RESEARCH: Climate Change and Ecosystems:
Perth Declaration calls for expanded research on mountain biospheres
A quarter of our globe’s terrestrial surface is covered by mountain regions, which provide goods and services – such as the provision of clean freshwater – to more than half of humanity. Though rugged in appearance, mountains are actually highly susceptible to environmental degradation, as anyone knows who has seen the corrosive effects of strip-mining or clear-cut logging on mountain slopes.
|Participants at the first GLOCHAMORE workshop in Entlebuch, Switzerland in 2003.|
© Dr. Thomas Schaaf UNESCO
The critical role mountain regions play in the Earth’s overall ecosystem was recognised in 1992 by the UN and its promotion of Mountain Biosphere Reserves as ‘living laboratories’ for conservation efforts. More recently the UN designed 2002 as the International Year of Mountains, while mountain-related research by the EU has gathered momentum too.
Mountain issues respect no frontiers; therefore research efforts need to be inter- and transdisciplinary. GLOCHAMORE was a good vehicle for doing this since it drew together 350 scientists from around the world.
Launched in 2003 as a Specific Support Action to boost awareness, information exchanges and professional contacts within the international mountain biosphere community, GLOCHAMORE (“GLObal CHAnge in MOuntain Regions”) has recently completed its work. Jointly funded by the EU’s Sixth Framework Research Programme and UNESCO, the UN’s scientific and educational agency, it was co-ordinated by the University of Vienna and comprised 14 partners from nine countries, including India.
During its two years of activity GLOCHAMORE organised no less than five specialised international workshops. In general, they focused on the drivers of global change and the impact of those changes on ecosystems, ecosystem goods and services, regional economies, health, and institutional arrangements. The results of these workshops have been led to a series of publications.
Participants examined the most pressing aspects of climate change in mountain landscapes such as sustainable land use and natural resource management, the monitoring of human activity linked to environmental changes, and modelling to project the future effects of global warming in mountains.
Mountains biospheres: both subtle and spectacular
Mountain landscapes are among the most complex bio-systems on earth. The mere fact of their verticality produces a huge range of ecosystems, whose composition varies dramatically with short changes in altitude. These differences can be obvious — i.e., palm trees at lower altitudes and glaciers at higher ones — or more subtle, such as the shifts in insect species as you move up a mountain slope.
© Dr. Thomas Schaaf UNESCO
Calculating and forecasting the effects of climate change on these environments encompasses a demanding range of scientific inquiry, as a glance at GLOCHAMORE’s research strategy easily confirms. Participants’ work covered land-use changes, the cryosphere (permanent frozen landscapes) and snow-cover areas, hydrological systems, grasslands and tundra areas, forests and aquatic ecosystems, wildlife, alien plant and animal species and natural hazards (floods, fires, landslides, etc.), just to name a few.
As long-term annual temperatures rise with global warming, for instance, non-native plants, insects and animals may more easily invade new eco-systems where there is often no check on their behaviour or environmental impact. This can have very negative effects on a mountain ecosystem’s structure and function. Hostile bugs might attack the plants and grasses that anchor a slope’s thin layer of topsoil. Remove the anchor and you get severe erosion and landslides. The development of ‘early warning’ mechanism to detect invaders and their effects is one of the research areas recommended by the GLOCHAMORE group.
Declaration ‘moves mountains’
The GLOCHAMORE project ended on 31 Oct 2005. Its final event was the Open Science Confernence held in Perth 2-6 October, which brought together 250 delegates from 47 countries to review the project’s work and define the path ahead. The absolute necessity for “inter- and transdisciplinary” research teams to understand biospheres as complex as those founds in mountain regions was highlighted. This demands the involvement of other stakeholders should such as Mountain Biosphere Reserve managers and members of local communities, for example.
Agreeing to link their available knowledge systems together and promote research in 25 Mountain Biosphere Reserves across the world, the global change scientists issued a clarion call — the Perth Declaration — to governments to support a further investigation into the effects of climate change on mountain eco-systems.
Addressed to national and international funding agencies, the private sector and governmental organisations such as the European Commission and UNESCO, the Perth supporters said there should be expanded research funding to produce “scientifically sound information on the effects and mitigation of global change impacts on mountain environments and the sustainable management of mountain and adjacent lowland communities.”