, with prices of US $1000+ dollars for some specimens not uncommon. However, illegal business of Chengjiang fossils on the web is limited, and is likely to become more so in the future due to increased regulation (IUCN Consultation, 2020). 
Low Threat
A significant increase in visitor numbers and the development of relevant infrastructures in the near future is the major potential threat to the property.
Tourism/ visitors/ recreation
(Increased visitation)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Outside site
Visitor levels were low at the time of inscription (4-5,000 annually), but were expected to grow significantly to around 30-40,000 per annum (World Heritage Committee, 2012; State Party of China, 2011; IUCN, 2012). Visitor numbers are now at 60-80,000 annually, and are expected to grow to about 100, 000 with the continuous improvement of supporting facilities outside the site (IUCN Consultation, 2017).
Current threats are few and a likely substantial increase in visitor numbers in the near future is the major potential threat to the property. Current threats from inappropriate tourism infrastructure development and inappropriate use of introduced species in re-forestation are partly recognized and active measures are being taken to address the issue. Former mining activities occurred in the buffer zone only and have been completely halted. However, illegal collection and sale of fossils continues to be a key threat to the site, which so far has received little attention. Overall, the threat level to the outstanding geological values of the site is low.
Management system
Highly Effective
The management system is rated as sufficient for current needs in conserving the OUV of the fossil site. Three management plans apply in the property (IUCN, 2012). The management committee of the WH site overlaps with that of the Geological Park and provincial Nature Reserve (IUCN Consultation, 2017).
Effectiveness of management system
Mostly Effective
Existing staffing and financial resources are sufficient to provide an effective response to management needs under current types and levels of demand (IUCN, 2012). At present, the local authority has prepared the "Planning of Fauna Paleontology National Geopark of Chengjiang in Yunnan Province" (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
Boundaries
Highly Effective
The boundaries are appropriate in conserving the values of the site itself having been well delimited and signed (IUCN, 2012), despite further fossil sites in Haikou area, some 40 km west to the type locality in Chengjiang, which yield beautiful fossils of high value which may contribute further to the integrity of the site (IUCN Consultation, 2020). Nonetheless, the boundaries can be considered highly effective insomuch as they are appropriate for the conservation of the fossil sites which form the current basis of the site's values. 
Integration into regional and national planning systems
Data Deficient
Data deficient
Relationships with local people
Some Concern
There has been little involvement with the local community (IUCN, 2012), however this is reported to be improving (IUCN Consultation, 2020). Further engagement is needed to ensure local communities understand the protection policy and are able to participate in protection activities.
Legal framework
Mostly Effective
The property and its fossils are protected by national and provincial legislation. Enforcement is generally good; however, there continues to be some concern (see World Heritage Committee, 2012; State Party of China, 2011; IUCN, 2012) over the illegal trade of fossil collected, from scientifically important, closely associated localities outside the World Heritage site. The framework would benefit from being optimised such that enforcement of illegal collection is in place, without curtailing legal collection of samples for the purposes of research (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
In order to increase protection of the World Heritage site, on 26th May 2017 the 34th meeting of the Standing Committee of the 12th People’s Congress of Yunnan Province approved ‘Yunnan province Chengjiang fossil site world natural heritage protection regulation’. On 1st July 2017 the implementation of this regulation started, to further strengthen the protection afforded to the Chengjiang fossils (IUCN Consultation, 2017) and has yielded excellent results (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
Law enforcement
Mostly Effective
Enforcement within the Word Heritage site is highly effective.  Installation and construction of video surveillance systems for fossil sites and localities including the Xiaolantian formation, Xiaolantian fossil site, and Maanshan fossil site within the World Heritage site have further strengthened this (IUCN Consultation, 2020). However, illegal collecting of fossils is still a serious concern from associated sites outside the World Heritage site, with many potentially important fossils being effectively lost to science (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
Implementation of Committee decisions and recommendations
Some Concern
The only decision adopted by the World Heritage Committee on this site was the one at the time of the inscription (World Heritage Committee, 2012). In that Decision the Committee requested the State Party to "ensure proactive tourism management in anticipation of increased future visitation" (World Heritage Committee, 2012) and it appears that some measures have been undertaken in that regard (IUCN Consultation, 2017). The Committee's request to "ensure any proposed infrastructure development and excavations are sympathetic to the site’s values and are subject to rigorous prior impact assessments" is reported to have been addressed, insomuch as so far, no infrastructure construction affecting the value of the property has been carried out (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
Sustainable use
Data Deficient
Data deficient.
Sustainable finance
Mostly Effective
Current funding is adequate (IUCN, 2012).
Staff capacity, training, and development
Mostly Effective
The 13 permanent staff and 16 part-time staff were considered adequate to implement the management requirements at the time the Chengjiang fossil site was inscribed on the World Heritage List (IUCN, 2012). These staff numbers have now been increased to 42 permanent staff and 22 part-time staff (IUCN Consultation, 2020). A continuous programme of staff training should be maintained. Several staff members have now started part-time PhD programmes at Yunnan University to increase research and training capacity of the management staff (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
Education and interpretation programs
Mostly Effective
Interpretation of the sites values is well presented through very good curation and display of fossils in a purpose-built museum (IUCN, 2012) that is central on the site and under the auspices of Academia Sinica, and historically there has been a very good display at the County Museum in Chengjiang town. A further, new museum- The Natural Museum of Chengjiang Fossils- relating to the Chengjiang site and its fossils has been built and opened in August 2020, between the buffer zone and Fuxian Lake. In the three months since opening, it has received 320,000 visitors and more than 20 academics of the Chinese Academy of Science and has become the on-site learning place for the meetings of four Chinese paleontological societies. the museum has also developed into a local tourist hotspot, and has played an important role in the promotion of biological evolutionary knowledge, the dissemination of scientific ideas and theory related to the values of the site (IUCN Consultation, 2020). The museum's ancillary facilities will be completed by the end of 2020, which will facilitate research of Chengjiang Biota, academic seminars and exchanges on paleontology, popular science research activities on paleontology and biodiversity for young people, and the development of paleontological cultural and creative products (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
Tourism and visitation management
Mostly Effective
Low numbers of tourists visit the property and most international tourists are scientists. Interpretation is excellent (IUCN, 2012). However the number of tourists is projected to increase annually to 100, 000 (IUCN Consultation, 2017), and the establishment of a new museum will have implications for existing Museum displays and collections (especially, the County Museum in Chengjiang town).
Monitoring
Some Concern
The monitoring programme is extensive and well conducted (IUCN, 2012). However, there is some concern related to potential illegal fossil collection which requires monitoring to be maintained at current levels, especially in the context of a recent focus from local government on developing the site for tourists. 
Research
Highly Effective
The property has been the subject of intensive research since the first fossil discovery was made in 1984 and first reported in 1985 (Zhang & Hou, 1985). High-profile Chengjiang research papers (e.g., Ma et al., 2012; Tanaka et al. 2013; Ma et al., 2014) made further important breakthroughs in evolutionary studies. More recent references include the key book Hou, Siveter & Siveter et al. 2017 and also Cong et al. 2017, whilst new descriptions of fossil species continue to be described as in Hou et al., 2018; Yun et al., 2018 and Zhao et al., 2019). The experience of fossil collection and study from the site has also contributed to novel undersatnding of environmental conditions on fossil formation (Qi et al., 2018; Yang et al., 2018). Cutting edge research on the fossils from this site and surrounding areas will likely continue into the future given the academic interest in the site.
Overall the protection and management of the the Chengjiang Fossil Site can be assessed as mostly effective. The protection laws, management system, research and environmental monitoring are of excellent standard. Funding and staffing appear adequate for present needs. Inappropriate visitor infrastructure development has caused concerns in the past, however the newly built Natural Museum of Chengjiang Fossils is reported to have addressed this and plays a positive role in scientific research, exhibition, science popularization and education at the site. The management authority will need to be vigilant regarding potential impacts from any future increase in visitation levels in the context of a recent focus from local government on developing the site for tourists.  There should be more engagement with the local community and more transparency about actions taken to protect the site. Improved protection is desirable for some fossil localities in the area surrounding the property, although not necessarily within the remit of the management authority at the World Heritage site.
Assessment of the effectiveness of protection and management in addressing threats outside the site
Mostly Effective
More planning, management effort and protection are required for the significant fossil localities outside the property that provide scientific context for the fossil assemblage in the property (IUCN, 2012). The fact that ‘Chengjiang fossils’ are being offered for sale internationally on the internet is testimony to the continuing removal of fossils from outside the confines of the site.
World Heritage values

An exceptional fossil record of the rapid diversification of life on Earth during the early Cambrian period, some 520 million years ago

Good
Trend
Stable
The site and its fossil localities are well protected and managed. There are no undesirable or harmful pressures on the property at present and none is expected. Future growth in visitor numbers could bring demand for more infrastructure development and consequent impacts, which would require effective management intervention (World Heritage Committee, 2012; State Party of China, 2011; IUCN, 2012).
Assessment of the current state and trend of World Heritage values
Good
Trend
Stable
The current state of the palaeobiological-geological values of the property is good and the trend is stable. The site is relatively limited in area and the fossil localities are inherently vulnerable to disturbance or damage. However, these have not proved to be a problem for protection of the site and its fossils to date, and no future problems are envisaged given the effective protection and management regime of the property. The property benefits from having no permanent resident population and currently relatively few visitors, many of whom are scientists. However, the recent construction of the museum along with new development nearby has likely brought some disturbance and visitation is likely to grow in the future. This may compound previous concerns of illegal collection and sale of fossils from associated localities outside the site, which has not yet been fully addressed and which is of concern.

Additional information

Importance for research
The property is one of the world’s most significant fossil sites and of great importance to the science of palaeontology and evolution. Discovery and study of the fossils here have provided the best known picture of early Cambrian marine life and have revolutionized our understanding of the evolution and diversification of life on Earth. The fossil record is extremely well researched and widely reported in the scientific literature and the fossil assemblage is generally well curated, protected and displayed.
Although it is a relatively small site with very specific scientific and conservation values, the property provides effective protection to a natural palaeobiological-geological landscape of global importance, and study of its fossil assemblage has revolutionized our knowledge of the evolution and diversification of life on Earth, specifically with respect to our understanding of the flowering of early animal life some 520 million years ago.
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References

References
1
Babcock, Loren E. et al., (2001). The Chengjiang Biota: record of Early Cambrian diversification of life and clues to exceptional preservation of fossils. [online] GSA Today (February 2001),  pp. 4-9. Available at: https://www.geosociety.org/gsatoday/archive/11/2/pdf/i1052-… [Accessed 24 November 2020].
2
Cong Peiyun,, Ma Xiaoya, Williams M., Siveter David J., Siveter Derek J., Gabbott S.E., Zhai Dayou, Goral Tomasz, Edgecombe G.D. & Hou Xianguang. (2017). Host specific infestation in early Cambrian worms. Nature Ecology & Evolution. Doi: 10.1038/s41559-017-0278-4.
3
Dzik, J. (2004). Review of: Hou, Xian-Guang et al. 2003. The Cambrian fossils of Chengjiang, China: the flowering of early animal life. Journal of Sedimentary Geology.
4
Hagadorn, James W. (2002). Chengjiang: early record of the Cambrian explosion. Chapter 3, pp. 35-60 in: Bottjer, D.J. et al. (eds.), 2002. Exceptional fossil preservation: a unique view of the evolution of marine life. New York, USA: Columbia University Press.
5
Hou Xian-guang, Siveter, David J., Siveter, Derek J., Aldridge, Richard J., Cong, Pei-yun, Gabbott, Sarah E., Ma, Xiao-ya, Purnell, Mark A., Williams, Mark. (2017). The Cambrian fossils of Chengjiang. The flowering of early animal life. Wiley-Blackwell, 316 pp, Oxford.
6
Hou, X. et al., (2004). The Cambrian fossils of Chengjiang, China—The Flowering of Early Animal Life. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.
7
Hou, X., Williams, M., Sansom, R., Siveter, D.J., Siveter, D.J., Gabbott, S., Harvey, T.H., Cong, P. and Liu, Y. (2018). A new xandarellid euarthropod from the Cambrian Chengjiang biota, Yunnan Province, China. Geological Magazine, pp.1-10.
8
IUCN Consultation. (2017). IUCN Confidential Consultation- Chengjiang Fossil Site, China
9
IUCN Consultation. (2020). IUCN Confidential Consultation- Chengjiang Fossil Site, China
10
IUCN. (2012). World Heritage Nomination – IUCN Technical Evaluation, Chengjiang Fossil Site (China). In: IUCN World Heritage Evaluations 2012, IUCN Evaluations of nominations of natural and mixed properties to the World Heritage List. WHC/12/36.COM/8B.9 [online] Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1388/documents/ [Accessed 15 January 2017].
11
Ma, X., Cong, P., Hou, X., Edgecombe, G. D., & Strausfeld, N. J. (2014). An exceptionally preserved arthropod cardiovascular system from the early Cambrian. Nature Communications, 5(1), 1-7.
12
Ma, X., Hou, X., Edgecombe, G. D., & Strausfeld, N. J. (2012). Complex brain and optic lobes in an early Cambrian arthropod. Nature, 490(7419), 258-261.
13
Qi, C., Li, C., Gabbott, S.E., Ma, X., Xie, L., Deng, W., Jin, C. and Hou, X.G. (2018). Influence of redox conditions on animal distribution and soft-bodied fossil preservation of the Lower Cambrian Chengjiang Biota. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 507, pp.180-187.
14
State Party of China. (2011). Nomination of Chengjiang Fossil Site as a World Heritage Site. [online] Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1388/documents/ [Accessed 23 February 2017].
15
Tanaka, G., Hou, X., Ma, X., Edgecombe, G. D., & Strausfeld, N. J. (2013). Chelicerate neural ground pattern in a Cambrian great appendage arthropod. Nature, 502(7471), 364-367.
16
World Heritage Committee. (2012). Decision 36COM. 8B.9- Chengjiang Fossil Sote (China). In: Report of decisions of the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee. [online] Paris, France: UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Available at:https://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/4780 [Accessed 2 September 2020].
17
Yang, C., Li, X.H., Zhu, M., Condon, D.J. and Chen, J. (2018). Geochronological constraint on the Cambrian Chengjiang biota, South China. Journal of the Geological Society, 175(4), pp.659-666.
18
Yun, H., Zhang, X. and Li, L. (2018). Chancelloriid Allonnia erjiensis sp. nov. from the Chengjiang Lagerstätte of South China. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 16(5), pp.435-444.
19
Zhang, W. & Hou, X. (1985). Preliminary notes on the occurance of the unusual trilobite Naraoia in Asia. Acta Palaeontologica Sinica, 24, pp. 591-595.
20
Zhao, J., Li, G.B. and Selden, P.A. (2019). A poorly preserved fish-like animal from the Chengjiang Lagerstätte (Cambrian Series 2, Stage 3). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 520, pp.163-172.

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