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Mountain landscapes aren’t just visually stunning, they are some of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world.

Due to their differing terrains and altitudes, mountains contain a series of microhabitats that differ subtly but significantly depending on the conditions. Variations in aspect and gradient, rainfall, oxygen levels, soil quality, temperature and vegetation create successive layers of habitat to which different species have adapted over time.

Although biodiversity decreases with altitude, the species that do occur can be unique to these areas, having become separated over time and often having evolved in complete isolation from other, once-similar species.

What are the threats to species living in the mountains?

Despite their remoteness, mountain environments – and the species that live within them – are increasingly threatened by human activity. Mountain forests can be overexploited for timber and other natural resources, while tourism, recreation and development – although often beneficial to local people and economies – need to be sustainably managed.

As trees and other vegetation are removed from mountainous landscapes, soil quality, fertility and stability begin to deteriorate as the nutrients provided by decaying plant matter cease to be replenished, and the root systems disintegrate. This can also result in landslides, soil erosion and further vegetation and nutrient loss that gradually denudes the landscape, making it difficult for the wildlife that resides in these areas to survive.

How is climate change affecting mountain ranges?

Climate change is causing unprecedented temperature and weather variations, with glacial retreat, melting snow caps and other climatic changes upsetting the delicate balance of conditions within high-altitude microhabitats.

As snow and ice shrink, mountain surfaces are getting darker, which affects their heat balance and results in a spiral of accelerated warming.

Deforestation in Vietnam. © Bjorn Olesen

Deforestation in Vietnam. © Bjorn Olesen

Deforestation in Vietnam mountains.

Why are mountains important habitats?

Species within any mountain ecosystem are highly adapted to their habitat, and many are endemic to their area. This makes mountain species extremely vulnerable; they are at high risk if any aspect of their habitat begins to change.

Mountain ecosystems aren’t just crucial for plant and animal species, they are important for people too. Mountains help to filter and provide fresh water for roughly half the world’s population.

Chhong community of Tatey Leu, Cardamom mountains, Cambodia. © Bianca Roberts / Fauna & Flora

Chhong community of Tatey Leu, Cardamom mountains, Cambodia. © Bianca Roberts / Fauna & Flora

Chhong community of Tatey Leu, Cardamom mountains, Cambodia.

Fauna & Flora’s work in mountain habitats

Fauna & Flora and our partners are working to protect mountain ranges and species in all corners of the globe – from the Virunga mountains in Central Africa – home to the world-famous mountain gorilla – to the Annamites mountain range, which spans Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, and is heralded as the ‘Amazon of Asia’ due to its rich biodiversity.

Our vast range of work in these areas includes scientific monitoring of wildlife, providing technical support to increase the effectiveness of protected areas, and working with communities to develop sustainable livelihood initiatives that minimise impact on mountain resources.

Fauna & Flora camera trap in Romania captures two wolves, a lynx, a bear, a fox and a wildcat.

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