Editor's choice: selected new literature
  • A global estimate of carbon stored in the world’s mountain grasslands and shrublands, and the implications for climate policy.
  • Mountains of Our Future Earth: Defining Priorities for Mountain Research. A Synthesis From the 2015 Perth III Conference.
  • Filling the Data Gaps in Mountain Climate Observatories Through Advanced Technology, Refined Instrument Siting, and a Focus on Gradients.
  • Framing the Human Dimensions of Mountain Systems: Integrating Social Science Paradigms for a Global Network of Mountain Observatories.
  • Mapping landscape beta diversity of plants across KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa , for aiding conservation planning.
  • From REDD plus forests to green landscapes? Analyzing the emerging integrated landscape approach discourse in the UNFCCC.
  • Soil nutrient balances under diverse agro-ecological settings in Ethiopia.
  • Increasing aeolian dust deposition to snowpacks in the Rocky Mountains inferred from snowpack, wet deposition, and aerosol chemistry.
  • The chemical composition and fluxes of atmospheric wet deposition at four sites in South Africa.
  • The mechanics of head-supported load carriage by Nepalese porters.


A global estimate of carbon stored in the world’s mountain grasslands and shrublands, and the implications for climate policy.

Ward A., Dargusch P., Thomas S., Liu Y., Fulton E., (2014). Global Environmental Change 28 (2014) 14–24

Abstract: Carbon market and climate finance schemes (e.g. the CDM, REDD+ and the Green Climate Fund) are being investigated for their ability to achieve enhanced sustainability outcomes in terrestrial forests, lowland grasslands and marine ecosystems, all which store large amounts of carbon (C). To date however climate policy discourse has largely overlooked the conservation of existing C stored in mountain grasslands and shrublands. These ecosystems provide critical ecological goods and services to humanity yet are increasingly at risk from anthropogenic stressors including agricultural intensification, mining and climate change. The absence of a global estimate for these C stocks is likely to be one reason for their exclusion from climate change policy discussions, both on a political and scientific basis. This represents a missed opportunity in two respects: firstly, by conserving and restoring existing C stocks the impacts of climate change can be lessened; and secondly, carbon finance and climate finance might provide the necessary financial support to address the aforementioned stressors. In this paper we use spatial analysis and estimate there to be between 60.5 Pg C and 82.8 Pg of C contained within biomass and soils of the world’s mountain grasslands and shrublands. To put this in perspective, globally tropical Savannas and grasslands, temperate forests and tropical peatlands are estimated to contain 326–330 Pg C, 159–292 Pg C and 88.6 Pg C respectively. Our review of existing empirical studies and of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) national greenhouse accounts suggests that this C is not reliably accounted for in international carbon budgets. Our estimate is the first to provide a global point of reference, useful in developing future research and in climate policy discussions. We conclude by briefly discussing how climate finance might be leveraged to support the sustainable management of these C stocks, and in so doing uphold the other important socioeconomic benefits provided to humanity.


Mountains of Our Future Earth: Defining Priorities for Mountain Research A Synthesis From the 2015 Perth III Conference.

Gleeson, EH; von Dach, SW; Flint, CG; Greenwood, GB; Price, MF; Balsiger, J; Nolin, A; Vanacker, V (2016). MOUNTAIN RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT, 36 (4):537-548; SI NOV 2016

Abstract: The Perth conferences held every 5 years in Perth, Scotland, bring together people who identify as mountain researchers and who are interested in issues related to global change in mountain social-ecological systems. These conferences provide an opportunity to evaluate the evolution of research directions within the mountain research community, as well as to identify research priorities. The Future Earth Strategic Research Agenda provides a useful framework for evaluating the mountain research community's progress toward addressing global change and sustainability challenges. Using a process originally set up to analyze contributions to the 2010 conference, the abstracts accepted for the 2015 conference in the context of the Future Earth framework were analyzed. This revealed a continued geographic underrepresentation in mountain research of Africa, Latin America, and South and Southeast Asia but a more even treatment of biophysical and social science themes than in 2010. It also showed that the Perth conference research community strongly focused on understanding system processes (the Dynamic Planet theme of the Future Earth research agenda). Despite the continued bias of conference contributions toward traditional observation-and conservation-oriented research, survey results indicate that conference participants clearly believe that trans-disciplinary, transformative research is relevant to mountains.

Of the eight Future Earth focal challenges, those related to safeguarding natural assets, promoting sustainable land use, increasing resilience and understanding the water-energy-food nexus received considerable attention. The challenges related to sustainable consumption, decarbonizing socioeconomic systems, cities, and health were considerably less well represented, despite their relevance to mountain socioeconomic systems. Based on these findings, we outline a proposal for the future directions of mountain research.


Filling the Data Gaps in Mountain Climate Observatories Through Advanced Technology, Refined Instrument Siting, and a Focus on Gradients.

Strachan, S; Kelsey, EP; Brown, RF; Dascalu, S; Harris, F; Kent, G; Lyles, B; McCurdy, G; Slater, D; Smith, K (2016). MOUNTAIN RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT, 36 (4):518-527; SI NOV 2016

Abstract: The mountain research community is still contending with the need to monitor ecosystems, both to improve local management practices and to address regional and global science questions related to the Future Earth themes of Dynamic Planet, Global Sustainable Development, and Transformations Towards Sustainability. How such efforts may be designed and coordinated remains an open question. Historical climate and ecological observatories and networks typically have not represented the scope or spatial and topographic distribution of near-surface processes in mountains, creating knowledge gaps. Grassroots, in situ investigations have revealed the existence of topoclimates that are not linearly related to general atmospheric conditions, and are also not adequately represented in gridded model products. In this paper, we describe how some of the disconnects between data, models, and applications in mountains can be addressed using a combination of gradient monitoring, uniform observational siting and standards, and modern technology (cyberinfrastructure). Existing observational studies need to expand their topographic niches, and future observatories should be planned to span entire gradients. Use of cyberinfrastructure tools such as digital telemetry and Internet Protocol networks can reduce costs and data gaps while improving data quality control processes and widening audience outreach. Embracing this approach and working toward common sets of comparable measurements should be goals of emerging mountain observatories worldwide.


Framing the Human Dimensions of Mountain Systems: Integrating Social Science Paradigms for a Global Network of Mountain Observatories

Flint, CG (2016). MOUNTAIN RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT, 36 (4):528-536; SI NOV 2016

Abstract: The Global Network of Mountain Observatories (GNOMO) is an international initiative seeking to increase communication and collaboration and align methodologies to assess commonalities and differences across the world's mountain landscapes. Oriented toward sustainable mountain development, GNOMO requires the integration of social and natural sciences, as well as a diverse array of stakeholder perspectives. This paper highlights challenges associated with integrating social sciences because of the inherent paradigmatic differences within the social sciences. The value orientations of mountain researchers, as well as the divergent societal and institutional values regarding mountains, create a need for new approaches to observing mountain landscapes. A framework is presented to organize complex information about mountain social-ecological systems based on human conditions (from vulnerability to wellbeing), environmental actions (from degradation to stewardship), and environmental conditions that vary across time, space, and scales. A multi-paradigmatic, multimethod approach is proposed to combine theory-driven quantitative indicators, qualitative perspectives from diverse knowledge standpoints, and critical inquiries into power relationships to fully represent dynamic mountain systems.


Mapping landscape beta diversity of plants across KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa , for aiding conservation planning.

Jewitt, D; Goodman, PS; O'Connor, TG; Erasmus, BFN; Witkowski, ETF (2016). BIODIVERSITY AND CONSERVATION, 25 (13):2641-2654; 10.1007/s10531-016-1190-y DEC 2016

Abstract: Collective properties of biodiversity, such as beta diversity, are suggested as complementary measures of species richness to guide the prioritization and selection of important biodiversity areas in regional conservation planning. We assessed variation in the rate of plant species turnover along and between environmental gradients in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa using generalized dissimilarity modeling, in order to map landscape levels of floristic beta diversity. Our dataset consisted of 434 plots (1000 m(2)) containing 997 grassland and savanna matrix species. Our model explained 79 % of the null deviance observed in floristic dissimilarities. Variable rates of turnover existed along the major environmental gradients of mean annual temperature, median rainfall in February, and soil cation exchange capacity, as well as along gradients of geographical distance. Beta diversity was highest in relatively warm, drier summer regions and on dystrophic soils. Areas of high beta diversity identify areas that should be included in conservation plans to maximise representation of diversity and highlight areas best suited to protected area expansion. Biome transition areas in high beta diversity areas may be susceptible to climate variability. Including beta diversity turnover rates in regional conservation plans will help to preserve evolutionary and ecological processes that create and maintain diversity.


From REDD+ forests to green landscapes? Analyzing the emerging integrated landscape approach discourse in the UNFCCC.

Nielsen, TD (2016). FOREST POLICY AND ECONOMICS, 73 177-184.

Abstract: This paper explores an emerging discourse at the UNFCCC level – the integrated landscape approach discourse, which brings new understandings of how to approach forests in a climate change nexus. Its proponents argue that forestry , agriculture and other land uses cannot be seen in isolation, but need to be integrated into a single management process. I apply argumentative discourse analysis (Hajer,1995) to a series of documents, statements, observations and interviews to identify and analyze the power of this discourse in the UNFCCC and in particular on the reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) negotiations. The paper highlights the central arguments of its storylines, its main critique and identifies members of its discourse coalition. It also assesses its discursive power, and concludes that although storylines of the integrated landscape approach discourse may be well recognized in the UNFCCC, in particular at side-events (discourse structuration), it has yet to impose its logics and rationales in a profound way (discourse institutionalization).


Soil nutrient balances under diverse agro-ecological settings in Ethiopia

van Beek, C. L.; Elias, E.; Yihenew, G. S.; Heesmans, H.; Tsegaye, A.; Feyisa, H.; Tolla, M.; Melmuye, M.; Gebremeskel, Y.; Mengist, S. (2016). NUTRIENT CYCLING IN AGROECOSYSTEMS, 106 (3):257-274; 10.1007/s10705-016-9803-0 DEC 2016

Abstract: Soil fertility is one of the main constraints to agricultural intensification in Ethiopia. Like in many East African countries, nutrient depletion rates are exacerbated in Ethiopia by high erosion rates, biomass and animal manure removal from farm plots and limited application of mineral and organic fertilizers. In this paper, soil nutrient balances at plot level were calculated for 350 farms spread across the high potential highlands of Ethiopia . The nutrient input flows and output flows were monitored over a period of 3 years (2012-2014) using the monitoring for quality improvement toolbox. Average nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) balances were -23 +/- 73, 9 +/- 29 and -7 +/- 64 kg ha(-1), respectively. The situation was most severe for N, where average depletion rate was 0.2 % of the soil total N stock per year, which equals about 4.2 % of the available soil N pool. Depletion rates were highest in the relative intensive farming systems in mountainous areas located in the central and southern parts of Ethiopia . Nutrient depletion rates increased in time with 13, 3 and 10 kg ha(-1) year(-1), respectively for N, P and K during the monitoring period. The Ethiopian government responds to the on-going, and worsening, soil nutrient depletion by stimulating the use of mineral fertilizers. We conclude that the current efforts on increased inputs of mineral fertilizers are a step in the good direction, but to really halt and reverse soil fertility decline, organic fertilizer application and soil and water conservation should be an integral part of the intervention strategy.


Increasing aeolian dust deposition to snowpacks in the Rocky Mountains inferred from snowpack, wet deposition, and aerosol chemistry.

Clow, DW; Williams, MW; Schuster, PF (2016). ATMOSPHERIC ENVIRONMENT, 146 183-194; SI 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2016.06.076 DEC 2016

Abstract: Mountain snowpacks are a vital natural resource for similar to 1.5 billion people in the northern Hemisphere, helping to meet human and ecological demand for water in excess of that provided by summer rain. Springtime warming and aeolian dust deposition accelerate snowmelt, increasing the risk of water shortages during late summer, when demand is greatest. While climate networks provide data that can be used to evaluate the effect of warming on snowpack resources, there are no established regional networks for monitoring aeolian dust deposition to snow. In this study, we test the hypothesis that chemistry of snow, wet deposition, and aerosols can be used as a surrogate for dust deposition to snow. We then analyze spatial patterns and temporal trends in inferred springtime dust deposition to snow across the Rocky Mountains , USA, for 1993-2014. Geochemical evidence, including strong correlations (r(2) >= 0.94) between Ca2+, alkalinity, and dust concentrations in snow deposited during dust events, indicate that carbonate minerals in dust impart a strong chemical signature that can be used to track dust deposition to snow. Spatial patterns in chemistry of snow, wet deposition, and aerosols indicate that dust deposition increases from north to south in the Rocky Mountains , and temporal trends indicate that winter/spring dust deposition increased by 81% in the southern Rockies during 1993-2014.

Using a multivariate modeling approach, we determined that increases in dust deposition and decreases in springtime snowfall combined to accelerate snowmelt timing in the southern Rockies by approximately 7-18 days between 1993 and 2014. Previous studies have shown that aeolian dust emissions may have doubled globally during the 20th century, possibly due to drought and land-use change. Climate projections for increased aridity in the southwestern U.S., northern Africa , and other mid-latitude regions of the northern Hemisphere suggest that aeolian dust emissions may continue to increase, compounding the risk that climate warming poses to snowpack water resources in arid/semi-arid regions of the world.


The chemical composition and fluxes of atmospheric wet deposition at four sites in South Africa.

Conradie, EH; Van Zyl, PG; Pienaar, JJ; Beukes, JP; Galy-Lacaux, C; Venter, AD; Mkhatshwa, GV (2016). ATMOSPHERIC ENVIRONMENT, 146 113-131; SI 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2016.07.033 DEC 2016

Abstract: South Africa is the economic hub of southern Africa and is regarded as an important source region of atmospheric pollutants. A nitrogen dioxide (NO2) hotspot is clearly visible from space over the South African Mpumalanga Highveld, while South Africa is also regarded as the 9th largest anthropogenic sulphur (S) emitting country. Notwithstanding the importance of South Africa with regard to nitrogen (N) and S emissions, very limited data has been published on the chemical composition of wet deposition for this region. This paper presents the concentrations of sodium (Na+), ammonium (NHS4+), potassium (K+), calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), nitrate (NO3-), chloride (Cl-), sulphate (SO42-) and water-soluble organic acids (OA) in the wet deposition samples collected between 2009 and 2014 at four South African IDAF (IGAC DEBITS Africa ) sites, which are regarded as regional representatives of the north-eastern interior. Also, wet deposition fluxes of the ten ions are calculated and presented in this paper. The results show that the total ionic concentrations and fluxes of wet deposition were much higher at the two sites closer to anthropogenic emissions, while the pH of wet deposition at these two sites were lower compared to that of the two sites that were less impacted by anthropogenic emissions.. The major sources of the ten ions included marine, terrigenous (crust), fossil fuel combustion, agriculture and biomass burning. Significant contributions from fossil fuel combustion were determined for the two sites in close proximity to anthropogenic source regions. The results of back trajectory analysis, however, did indicate that the two remote sites are also affected by air masses passing over the source region through anti-cyclonic recirculation. The largest contributions at the two sites distant from the anthropogenic source regions were marine sources, while the impact of biomass burning was also more significant at the remote sites. Comparison to previous wet deposition measurements at the South African IDAF sites indicated increases in the wet deposition fluxes of S and N, and more wet deposition events with lower pH. This could be ascribed to a significant increase in anthropogenic activities and population growth in this part of South Africa with an associated increase in energy demand.


The mechanics of head-supported load carriage by Nepalese porters.

Bastien, GJ; Willems, PA; Schepens, B; Heglund, NC (2016). JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY, 219 (22):3626-3634; 10.1242/jeb.143875 NOV 15 2016

Abstract: In the Everest valley of Nepal, because of the rugged mountain terrain, roads are nothing more than dirt paths and all material must be conveyed on foot. The Nepalese porters routinely carry head-supported loads, which often exceed their body mass, over long distances up and down the steep mountain footpaths. In Africa , women transport their loads economically thanks to an energy-saving gait adaptation. We hypothesized that the Nepalese porters may have developed a corresponding mechanism. To investigate this proposition, we measured the mechanical work done during level walking in Nepalese porters while carrying different loads at several speeds. Our results show that the Nepalese porters do not use an equivalent mechanism as the African women to reduce work. In contrast, the Nepalese porters develop an equal amount of total mechanical work as Western control subjects while carrying loads of 0 to 120% of their body mass at all speeds measured (0.5-1.7 m s(-1)), making even more impressive their ability to carry loads without any apparent mechanically determined tricks. Nevertheless, our results show that the Nepalese porters have a higher efficiency, at least at slow speeds and high loads.