Dec 11

Today marks UN International Mountain Day which aims to promote the sustainable development and awareness of mountains and highlands around the world and highlighting their importance for biodiversity as well as human settlements.

Covering roughly a quarter of the world’s surface, mountains are hugely diverse in the habitat they offer, from forest, desert, grassland or permanent ice and can be some of the most volatile places on earth with volcanic eruptions, avalanches, landslides and earthquakes being frequent occurences for the species living there to contend with.

Many of ARKive’s eco-regions feature mountainous habitats, not to mention the large collection of species we have that make their living on the mountain tops of the world. To celebrate UN International Mountain Day we thought we would highlight some of our favourite mountainous eco-regions.

Western Ghats – A biodiversity hotspot

UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Western Ghats are an Indian mountain range running 1,600 kilometres across the peninsular parallel to the western coast. Though not conforming to the ‘traditional’ snow-capped mountain image of the Alps or the Rockies, the Western Ghats wins out on sheer biodiversity, hosting a phenomenal amount of plants and animals, many of which can’t be found anywhere else on earth.

Western Ghats

The undulating grasslands of the Western Ghats

At higher altitudes much of the Western Ghats are expansive grass plateaus, on which species like the Nilgiri tahr graze on. The Nilgiri tahr is also very much at home on the numerous narrow cliff ledges in the area.

Nilgiri tahr

The Nilgiri tahr in it's mountain habitat


Gutianshan National Nature Reserve – Nanling Mountains

Eastern China’s Gutianshan National Nature Reserve protects part of the ancient evergreen broadleaved forest of the Nanling Mountains. Large amounts of annual rainfall provide ideal conditions for plants to grow as well as feeding many mountain streams and tributaries that flow down the mountain.

Gutianshan National Nature Reserve

The montane forest of Gutianshan National Nature Reserve

The aptly named big-headed turtle lives in these cold and fast flowing mountain streams. As a nocturnal and aquatic reptile, it spends the day underwater and out of site either burrowed into the gravel bed or hidden in rock crevices at the stream edge and the nights foraging either in or near the stream.

Big-headed turtle photo

The big-headed turtle depends on the water streams that run off the mountain


Mediterranean Basin – Greek mountains of myth and legend

The Mediterranean Basin eco-region contains a vast amount of different habitats from coasts all the way up to mountains and everything in between. The most famous of these mountains is of course Mount Olympus: the mythical home of Greek gods. This mountain range hosts 1,700 different species of plant, 25 percent of Greece’s total. Not to mention the many roe deer, grey wolves and wild cats that can also be found there.

Mount Olympus

The limestone cliffs of Mount Olympus are packed with plant life

While not limited to habitats at high elevation, the venomous Meadow viper can be found in the European mountain pastures feeding on a wide variety of birds, mammals and invertebrates.

Meadow viper

The meadow viper on the grassy foothills of Gran Sasso d'Italia

George Bradford, ARKive Researcher