Why mountains matter for biodiversity

Mountains are a cornucopia of diversity. Mountain regions cover only around 27% of the world’s surface, yet they contribute disproportionately to the terrestrial biodiversity, especially in the tropics, where they host about half of the global biodiversity hotspots. Mountains breathe life – their elevation and microclimatic variations have established different life zones and created many local niches that support biodiversity. These regions are home to more than 85% of the world’s species of amphibians, birds, and mammals. Six of the 20 most important food crops originated in mountains. Moreover, mountains are endowed with geological, ecosystem, species, and genetic diversities, and human evolution and migration to these mighty ecosystems have enriched cultural and ethnic diversity. The ecosystem services that mountains provide have forged strong socioecological linkages and sustain the livelihoods of diverse mountain communities.

Mountains also play a major role in determining global and regional climates; are the source of most rivers; act as cradles, barriers, and bridges for species; and are crucial for the survival and sustainability of many human societies. They matter for diversity and life in every sense.

HKH biodiversity under threat

The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region is a bastion of biodiversity, teeming with extraordinary life and interconnectedness across boundaries. More than 85% of rural communities in the HKH directly depend on biodiversity for their subsistence. The region is a cradle for over 35,000 species of plants and more than 200 species of animals. Between 1998 and 2008, an average of 35 new species were discovered each year in the eastern Himalaya alone.

The HKH encompasses four global biodiversity hotspots, six UNESCO natural world heritage sites, 30 Ramsar sites, and 330 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas. It is home to diverse cultures with more than 1,000 living languages, along with a unique range of traditional knowledge systems associated with these cultures.

HKH biodiversity under threat

However, exploitation is rampant in all ecosystems today, and climate change is aggravating matters. Fragile and important ecosystems – forests, wetlands, rangelands, and mountains – are being devastated and vital links between species and ecosystems are being altered or severed. The HKH is not an exception. Under current rates of biodiversity loss and land degradation, we could witness the extinction of a quarter of the endemic species in the Indian Himalaya by the end of the century.

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