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Global Change and the World's Mountains— Research Needs and Emerging Themes for Sustainable Development

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2012
Author Gurung Astrid Björnsen, von Dach Susanne Wymann, Price Martin F., Aspinall Richard, Balsiger Jörg, Baron Jill S., Sharma Eklabya, Greenwood Greg, Kohler Thomas,
Project Global Change and Mountain Regions: the Mountain Research Initiative Coordination Office
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Mountain Research and Development
Volume (Issue) 32(S1)
Page(s) S47 - S54
Title of proceedings Mountain Research and Development

Open Access


The conference on Global Change and the World's Mountains held in Perth, Scotland, in 2010 offered a unique opportunity to analyze the state and progress of mountain research and its contribution to sustainable mountain development, as well as to reflect on required reorientations of research agendas. In this paper we provide the results of a three-step assessment of the research presented by 450 researchers from around the world. First, we determined the state of the art of mountain research and categorized it based on the analytical structure of the Global Land Project (GLP 2005). Second, we identified emerging themes for future research. Finally, we assessed the contribution of mountain research to sustainable development along the lines of the Grand Challenges in Global Sustainability Research (International Council for Science 2010). Analysis revealed that despite the growing recognition of the importance of more integrative research (inter- and transdisciplinary), the research community gathered in Perth still focuses on environmental drivers of change and on interactions within ecological systems. Only a small percentage of current research seeks to enhance understanding of social systems and of interactions between social and ecological systems. From the ecological systems perspective, a greater effort is needed to disentangle and assess different drivers of change and to investigate impacts on the rendering of ecosystem services. From the social systems perspective, significant shortcomings remain in understanding the characteristics, trends, and impacts of human movements to, within, and out of mountain areas as a form of global change. Likewise, sociocultural drivers affecting collective behavior as well as incentive systems devised by policy and decision makers are little understood and require more in-depth investigation. Both the complexity of coupled social–ecological systems and incomplete data sets hinder integrated systems research. Increased understanding of linkages and feedbacks between social and ecological systems will help to identify nonlinearities and thresholds (tipping points) in both system types. This presupposes effective collaboration between ecological and social sciences. Reflections on the Grand Challenges in Sustainability Research put forth by the International Council for Science (2010) reveal the need to intensify research on effective responses and innovations. This will help to achieve sustainable development in mountain regions while maintaining the core competence of mountain research in forecasting and observation.