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Running off the road

[caption id="attachment_3639" align="alignright" width="400"] Mountain roads – and the cars and people on them – facilitate non-native species movement up to high elevations. Here: Davos, Switzerland It is a familiar pattern by now, confirmed over and over in virtually all mountain regions we study: roads are facilitating the introduction of non-native plant species into mountains. Humans introduce – on purpose or by accident – new species in the valleys, and from there they start spreading uphill. On their way towards high elevations, mountain roads serve as a great highway. But with increasing elevation, fewer and fewer non-natives will be found, as they progressively drop out the higher you get. The few that make it all the way to the top by road could possibly spread from there into the natural mountain vegetation, but even fewer species manage that. All of that we knew, indeed, but a crucial question remains: who wins this...
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Plant species are on the move ...

... and it is us humans who are moving them.Human actions are having a significant impact on the distribution of plant species, and even more so than the warming climate. This is the surprising outcome of the PhD thesis of University of Antwerp-based Jonas Lembrechts, who is studying plant species distributions in cold-climate mountain regions.Yes, the warming climate is shifting the distribution of plant species poleward and to higher elevations, but our actions are causing even more rapid and structural changes to where species can be found. In his PhD, Lembrechts showed how humans are helping non-native species to invade mountain regions: “Humans are taking non-native plant species with them all over the world, introducing them to other mountain regions. Once there, these species can profit from human structures like mountain roads to move rapidly to higher elevations,” Lembrechts explains.[caption id="attachment_3604" align="alignright" width="300"] Mountain roads – here in the Chilean Andes...
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Mountain water finally arrives at a unique floodplain

[caption id="attachment_3581" align="alignright" width="300"] The very flat Nylsvley floodplain with the Waterberg Mountains in the distance (Photo SJ Taylor, May 2018)Water finally arrives in the Nylsvley Ramsar floodplainAround the middle of April this year, Natasha Mőller, the Officer in Charge of the tiny Nylsvley Nature Reserve and Ramsar Site, sent out photos to show the Friends of Nylsvley that water had finally arrived in the wetland, even if very late in the season. From rainfall in the Waterberg massif about 30 km away, it takes about 10 days to begin filling up the Nylsvley floodplain.This year, perhaps because of the four-year El Nino drought that ended during 2017, the summer rainfall in the Waterberg Mountain catchment was late, and this meant that the wetland was dry throughout the 2017-2018 summer.  Most of the birds had already given up on their chance of breeding and had moved away. Others (we saw a...
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HICAP: Adaptation to climate change in the Himalayas

[caption id="attachment_3558" align="alignright" width="300"] HICAP – a transboundary, inter-disciplinary and multi-scale programmeAn infographic journey of the long road from science to policy impact - by Björn Alfthan (GRID-Arendal[1]), Nand Kishor Agrawal (ICIMOD[2]), Bob Van Oort[3] & Nina Bergan Holmelin (CICERO).The Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP) was born out of a need to address critical knowledge gaps on the impacts of climate change in the Himalayas and to better understand under what conditions mountain communities can best adapt to change. Its main aims, elaborated in 2011, were to: Reduce uncertainty through downscaling and customizing global climate change scenarios, and developing water availability and demand scenarios for parts of major river basins Develop knowledge and enhance capacities to assess, monitor, and communicate the impacts of and responses to climate change on natural and socio-economic environments at the local, national and regional levels Make concrete and actionable proposals for strategies and policies considering vulnerabilities,...
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(Hi)story of Traditional Agricultural Landscapes in Slovakia

[caption id="attachment_3517" align="alignright" width="300"] Traditional vineyard agricultural landscapes Traditional agricultural landscapes (TAL) in Slovakia are unique remnants of small-scale agriculture, with cultural, biological, and aesthetic significance. Typical small-scale mosaics often copy specific forms of anthropogenic relief (terraces, balks, stone walls) and form a beautiful landscape pattern. The presence of unique folk architectonic features such as vineyard houses, cellars, and religious features often increases the beauty and cultural-historical value of these landscapes. After complicated political and economic changes during the 20th century, they survive on only 0.9% of the area of Slovakia, mostly in mountains, and are extensively abandoned. The changing political landscapeThe plains, basin valleys, and hilly parts of the landscape have all been cultivated in Slovakia over the centuries. The unique, small-scale division of land parcels stemmed from the adaptation of Hungarian Tripartitum law in 1514, which secured equal land division between each of a farmer's descendants. The farmers used to...
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Reflections on the Japanese and European Alps

[caption id="attachment_3487" align="alignright" width="300"] Mt. Hakusan (2,702 m), 45 km south-south-east of KanazawaI recently visited Japan as a guest of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, hosted by Kenichi Ueno (University of Tsukuba) who has posted some JALPS blogs. He has asked me to post some reflections on my visit. On first sight, the Japanese and European Alps have quite a few aspects in common. Both are relative hotspots of biodiversity, with many protected areas and biosphere reserves. In places, both tourism – including large ski areas – and hydroelectricity are well-developed. There is a long history of alpinism, often associated with scientific research. There are steep slopes, and significant infrastructure to minimise natural hazards. Forests occupy the greatest proportion of the landscape – and are expanding because of decreasing harvests and the abandonment of agricultural land. Challenges include, first, accessibility to remote valleys – but tunnels and high...
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SMArt: Artists' Views of the Mountain

[caption id="attachment_3476" align="alignright" width="300"] The wolf’s figure crystallizes a feeling of fear, sometimes visceral and irrational.SMArt – or Sustainable Mountain Art – is a Swiss-based program that aims to raise awareness of the challenges mountains face through art, and more specifically photography. The program hopes to awaken consciences by touching the heart and emotions rather than the intellect.‘The wolf at the door’ is a fresco by Colombian photographer Juan Arias, realised in autumn 2017 in the Sierre in the Swiss canton of Valais. He was invited by the SMArt program to look at the reality of this mountain region.Preparing for his stay from his home in Cali, Juan Arias discovered that a wolf had been illegally killed in Valais. Interested in human relationships and the underlying representations that influence these relationships, he instinctively understood the scope of this story and decided to tackle this delicate theme: the return of the wolf...
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An Unexpected Shift in Treeline Vegetation

[caption id="attachment_3405" align="alignright" width="300"] Photo 1: A map of the GTREE observation network. Image credit: Carissa Brown.Scientists usually aim to collect as much data as possible to help detect pervasive or repeated patterns often hidden by the high variability of individual observations. Drawing strong inference from individual, often anecdotal occurrences can be misleading because it is difficult to know whether the relationships we see can be generalized to other instances. On the other hand, as human beings we seem to learn well from stories of individual events, and these have the power to transform our understanding in ways that may have a bigger impact than reams of data. To me, this is one of the challenges of working as a field ecologist, where there is often a tension between developing strong inferential power by assembling datasets with many observations and developing a deeper understanding of the dynamics unfolding in any one...
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The power of the scientific family

[caption id="attachment_3624" align="alignleft" width="225"] Botanist working on Piz Tomuel in Safiental Switzerland in 2010. Photo: Sonja Wipf/SLF, Switzerland.I was lucky enough to grow up in an academic sense as part of a scientific collaboration that I can call my academic family: the Summit Flora family. Recently, the juiciest fruit of this collaboration was harvested when results from the Summit Flora project were published in Nature (Steinbauer et al. 2018). The analyses, based on 302 botanical resurveys of European mountain summits, show that since the 1870’s the plant species richness on summits has constantly increased. And more strikingly, this increase has accelerated hand in hand with climate warming over the past four decades, the enrichment rate now being five times higher than 50 years ago. Although several studies have suggested the link between warming and the upward migration of alpine species, this is the first time that the role of other potential drivers...
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Addressing Climate Change, Poverty, and Flooding in Malawi

Climate change and its associated impacts continue to ravage Malawi, exacerbating poverty and raising doubts over the ability of the country to attain the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, the country is losing 1.7 percent of its gross domestic product – about USD 22 million (MK 16 billion) – on average every year due to the combined effects of drought and floods.Between 1967 and 2003, the country experienced six major droughts and 18 incidences of flooding, which heavily impacted smallholder farmers. Droughts in 2011-2012 had severe effects on food security in many districts, with approximately 2 million people affected – particularly in the south. The country has also only just recovered from extensive flooding that took place in 2015 and left many lives and livelihoods destroyed; it is estimated that 1,101,364 people were affected, with 230,000...
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