Altitudinal gradients in biodiversity research: The state of the art and future perspectives under climate change aspects

Anton Fischer, Markus Blaschke, Claus Bässler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Mountains, with their isolated position and altitudinal belts, are hotspots of biodiversity. Their flora and fauna have been observed worldwide since the days of Alexander von Humboldt, which has led to basic knowledge and understanding of species composition and the most important driving forces of ecosystem differentiation in such altitudinal gradients. Systematically designed analyses of changes in species composition with increasing elevation have been increasingly implemented since the 1990s. Since global climate change is one of the most important problems facing the world this century, a focus on such ecosystem studies is urgently needed. To identify the main future needs of such research we analyze the studies dealing with species changes of diverse taxonomical groups along altitudinal gradients (0 to 6,400 m a.s. l.) on all continents, published during the past one to two decades. From our study we can conclude that although mountains are powerful for climate change research most studies have to face the challenge of separating confounding effects driving species assemblages along altitudinal gradients. Our study therefore supports the view of the need of a global altitudinal concept including that (1) not only one or a few taxonomical groups should be analyzed, but rather different taxonomical groups covering all ecosystem functions simultaneously; (2) relevant site conditions should be registered to reveal direct environmental variables responsible for species distribution patterns and to resolve inconsistent effects along the altitudinal gradients; (3) transect design is appropriate for analyzing ecosystem changes in site gradients and over time; (4) both the study design and the individual methods should be standardized to compare the data collected worldwide; and (5) a long-term perspective is important to quantify the degree and direction of species changes and to validate species distribution models. (6) Finally we suggest to develop experimental altitudinal approaches to overcome the addressed problems of biodiversity surveys.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-47
Number of pages13
JournalWaldokologie Online
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Altitudinal gradient
  • Biodiversity
  • Climate change
  • Species richness
  • Transect


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