Belmont Forum - Collaborative Research Action
The Mountain Research Initiative is excited to annouce that is has teamed up with the six recently funded Belmont projects to share news, insights and adventures as these projects evolve over the next years. You will soon be able to follow these projects via the MRI's Facebook page, as well as via our Mountain Blogs page. In the meantime, you can get a taste of the projects by reading the summaries below or visiting the Belmont website.

The backstory

In March 2015, the Belmont Forum, a group of the world's major and emerging funders of global environmental change research, issued a call for research projects focusing on" climate, environmental, and related societal change in mountain regions, considering new measurements, recovery of existing data, and the development and use of integrated modelling strategies by adopting a strong trans- and inter-disciplinary approach." The call for projects is part of the Belmont Forum’s Collaborative Research Action on “Mountains as Sentinels of Change”, which addresses hydrological, ecological, societal and economic implications of ongoing and expected environmental changes in mountain regions, as well as the design of adaptation measures and sustainable development strategies for mountain communities.

In March 2016, the Belmont Forum announced the selection of six multi-national projects to receive funding through this call. The grants (totaling approximately 8 million Euros) will support inter- and trans-disciplinary research related to five themes: i) drivers of change; ii) ecosystems and biodiversity; iii) water; iv) hazards, vulnerability and risks; and v) adaptation and resilience. The successful projects involve researchers from Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, and the USA, with additional collaborators from Belgium, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, and Sweden.

The projects

CLIMTREE: Ecological and socioeconomic impacts of climate-induced tree diebacks in highland forests
Lead PI: Carlos Lopez Vaamonde, URZF INRA Orléans, France

logoClimate change affects mountain forests by increasing the intensity and frequency of disturbances such as drought, insect and pathogen outbreaks, fire, wind and ice storms. As a result widespread tree mortality has been reported in recent decades. Most mountain forests support a rich community of organisms, so the loss or replacement of any tree species implies a change in species composition and a financial and economic cost. Understanding which species are lost and which are resilient to these environmental changes is crucial in order to take reasoned management decisions for mitigation. In addition, the presence of large numbers of dead trees and the replacement of dying native trees by exotic species have an impact on human inhabitants, tourists, and forest owners and can lead to local social conflicts over whether resources should be expended on maintaining traditional landscapes. To study the impact of climate change and forest management on the biodiversity of highland forests, we will quantify changes in species richness and composition of a wide range of terrestrial and freshwater organisms, along tree-dieback gradients of four highland conifers in European and Chinese mountains, using cutting-edge molecular technology. We will also measure changes in functional diversity for several focal groups recognized as regulators and indicators of key water and soil processes and ecosystem services. To study the perception of climate change by local populations and the socioeconomic impact of climate-induced mountain forest diebacks and tree replacement strategies on local communities we will carry out both qualitative and quantitative surveys in Europe and China. This project involves a multidisciplinary team of ecologists, sociologists, economists, geographers, forest entomologists, limnologists, mycologists, molecular biologists, forest managers and policy makers. We will work with stakeholders to disseminate the results of the project and facilitate the adoption of newly generated tools and indicators by policy makers.

ClimateWIse: Climate-Smart Watershed Investments in the Montane Tropics of South America
Lead PI: Kate Brauman, University of Minnesota, USA

ClimateWIse logoThroughout South America, millions of people depend on water from high-elevation paramo grasslands and Andean and Atlantic forests, water sources under increasing pressure from land-use and climate change. Investments in Watershed Services (IWS) provide a potent, and heretofore untapped, network of sentinels, creating an unparalleled opportunity to assess the impacts of land-use and climate change on water resources throughout this sensitive region. ClimateWIse will evaluate whether IWS successfully deliver water services now and if they will continue to be effective in a changing climate. In doing so, the research will inform broad questions about the hydrologic impacts of land-use and climate change in tropical montane South America. To evaluate whether IWS are currently improving water resources, we will 1.1) evaluate the outcomes expected by IWS stakeholders; 1.2) synthesize new IWS monitoring data; and 1.3) improve models for IWS design and evaluation. To determine how to make IWS climate resilient, we will 2.1) evaluate how IWS incorporate climate in their planning; 2.2) improve predictions of watershed response to climate and other changes; and 2.3) integrate land-use and climate change impacts to improve IWS resilience and help them contribute to climate adaptation. ClimateWIse builds on a body of existing research by project PIs on hydrologic connectivity in tropical montane South America in general and on IWS in particular, bringing this expertise together for the first time. We will leverage existing connections with the Latin American Water Funds Partnership and the Brazilian Water Producer Program. ClimateWIse will enhance sustainable water management by improving scientific understanding of the hydrologic impacts of land-use and climate change in tropical mountains, increasing the scientific foundation for ecosystem services-based management, and advancing outcomes for water users throughout the region. Our findings will be of direct use for water management within and beyond South America.

ECCAP: Ecological Calendars and Climate Adaptation in the Pamirs
Lead PI: Karim-Aly Kassam, Cornell University, USA

ECCAP photoMountain communities, which contribute least to rising greenhouse gas concentrations, are facing the harshest impacts of increasing climate variability. Adapting to a "new normal" is a necessity, and these communities must prepare for a broader range of possible conditions. According to the IPCC 5th Assessment Report, the ability to anticipate the impacts of climate change at the local scale is an urgent need. Communities must strengthen anticipatory capacity to synchronize their food production with increasingly inconsistent weather patterns. Ecological calendars based on indigenous knowledge of seasonal biometeorological events may be used to anticipate and respond to climate variability. Historically in the Pamir Mountains, agro-pastoral communities developed "calendars of the human body" to synchronize their diverse agricultural activities with highly variable weather systems. In the 20th century, ecological calendars were suppressed by some governments and fell out of use. Now, these culturally and ecologically grounded calendars offer new hope as a way to adapt to climate change. The Pamir Mountains extend from Badakhshan Afghanistan and Tajikistan, east to China's Kongur Shan, and north into the Trans Alai of Kyrgyzstan. The Pamir Mountains are rich in biological and cultural diversity. These mountain societies are experiencing dramatic climate impacts on their food systems. Our research will contribute to the anticipatory capacity of Pamiri communities by revitalizing calendars. Using participatory research, we will recalibrate historical and existing ecological calendars by integrating indigenous knowledge with scientific analyses of climate and phenological data. The project will provide a proof-of-concept to be applied in mountain societies across the globe, culminating in an international conference on ecological calendars for building community resilience to climate change. The conference will include social and biophysical scientists, policy makers, and civil society leaders in respectful engagement with indigenous mountain communities. See this related article in National Geographic!

NILE-NEXUS: Opportunities for a sustainable food-energy-water future in the Blue Nile Mountains of Ethiopia
Lead PI: Benjamin Zaitchik, Johns Hopkins University, USA

NILE NEXUS logoThe mountains of Ethiopia are often called the "water tower of Africa," giving rise to major transboundary rivers. Rapid hydropower development in these mountains is quickly transforming them into the "power plant of Africa" as well. For local people, however, they are first and foremost a land of small farms, engaged primarily in subsistence agriculture. Under changing climate, rapid national economic growth, and steadily increasing population and land pressures, these mountains and their inhabitants have become the focal point of a multi-scale food-energy-water nexus with significant implications across East Africa. The research proposed here is designed to produce a social-ecological systems analysis of adaptation options and risk profiles for the Ethiopian Blue Nile Mountains. Our core research objective is to identify options to address emerging food-energy-water pressures in this rapidly changing tropical mountain system. To do this, we will engage stakeholders at local, regional, and national level to define system components and dynamics, identify favored adaptation strategies, and develop scenarios of probable and of possible futures under externally forced and locally driven change. The research team includes expertise in social-ecological systems analysis, social resilience strategies, East African ecology and agronomy, hydropower development, agricultural economics, and the climate and hydrology of the Ethiopian highlands. Stakeholders include local community organizations, river basin authorities, and national development agencies, among others. The coupled, multi-scale nature of the nexus requires that all project team members and diverse stakeholders participate throughout the research process. We anticipate that this approach will yield new insights on adaptation strategies in tropical mountain environments, and that the stakeholder-informed social-ecological systems framework developed here can be readily transferred to other mountain regions coping with climate change.

P3: People, pollution and pathogens: mountain ecosystems in a human-altered world
Lead PI: Dirk S. Schmeller, Helmholtz-Center for Environmental Research, Germany

P3logoThe P3 project will conduct ecological research and policy relevant actions on pollution, pathogens and anthropological impacts in mountain ecosystems, especially at the interface of aquatic and terrestrial habitats and in the socio-ecological system. The research will be conducted in four mountain ranges: the Pyrenees (France), Dhofar Mountains (Oman), Sierra Nevada (USA) and the Great Hinggan Mountain (China). The mountain ranges proposed to be studied in P3 are on different continents with shared characteristics, but also with differences allowing for the analysis of the different societal and ecological contexts, which will be studied along altitudinal gradients. P3 will augment, align and focus research strands already ongoing in the institutions of P3 partners. The principal aim of P3 is to understand the impact of climate change on mountain watersheds and the risks for stakeholders and the general public. In a first step, P3 will develop a common database, combining information on the different mountain ranges in focus of P3, will establish an international network of mountain field stations, collect data along gradients on pollution and pathogens in the socioecological context and will use this data to model different biotic and abiotic parameters. Based on historical and newly collected data, P3 will develop dynamic indicators and develop essential biodiversity variables relevant for the mountain context to facilitate the engagement with the general public, stakeholders and policymakers. P3 aims to raise awareness for the changes in mountain ecosystems around the world. P3 will then develop a set of headline indicators using the mountains as sentinels and to elaborate policy recommendations to establish mountain freshwater ecosystem as sentinels for biodiversity and climate change. The latter will be summarized in the Mountains as sentinels of change concept note MESC.

VULPES: VULnerability of Populations under Extreme Scenarios
Lead PI: Rachid Cheddadi, CNRS, France

VULPES logoVULPES will evaluate the impact of past climate change on mountain ecosystems and their genetic diversity from around the world, and forecast potential impacts of future climate change. Employing primarily existing fossil records from Morocco, Cameroon, South Africa, China, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, VULPES will carry out a multi-disciplinary integration of quantified climate variables from fossil records, ancient and modern DNA (aDNA and mDNA), vegetation modeling, agent-based modeling and statistics. Our goal is to answer the overall question: "Are microrefugia the key to ecosystem sustainability in montane ecosystems under projected climate change?". This project will consider variability in mountain ecosystems across the last 21,000 years; a period of extreme natural climate change (e.g. transition from the last glacial period) and the more recent, increasing impact of humans. VULPES will evaluate the migration capacity of species, their potential in situ adaptation/response, ecosystem turnover through time, the tipping points that could lead to population extinctions, the rate of change and, ultimately, define a vulnerability index/threshold. This investigation will determine a global perspective on the effect of different climate types and changes on montane ecosystems encompassing semi-arid, tropical and temperate humid zones. Also included will be socio-ecological analyses regarding landuse, a key to establishing future food security. Combined, our assessments will enable optimised conservation policies for ecosystems, species and genetic resources. This product will be a valuable tool allowing local stakeholders to establish appropriate management strategies for the mitigation of climate and land use impacts on mountain ecosystems.