Mountain Ecosystems

Nov - 20 2015 | By

Mountain ecosystems are found throughout the world, from the equator almost to the poles, occupying approximately one-fifth of its land surface. Beyond their common characteristics of having high relative relief (or very marked topographic variation) and steep slopes, mountains are remarkably diverse (Ives. Messerli and Spiess, 1997). They are found on every continent, and at every altitude, from close to sea level to the highest place on the earth – the summit of Mount Everest (Sagarmatha or Qomolangma) on the border between Nepal and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. [1]

And mountains make up a large portion of our life. Even when we don’t proactively go looking for them or think about them they are there.

You’ll find reference to them in everything from country and rustic wedding invitations, to beer culture, and bottled water advertisement.

majestic mountains

But that is far from all of the impact they have on our lives.

Centers of Biodiversity

Mountain ranges are a center for biodiversity that starts on the planes and gradually changes as mountain ascend toward the clouds. The plant and wild life evolves up the slopes creating a distinct variety of life.

As the mountain rises, the climate decreases, this decrease in temperature is caused by a reduction in the greenhouse effect.

The characteristics of plant and animal vary strongly based on the mountains elevation. This is due to the change in climate, or the change in living conditions these plants and animals are faced with. When this happens a mutual dependency is created which traverses mountain ranges causing measurable bands for similar altitudes.

One of these bands that is typical is the montane forest. These life zones provide a temperate climate on the moderate elevation along with rainfall allow forests to grow and flurish. This gives way to animal life.

Holdridge set the definition for climate of a montane forest between 43 and 54 °F, or 6 and 12 °C. Beyond this range, higher up on the mountain, the trees begin to thin out and become less dense until they are no longer able to survive.

This zone, which exists beyond the tree line ecosystem is called the alpine zone, or alpine tundra. Grass and low growing bush and shrubs populate the face of the mountain, reducing erosion and provide a smaller ecosystem for animal life.

There are many different plants in this zone: mosses and lichens, as well as, perennial grasses, fords, sedges, and other small plants will be found on this line. These plants must adapt to the treacherous life on the mountain. Low temperatures, arid dry seasons, radiation from ultraviolet light, and a reduced growing season all make life in the alpine environment less than friendly.

Still, evolution has played a hand in making these plants adapt and change. Some of the characteristics found in the alpine environment are, rosette grow patterns, thick waxy exteriors and isolated leaves through a hair like structure.

Below 35°F, or 1.5 °C, is where these ecosystems become more barren, consisting mainly of rock formations and ice.

  • The world’s largest mountain ecosystem lies in The Himalayas.
  • “An estimated one-tenth of the human population derive their life-support directly from mountains.”[1]
  • “The greatest diversity of vascular plant species occurs in mountains: Costa Rica, the tropical eastern Andes, the Atlantic forest of Brazil, the eastern Himalaya-Yunnan region, northern Borneo and Papua New Guinea (Barthlott, Lauer and Placke, 1996)”[1]


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