Mountain regions provide goods and services for much of humanity. Twelve percent of the world's population lives in mountain regions and half of humanity depends on resources arising in mountain regions. Outside of the tropics, mountain regions provide 40% of all the freshwater, and in arid and semi-arid regions, this fraction approaches 70-100%. Mountains contain one quarter of Earth's terrestrial biodiversity and one half of the planet's biodiversity hot spots. Mountain forests and soils are among the major terrestrial carbon pools.
Mountain ecosystems are very sensitive to drivers of change, from climate change to the loss of vegetation and soils due to inappropriate management practices and extractive industries. The future ability of mountain regions to provide their many goods and services to highland and lowland residents is seriously threatened by climatic changes, environmental pollution, unsustainable management of natural resources and serious gaps in understanding of mountain systems.
Both fundamental research activities and transdisciplinary efforts are required to achieve sustainable use of mountain regions. While a number of regional or disciplinary programs exist, the global mountain research community has historically operated at a sub-optimal level due to insufficient communication across geographic and linguistic barriers, less than desirable coordination of research frameworks, and a lack of funding.
The Mountain Research Initiative (MRI) was created to overcome these constraints by (1) framing research approaches within an interdisciplinary integrative framework; (2) improving communication to overcome the isolation of researchers separated by distance, language and discipline; and (3) influencing funding for global change research in mountain regions. The MRI supports the science needed to adapt successfully to global change by building on its successes to frame the research agenda, implement that agenda at a global and regional levels, integrate research results, provide key information services, improve communications and advocate for funding of global change research in mountains.
With the support of several Swiss funding agencies, a small MRI Project Office was established in Bern in July 2001. It was funded at a more significant level by SNF in 2004. To conserve its limited resources, the MRI moved its main office to ETH Zürich in 2005 and also opened a small, free office at the University of Lausanne in order to reinforce contacts in French-speaking Switzerland. In 2007 MRI will move its main office to the University of Bern.
Products will include articles in peer-reviewed journals, a scientifically focused Newsletter, an enhanced website, an expanded database of researchers and research programs, and innovative use of webcast and internet based communications. Advocacy for funding of global change research will focus on the EU 7th Framework Program and on other donors of both research and development in different regions (e.g., US-NSF) as well as at the global scale (IGFA, GEF, World Bank).