This paper was originally published in PLOS ONE


Abstract: Mountains play a key role in the provision of nature’s contributions to people (NCP) worldwide that support societies’ quality of life. Simultaneously, mountains are threatened by multiple drivers of change. Due to the complex interlinkages between biodiversity, quality of life and drivers of change, research on NCP in mountains requires interdisciplinary approaches. In this study, we used the conceptual framework of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the notion of NCP to determine to what extent previous research on ecosystem services in mountains has explored the different components of the IPBES conceptual framework.

We conducted a systematic review of articles on ecosystem services in mountains published up to 2016 using the Web of Science and Scopus databases. Descriptive statistical and network analyses were conducted to explore the level of research on the components of the IPBES framework and their interactions. Our results show that research has gradually become more interdisciplinary by studying higher number of NCP, dimensions of quality of life, and indirect drivers of change. Yet, research focusing on biodiversity, regulating NCP and direct drivers has decreased over time.

Furthermore, despite the fact that research on NCP in mountains becoming more policy-oriented over time, mainly in relation to payments for ecosystem services, institutional responses remained underexplored in the reviewed studies. Finally, we discuss the relevant knowledge gaps that should be addressed in future research in order to contribute to IPBES.

Introduction:  Mountains provide ecosystem services that contribute to the wellbeing of people living in them or their foothills (around 20% of the world’s population) and many more in the adjacent lowlands [1]. Mountains occupy 24% of the global land surface [2] and host the world’s principal biomes supplying a diverse array of ecosystem services [3,4]. They play a key role in the water cycle as their grasslands, wetlands and forests contribute to water flow regulation and water quality improvement through water storage and infiltration, as well as the capture of atmospheric vapour (e.g. by mountainous tropical cloud forests) [5].

As mountains are the source of the world’s major rivers, more than half of world’s population depends on freshwater regulated and purified by upstream mountain ecosystems [6]. Mountain ecosystems also regulate natural hazards, such as avalanches, landslides and rock falls, which can be ameliorated by their forests [7,8]. Mountain ecosystems produce material benefits that make substantial contributions to lowland and highland economies, such as crops often from subsistence agriculture, animal products from grazing activities, timber, fuelwood, and non-timber products, including game and medicinal plants.

In addition, mountains are important providers of non-material benefits because of their scenic beauty and biodiversity [4,913]. Mountains are major destinations for touristic or recreation activities and host sites and species of important heritage and cultural values [14,15]. Such cultural values are associated with symbolic and spiritual feelings, sense of identity and place, wonder and respect, and the mental wellbeing of local population and visitors [16].

However, mountain ecosystem services are being affected by various drivers of change, such as rural abandonment, climate and land-use change [4,1720]. In particular, mountain landscapes offer opportunities to observe early impacts of climate change on ecosystem services [18]. For instance, rapid glacier retreat and loss of snow cover in the Himalayan Mountains has important consequences on water availability for ecosystems and people within and far beyond mountain boundaries [21]. Climate change also alters the distribution of plant species and ecosystem functioning, with important implications for the long-term provision of ecosystem services essential for the wellbeing of many people [22]. Increasing natural hazards, such as rock fall, debris flows and floods, threaten residents and visitors of mountain areas and destroy critical infrastructure [17]. These climate-induced changes are further superimposed and accelerated by demographic and socio-economic changes, changing the supply and demand of ecosystem services, and ultimately impacting economic activities in mountain areas [22]….”

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