Key problems in mountain areas and at highland-lowland interfaces are largely related to human impact in these fragile ecosystems and may be intensified by the indirect effects of human activities in surrounding lowland areas. On the positive side, mountain regions are the world’s freshwater reservoirs; they are important areas for agriculture, have resources that can be exploited for mining and tourism, and exhibit great biodiversity within small areas. The combined effects of various key problems in a mountain area can lead to a so-called “mountain syndrome”; most mountain systems show key symptoms of this syndrome or have the potential for their development (NCCR North-South 2000). The syndrome concept, developed by the German Advisory Council for Global Change (WBGU 1996), provides a framework for focused research. Its basic assumption is that typical clusters of ecological, social and economic problems or symptoms can be identified in specific regions of the world, such as mountain areas. These typical problem clusters are called “syndromes of global change” and are seen by WBGU (1996) as representative, specific functional patterns of non-sustainable development. Given this assumption, the syndrome concept allows primarily for integrated, situation-specific differentiation of global change.
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