Mountains are characterised by a wide natural and cultural variety. According to the CBD, they cover about 27 % of the world’s land surface and provide the freshwater needs of more than half of humanity. Mountains support about one quarter of world’s terrestrial biodiversity and include nearly half of the world’s biodiversity ‘hotspots’. Of the 20 plant species that supply 80 % of the world’s food, six originated in mountains.
Although only 3 % of Europe’s total area is covered by mountain environments above the tree line, they host 20 % of its native vascular plant species: more than 2 500 species and subspecies are estimated to be found in the alpine flora, which are confined to or predominantly occurring above the treeline. The proportion of species restricted to the alpine zone varies from less than 0.5 % of the total flora in Corsica to about 17 % in the Alps.
Map 1 Mountain massifs in Europe
Species endemism, in particular, often increases with altitude within mountain regions, partly due to the isolation of populations and speciation processes over geological time scales. For example, the Caucasus Ecoregion has the highest level of endemism in the temperate world, with over 6 500 vascular plant species, at least 25 % of which are unique to the region.
Mountain ecosystems are fragile and vulnerable to changes due to their particular and extreme climatic and biogeographic conditions. The main pressures on mountain biodiversity in the Alpine region are caused by changes in land use practices, infrastructure development, unsustainable tourism, overexploitation of natural resources, fragmentation of habitats, and climate change.
Of the 233 habitat types listed in Annex I to the Habitats Directive, 42 are exclusively or almost exclusively linked to mountains and 91 also occur in mountain areas. Some 21 % of the conservation status assessments of mountain habitats are favourable and 60 % are unfavourable. In most countries the proportion of habitat types with a favourable status is higher in the mountains than outside them.
From the species listed in the Habitats Directive 181 are exclusively or almost exclusively linked to mountains, 130 are mainly found in mountains and 38 occur in mountains but mainly outside them.
- 10 messages for 2010 – Mountain ecosystems
- Europe's ecological backbone: recognising the true value of our mountains