Mountain ecosystems and their local populations provide important resources, such as fresh water and timber, to more than half the world’s population. Mountains also resemble islands, where diverse species and human communities live in relative isolation to the surrounding landscape. An incredible shift in the diversity of climate, vegetation, hydrology, species and populations occurs as one ascends a mountain. These unique characteristics are part of the reasons why mountain systems face unique and unprecedented threats to their sustainability, which include climate change impacts, biodiversity loss, hazards and water scarcity.
This is why Dr Julia Klein, Canadian Mountain Network partner and Assistant Professor at Colorado State University, and colleagues have undertaken the first global assessment of threats to mountain systems. They collected detailed data on land use, characteristics, stressors, drivers, ecosystem services and the role of local knowledge across 57 mountain sites spanning 37 countries and six continents worldwide. This data was then analyzed to understand the types of stressors affecting global mountain systems, as well as their resources and benefits.
The assessment revealed that mountain systems worldwide are experiencing both gradual and abrupt changes in climate, governance and economies. Threats include sudden local system disturbances, such as extreme weather and economic crises, as well as slow, gradual regional and global transformations, such as climate change and policy change. Mountains that are most at risk are those that deliver abundant ecosystem services in developing countries and support primarily subsistence-based livelihoods.
One of the greatest challenges facing mountain systems worldwide is that policies affecting mountain systems are often made by people living outside the mountains themselves, and who may not understand crucial local knowledge about the mountain environment. Solutions and strategies offered to address complex challenges facing mountain systems include partnerships among researchers, stakeholders and decision-makers. These partnerships must address knowledge gaps, poverty and food security, and agree on actions needed to achieve a more sustainable future.
Learn more about this groundbreaking research here: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018EF001024