Significance of mountain biodiversity
Mountains are rich: mountains support an exceptionally high biodiversity. The factors explaining this diversity are manifold and include natural gradients of altitude and geology; rapid altitudinal changes in climatic conditions across very short distances; micro-topography; and anthropogenic gradients of historical and current land use and of disturbances. Additionally, because of the biogeographic isolation under which they have evolved, mountain biomes harbor particularly high numbers of endemic species. Mountains also represent strongholds of crop wild relatives and after millennia of socio-cultural evolution, mountains around the world and the numerous indigenous communities that call them home offer an extremely rich ethnic and cultural diversity, as well as fascinating examples of human and biological adaptation to extreme conditions.
Mountains are exposed: mountain ecosystems are among the most endangered landscapes in the world (Chapter 13, Agenda 21, The Rio Protocol). Mountains are exposed to the very same factors that are driving biodiversity losses, ecosystem degradation, and major societal changes in other biomes: climate change - in the form of rapid and dramatic changes in temperatures and in the amount and frequency of precipitation; land-use change including land conversion, deforestation, or infrastructure and urban development; pollution - through atmospheric nitrogen deposition for instance; over-exploitation primarily of forest resources; and the rapid spread of invasive species. Demographic growth, economic development and the gradual integration of individual mountain regions into globalized markets, insufficient environmental education and awareness, as well as the lack of sound management and environmental policies for mountain regions all serve to amplify ongoing changes and drive mountain social-ecological systems towards irreversible tipping points.
Mountains matter: ecological integrity of mountain ecosystems and intact biodiversity are key to the provision of numerous ecosystem services that are largely contributing to human well-being, including tourism and recreation; climate, air quality, and water flow regulation; carbon storage; protection against natural hazards and the impact of extreme events; the production of diversified and healthy food; and the provision of clean water to half of humankind. The inclusion of two mountain-specific targets (SDG 15.4.1 & 15.4.2) in the United Nation Agenda for Sustainable Development is one step towards safeguarding mountain environments in the long term.