Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA)

Journal Articles

The 90 ways to describe plant temperature
Körner C and Hiltbrunner (2017) The 90 ways to describe plant temperature. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics xx(x), DOI 10.1016/j.ppees.2017.04.004

What seems like a trivial task is one of the most difficult ones in functional plant ecology and biogeography: selecting the appropriate measures of temperature for an ecologically meaningful description of habitat conditions and for a mechanistic understanding of responses of plants. The difficulty becomes even more severe at elevations above the climatic tree limit, where plant stature, topography and seasonal snow cover interact in producing temperature conditions that largely deviate from weather station records. Temporal resolution and the distinction between extremes and means for biogeographic applications are emphasized. We summarize the key issues in handling temperature as a driver of plant life in general and in high elevation ecosystems in particular. Future directions in plant-temperature research at high elevation need to resolve the thermal species range limit issues (identify the fundamental temperature niche) and the complex controls of plant development (phenology) in a topography context.

A global inventory of mountains for bio-geographical applications
Körner C, Jetz W, Paulsen J, Payne D, Rudmann-Maurer K, and Spehn EM (2017) A global inventory of mountains for bio-geographical applications. Alpine Botany 127(1). p. 1-15, DOI 10.1007/s00035-016-0182-6

Mountains are hotspots of biodiversity. Yet, evaluating their importance in global biodiversity inventories requires the adoption of a pertinent definition of mountains. Here, we first compare the well-established WCMC and GMBA definitions, which both use geographical information systems. We show that the WCMC approach arrives at twice the global mountain area and much higher human population numbers than the GMBA one, which is explained by the inclusion of (mostly) low latitude hill country below 600 m elevation. We then present an inventory of the world’s mountains based on the GMBA definition. In this inventory, each of the 1003 entries corresponds to a polygon drawn around a mountain or a mountain range and includes the name of the delineated object, the area of mountainous terrain it covers stratified into different bioclimatic belts (all at 2.5′ resolution), and demographic information. Taken together, the 1003 polygons cover 13.8 Mio km2 of mountain terrain, of which 3.3 Mio km2 are in the alpine and nival belts. This corresponds to 83.7% of the global mountain area sensu GMBA, and 94% of the alpine/nival area. The 386 Mio people inhabiting mountainous terrain within polygons represent 75% of the people globally inhabiting mountains sensu GMBA. This inventory offers a robust framework for the integration of mountain biota in regional and larger scale biodiversity assessments, for biogeography, bioclimatology, macroecology, and conservation research, and for the exploration of a multitude of socio-ecological and climate change-related research questions in mountain biota, including the potential pressure on alpine ecosystems.

Online visualization of the the mountain area and the human mountain population data


Special issue in Mountain Research and Development on "Mountains of Our Future Earth - Perth 2015"
Martin F. Price, Gregory Greenwood, Eva M. Spehn (2016) Introduction: Mountains of Our Future Earth—Perth 2015. Mountain Research and Development 36(4):403-406. DOI 10.1659/mrd.3604

Papers emerged from the 2015 Perth III mountain conference and contribute to Future Earth. The first 3 present a tool to compare mountain photos, gender-sensitive participatory agroforestry, and social impact assessment; others explore seedling regeneration, ecosystem services, visitors’ use of energy, in-migration dynamics, environmental impacts of migration, and farmers’ decision-making. The last 3 are review-based agendas for future mountain research. GMBA was a co-organized of the Perth III conference and the editorial to this special issue was co-authored by Eva Spehn.

A climate-based model to predict potential treeline position around the globe
Paulsen J and Körner C (2014) A climate-based model to predict potential treeline position around the globe. Alpine Botany 124(1): 1-12. DOI 10.1007/s00035-014-0124-0

The paper describes the treeline model that was used for the GMBA mountain portal (, which offers a robust estimation of potential treeline elevation based on climate data only. With this model, the alpine area of all mountains of the world can be determined.

Special issue in Plant Ecology & Diversity 2011 on "Mountain Biodiversity"
Mountain Biodiversity. Plant Ecology & Diversity 4(4), 2011

This special issue was edited by the GMBA office in Basel and offers a set of papers that were presented at the Second International Conference on Mountain Biodiversity. With this conference, the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment of DIVERSITAS celebrated its 10th anniversary, in the Alps in Chandolin, Switzerland in July 2010. The issue illuminates a broad spectrum of biodiversity issues related to mountain environments, ranging from genetic diversity to ecosystem functioning, from field-based inventories to computerbased assessments.

A definition of mountains and their bioclimatic belts for global comparisons of biodiversity data
Körner C, Paulsen J and Spehn EM (2011) A definition of mountains and their bioclimatic belts for global comparisons of biodiversity data. Alpine Botany 121:73-78. DOI 10.1007/s00035-011-0094-4

This is the first quantitative attempt at a global areal definition of ‘alpine’ and ‘montane’ terrain by combining geographical information systems for topography with bioclimatic criteria (temperature) subdividing the life zones along elevational gradients. The mountain definition adopted here refrains from any truncation by low elevation thresholds, and defines the world’s mountains by a common ruggedness threshold ([200 m difference in elevation within a 2.50 cell, 0.50 resolution), arriving at 16.5 Mio km2 or 12.3% of all terrestrial land area outside Antartica being mountains. The model employed accounts for criteria of ‘‘mountainous terrain’’ for biological analysis, and thus arrives at a smaller land area fraction than hydrologically oriented approaches, and by its 2.50 resolution, it includes less unstructured terrain (such as large plateaus, very wide valleys or basins) than earlier approaches. The thermal delineation of the alpine and nival biogeographic region by the climatic tree limit (the lower boundary of the alpine belt) arrives at 2.6% or 3.55 Mio km2 of the global land area outside Antarctica (21.5% of all mountain terrain). Seven climate-defined life zones in mountains facilitate large-scale (global) comparisons of biodiversity information as used in the new electronic Mountain Portal.

Global statistics of ‘‘mountain’’ and ‘‘alpine’’ research
Körner C (2009) Global statistics of ‘‘mountain’’ and ‘‘alpine’’ research. Mountain Research and Development, 29(1): 97-102. DOI:

Using the Web of Science, a bibliometric analysis of the worldwide research activities associated with mountains — or the alpine part of mountains — is presented, according to country, institution, and subject. Half of the human population depends on mountains in one way or another, and mountains cover (depending on the definition) between 12 and 26% of the ice-free terrestrial area. About 20% of the human population lives in mountains or their immediate forelands. One third of all protected areas are in mountains, and they supply water to nearly one half of the world population (Körner and Ohsawa 2005). Which are the countries that are contributing most to scientific research in mountains? Which are the leading institutions? How much are various fields of science contributing to the international scientific mountain literature?

Creative use of mountain biodiversity databases: The Kazbegi research agenda of GMBA-DIVERSITAS
Körner C, Donoghue M, Fabbro T, Häuser C, Nogués-Bravo D, Kalin Arroyo MT, Soberon J, Speers L, Spehn EM, Sun H, Tribsch A, Tykarski P, Zbinden N (2007) Creative Use of Mountain Biodiversity Databases: The Kazbegi Research Agenda of GMBA-DIVERSITAS. Mountain Research and Development, 27(3): 276-281. DOI: 10.1659/mrd.088

Geo-referenced archive databases on mountain organisms are very promising tools for achieving a better understanding of mountain biodiversity and predicting its changes. The wide range of climatic conditions and topographies across the world's mountains offers an unparalleled opportunity for developing and testing biodiversity theory. The power of openly accessible, interconnected electronic databases for scientific biodiversity research, which by far exceeds the original intent of archiving for mainly taxonomic purposes, has been illustrated. There is an urgent need to increase the amount and quality of geo-referenced data on mountain biodiversity provided online, in order to meet the challenges of global change in mountains.
This document was first published in Mountain Research and Development and is reproduced courtesy of MRD. The copyright remains with UNU and IMS, MRD's copyrightholders.

Georeferenced biological databases – A tool for understanding mountain biodiversity
Guisan A, Spehn EM and Körner C 2007. MRI Newsletter 8: Georeferenced biological databases – A tool for understanding mountain biodiversity. Mountain Research and Development, 27(1):80-81.DOI:[80:MNGBDT]2.0.CO;2

Data-bases on biodiversity linked to geophysical data (e.g. altitude, temperature) are valuable tools for the analysis of biodiversity patterns. In cooperation with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA) encourages a global effort to mine georeferenced archive databases on mountain organisms. The EUROMONT initiative is one example of such a data analysis. It assesses climate threat to alpine plant diversity and focuses on European mountain ranges.

A temporal approach to linking aboveground and belowground ecology
Bardgett RD, Bowmann WD, Kaufmann R, Schmidt SK (2005) A temporal approach to linking aboveground and belowground ecology. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 20(11):634-641. DOI:10.1016/j.tree.2005.08.005

The publication contains the results of the GMBA Workshop on functional significance of mountain biodiversity. The event was organised by William Bowman (University of Boulder, Colorado USA) and held at ESA 2004 conference. The paper was published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution and illustrates the role of aboveground-belowground relationships in controlling ecosystem processes and properties. The examples derive mostly from the alpine zone.