Commission on Ecosystem Management

Mountain Ecosystems

The Mountain Ecosystems Specialist Group serves as the technical focal point for IUCN on mountain ecosystems.
Neelum Valley, Kashmir

Specialist Group Lead
Omer Aijazi and Sejuti Basu

SC Focal Point
Bernal Herrera

Mountains cover 24% of the Earth’s land surface. They are home to 12% of the world’s population and another 14% of the population reside in their immediate proximity. They provide vital goods and services -particularly freshwater - to a significant proportion of humanity. Mountains are key centers of biological and cultural diversity as well important sites of traditional ecological knowledge, and influence the climate at many scales. In other words, they provide multiple ecosystem services across our planet. Therefore, their effective management is not only important for mountain communities, but also for a sizeable proportion of the global population. However, mountain ecosystems are particularly fragile, subject to both natural and anthropogenic drivers of change. These range from volcanic and seismic events and flooding to global climate change and the loss of vegetation and soils because of inappropriate agricultural and forestry practices, and extractive industries.

Communities in mountain regions face unique challenges, including a fragile ecology, natural disasters, and long distances to markets, educational facilities, and healthcare as well as high unemployment. Tourism brings benefits and potentially novel risks. Many communities have aging populations with out-migration of youth. Communities adapt to these challenges with diverse strategies, including engagement with traditional ecological knowledge, history, and narratives valuing landscape and social relationships. Less functional responses also emerge including mental illness, drug use, and alcoholism.  High rates of environmental change combined with rapid economic and social changes are undermining the ability of mountain ecosystems to provide critical goods and services necessary for the well-being of mountain as well as lowland communities. Drawing from both the social and natural sciences, inter and transdisciplinary research is needed to understand these issues and processes and recommend effective policy measures.


The Mountain Ecosystem Specialist Group provides expert knowledge and guidance on integrated approaches to the management of natural and modified ecosystems to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in mountain areas for the well-being of all those who depend on them. We are respectful towards traditional ecological knowledge systems and recognize the role of communities as being central to effective ecosystem management. We aim to generate knowledge on the unique challenges faced by mountain ecosystems and the communities who rely on them, sharing inter and transdisciplinary guidance for policy makers and ecosystem managers.


Increased use of integrated approaches for ecosystem management across the world’s mountain areas will meet demands of nature and communities to address global changes and enhance ecosystem and human well-being.


The Specialist Group serves as the technical focal point for the IUCN Secretariat, its Commissions and Member Organizations on mountain ecosystems. It seeks to:

  1. Enhance understanding of mountain ecosystems and the conservation of its biological and cultural diversity, and sustainable development
  2. Ensure that mountain ecosystems are understood in relation to the communities who rely on them
  3. Generate knowledge and guidance that is respectful of existing traditional ecological knowledge systems and which emphasizes the centrality of local communities to successful ecosystem management
  4. Promote the development of policies that enhance the management of mountain ecosystems including biodiversity conservation, sustainable development, climate change mitigation and adaptation
  5. Regularly share case studies and lessons learned drawing from the diverse and rich regional experiences of its membership
  6. Increase linkages with other IUCN Specialist and Thematic Groups as well as Commissions to integrate the management of mountain ecosystems within cross-cutting themes such as eco disaster risk reduction, gender and conservation, resource governance and human rights.
  7. Improve knowledge networks by strengthening linkages with IUCN Member Organizations and external stakeholders (including academics and young professionals) working in mountain ecosystems
  8. Draw attention to the unique challenges of mountain ecosystems and communities by holding sessions in regional and international policy forums including leveraging the IUCN motion mechanism to improve the management of mountain ecosystems

Priorities for action (deliverables)

The Mountain Ecosystems Specialist Group has identified the following areas for 2017-2020:

  • Gender and ecosystem management
  • Indigenous/ local knowledges and conservation practice
  • Social learning and nature-based solutions with an emphasis on women, youth, indigenous and local communities
  • Displacement and migration
  • Greater inclusion of community groups and grassroots organizations within global policy making

We are working towards a variety of deliverables including case studies, advocacy and knowledge sharing within academic and policy venues, policy guidelines and research.

If you are interested in the activities of the Specialist Group – and particularly if you would like to contribute to them – please contact the Specialist Group Lead. We welcome a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds from the natural as well as social sciences.

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