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Changing the Mountain Picture

[caption id="attachment_3179" align="alignright" width="300"] 'Baron Alexander von Humboldt,' by Julius Schrader. Humboldt chose the Ecuadorian mountains Chimborazo & Cotopaxi for the portrait's background. How do mountain roads and non-native species affect mountain biodiversity? Next year, we will celebrate 250 years since the birth of the German geographer, naturalist, and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. Few people had such a strong influence on modern science – and on ecology in particular. One of Humboldt's strongest interests was investigating how species richness and community composition change along elevational gradients. He was obsessed with the idea of climbing all the mountains he came across during his travels, and many of us probably have his famous drawings in mind, in which he noted down all species names and vegetation zones he found from the bottom to the top of each one. However, although the idea of investigating how the number of species varies with elevation is...
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Lagging Behind

Species have been reported to be moving poleward and upward in mountains as a result of climate change. Evidence of this movement is piling up rapidly, and with every passing year the increasing speed at which it is occurring is also becoming apparent. However, new studies reveal that this species movement is often not as straightforward as it first appears.[caption id="attachment_3155" align="alignright" width="300"] Plants and other sessile organism often show a delayed response to climate change. (Northern Scandes, Norway)One might think that as the climate warms, so species will follow. The problem is, a species’ reaction to a change in their environment is not always that fast. They often need some time to adjust and to move towards where the climate is now suitable. This delayed reaction is especially true for sessile species, like plants, that depend almost entirely on seed transportation to travel around.Toward greater understandingThese so-called lags in species...
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Swidden agriculture and the sustainability of mountain agriculture

Among Southeast Asian countries, Laos might be thought "a forgotten country". The reason for this is that it has no major industry other than agriculture and forestry, and it is judged, using UN criteria, to be a developing country. Furthermore, it is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia.More than 80% of the land of Laos is occupied by mountains with an altitude of about 500 to 2,000m. The Annamese Mountains separating Laos and Vietnam and the northern highlands in Laos at the easternmost end of the Alpine-Himalayan orogenic belt were formed by Mesozoic orogenic movement. In these mountain areas, ethnic minorities from the Mon-Khmer and Sino-Tibetan language groups are engaged in subsistence swidden agriculture (shifting cultivation). This is one of the rare regions of the world where traditional swidden agriculture is still being practiced.[caption id="attachment_3029" align="alignright" width="300"] Typical mountain landscape of swidden agriculture in mountainous regions of northern Laos.Swidden agriculture...
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The Tree on Top of the World

“But if you do know what is taught by plants and weather, you are in on the gossip and can feel truly at home. The sum of a field's forces become what we call very loosely the 'spirit of the place.' To know the spirit of a place is to realize that you are a part of a part and that the whole is made parts, each of which in a whole.” - Gary Snyder[caption id="attachment_3019" align="alignright" width="300"] Katie busy doing fieldwork at a Polylepis tree location5:30 AM. 3600 M. Southern Ecuador. The whisper of dawn. I sipped the bitter coffee, my frozen fingers wrapped around the mug’s heat. Around me for miles the high altitude paramo grasslands were bright with a strange light: the night’s full moon (a once-in-a-few-years-super-blue-blood-moon) was setting, and the sun, not yet up, was just beginning to shoulder its crimson way toward the horizon. The grass ridges...
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Lichen persistence and evolution in Drakensberg forest fragments

[caption id="attachment_2937" align="alignright" width="225"] Lichens on a tree.To date, there has been almost no research on lichen biogeography, survival strategies, persistence, and the mechanics of gene flow in South Africa’s ancient Drakensberg mountain landscape. Afromont is therefore preparing to initiate a small study on mountain forest lichens on the Drakensberg escarpment – and the first impression one gains of lichen research is a strong sense of why so few people venture into lichen research!Although prevalent, lichens seem ‘useless.’ You can’t eat them, and most of the time, lichens do not do much at all! They appear plastic, hardly alive, with a quiet metabolic and genetic complexity that is invisible. There is also the role (or non-role) of lichens in the landscape to think about. What can these organisms possibly be contributing in the grand scheme of things? From a research perspective, it is very difficult to know which species one is...
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AFRI-SKY-FOR: Saving African tropical montane forests

 Tropical montane forests are biodiversity rich and unique ecosystems. The montane forests of the Albertine Rift region in Africa, for example, contain around 7500 plant and animal species – over a thousand of which are endemic. Tropical montane forests provide numerous ecosystems services including water, food, timber, and non-timber forest products (firewood, medicinal plants, building materials), they support agricultural systems that underpin regional and lowland food security, and make a significant contribution towards income generation through tourism (such as hiking and the viewing of mountain gorillas). They also play an important role in hazard prevention, climate modulation and carbon sequestration.[caption id="attachment_2913" align="alignleft" width="300"] Mt Kahuzi (3317m) and surrounding mixed-species and bamboo forest, eastern Democratic Republic of CongoForests under threatUnfortunately, tropical montane forests are amongst the most threatened ecosystems on Earth due to the combined effects of climate change, population growth, and land use change. They remain overexploited (logging, poaching, mining, conversion...
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PECSii Conference - Towards a More Resilient World

[caption id="attachment_2900" align="alignright" width="300"] View of the Sierra Juarez above Oaxaca CityIn early November, I had the privilege of attending the second conference of the Program on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECSii) in Oaxaca City, Mexico. For many reasons, the conference ranked among the best I have ever attended. The setting itself encompasses many of the challenges facing mountains and other social-ecological systems:  impacts from climate change, economic transformations, environmental problems and socio-political conundrums, here rooted in the legacies of Zapotec, MIxe, Mixtec and Imperial Spanish civilizations, as well as more recent human societies. PECSii participants came from around the world to present research and explore ideas that highlighted social-ecological predicaments and possibilities for constructive transformation. An Exciting Program [caption id="attachment_2901" align="alignleft" width="300"] City Street Scene - Oaxaca Sculpture in front of the Santo Domingo CathedralThe organizers used creative approaches for each of the components of the program.  We knew we...
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Land Cover and Land Use Change in the Tropical Andes

[caption id="attachment_2862" align="alignright" width="225"] In a post-workshop field trip, participants learned about an ecological restoration project in the Ecuadorian Chocó (Photo: Kenneth Young)Land use trends are a main driver of environmental change. To explore patterns, future scenarios, and research agendas related to land cover and land use change in the Tropical Andes, an MRI synthesis workshop was held in Quito, Ecuador, 27-29 September 2017. The Tropical Andes represent a global biodiversity hotspot, and regulate environmental services such as watershed and soil protection that affect millions of people. Due to steep topography and frequent cloud cover, however, remote sensing analyses of land cover change in the region are limited to specific locations and time periods.To go some way towards addressing this, an MRI synthesis workshop was held in September 2017 in Quito, Ecuador, and attended by experts on different aspects of land science and ecosystem services working in the Andes of Venezuela,...
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Human Needs & Wildlife Management: Pathways 2017

The 2017 Pathways Conference took place 17-20 September in the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, USA. Pathways to Success: Integrating Human Dimensions into Fish and Wildlife Management was an international gathering of over 270 scientists, NGOs, and government agencies from 20 countries. Its theme was FUTURES, addressing the myriad of issues that arise as people and wildlife struggle to coexist in a sustainable and healthy manner. Pathways 2017 was hosted by Colorado State University in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.Keynote speakers included Dan Ashe (President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums), Joel Berger (Director of a number of projects for the Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS) and Laurie Marker (Founder and Executive Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund). In his speech, Dan Ashe called for a more integrated approach to conservation. Such an approach recognizes the human dimensions of fish and wildlife management as...
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Why do sika deer head to the alpine zone in Japan?

[caption id="attachment_2819" align="alignright" width="300"] Alpine meadow, Mount Kitadake 1980.The attractions of Japan’s Southern Alps include dense evergreen coniferous forests and alpine meadows full of blooming globeflowers (or Trollius japonicus). These areas have been likened to an earthly paradise. In recent years however, sika deer have moved into this alpine zone. With them grazing on the rare plant community there is a danger that these alpine meadows, a symbol of the rich mountain environment, will disappear.Meadows vanishA questionnaire survey conducted in 1984 found that there were virtually no sika deer breeding in the northern part of the Southern Alps. Then, in the 1990s the sika deer quietly began to use the evergreen coniferous forests of Veitch's silver fir and Maries fir in the subalpine zone, as well as the Erman's birch forests and herbaceous communities. By the early 2000s the sika deer had encroached further into the subalpine zone and settled there,...
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