Mountain areas hold a vast variety of life forms due to their breadth of physical conditions related to altitude and slope. They include astonishing biodiversity in terms of number of taxa and endemicity and make up half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Mountains occur in 88% of the World’s 821 terrestrial ecoregions.
The earth’s mountainous landscape contributes significantly to the world’s system of protected areas including many places of outstanding significance; however, the current level of protection is relatively low.
Outside Antarctica, about 17% of mountain areas are protected representing 32.4% of the extent of the world’s terrestrial protected areas; nevertheless, there are many mountain areas of significance that are not adequately protected. For example, of the 6109 Key Biodiversity Areas located in mountains, 52% are less than 30% protected and 40.4% are completely unprotected. Nearly 40% of the world’s mountain ranges do not contain any protected areas.
As the challenges of the 21st century present themselves as a threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services, mountains and mountain communities will need to build ecological resistance and resilience to cope. Many communities and societies rely heavily on healthy mountainous areas for their well-being. Mountains are at the forefront of change due to the early and (along with coastal areas) probably the most profound manifestation of the impact of climate change. Protecting important sites for mountain biodiversity is vital for ensuring long term and sustainable use of mountain natural resources and to build resilience.
Moreover, as the world conservation movement advocates to expand the global coverage of terrestrial protected areas over the next decade toward 30%, identifying priorities for new mountain protected and conserved areas needs to take a strategic approach to ensure areas of highest value and most in need of protection are identified.
The identification of Global Priorities for New Mountain Protected and Conserved Areas is therefore a key priority for the Mountains Specialist Group.