Scientists discover an ancient forest hidden in a well in southern China

Scientists discover an ancient forest hidden in a well in southern China

A group of Chinese explorers discovered a hidden forest at the bottom of a sinkhole that could house new species of plants and animals. According to the CGTN chain, the forest is located inside a sinkhole in the Guangxi region, in southern China. Sinkholes — or tiankeng — are common in the region, although this one is special as it is 210 meters deep and houses trees up to 40 meters tall.

The tiankeng is known as “the bottomless pit” by the locals and it is 300 meters long, 150 meters wide and 192 meters deep. According to the inhabitants of the village of Ping'e nobody had managed to reach the bottom. In an attempt to find out more about this and the other sinkholes in Leye County, the China Geological Survey Institute of Karst Geology organized an expedition in early May.

Accessing the bottom of the sinkhole was not easy, since the entrance is covered by a dense forest that limits visibility. The scientists used drones to obtain a better angle of vision and later descended rappelling down the sinkhole. The report indicates that the explorers discovered very dense plants with large thorns and trees with a very peculiar version of figs.

Primitive forest has plants and animals never seen

The well is made up of three caves and a well-preserved primeval forest. The background looks like a tropical jungle, with tall, thin trees and plants never seen before. The researchers discovered a square bamboo with thorns between two and three centimeters long, ferns and a piece of wild banana.

Scientists confirmed that this is the 30th tiankeng (heavenly well) they have documented in Leye County. Sinkholes form when water dissolves bedrock, causing the roof to collapse. In this case, 29 of the 30 wells were created thanks to the Bailang River, while the latter would have its origin in the underground river Fugui.

According to Zhang Yuanhai, president of the Asian Caves Alliance and head of the group of explorers, the expedition is important to establish exploration and scientific research bases and readjust the protection of these geological relics.

“I would not be surprised to discover species in these caves that have never been reported or described by science before,” said Yuanhai. The forest is populated by insects and small animals that feed on the plants inside.

The karstic landscapes of southern China are considered World Heritage by UNESCO and are located in the provinces of Guizhou, Guangxi, Yunnan and Chongqing. In Spain there is a place 20 kilometers from Cuenca known as the Torcas de Palancares Natural Monument. Sinkholes are believed to have formed over 80 million years ago as the Tethys Sea receded.