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Alpine and Montane Habitats

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Alpine and Montane Habitats

Glen Coe Pass in the Highlands of Scotland.

Photo © Abzee / iStockphoto.
Mountains are masses of rock that have been pushed upward, high above the surrounding land. Most mountains form at the boundaries of the Earth's tectonic plates, where land masses either converge, diverge, or shift side-by-side. These movements cause uplifting, splitting, and folding of the earth's crust that sculpt mountain ranges of varying sizes and elevations. Once formed, mountains are further shaped by erosion, earthquakes, and continued movement of tectonic plates.

Mountains are found throughout the world and the habitats they support are home to an extraordinary diversity of wildlife. The flora and fauna that characterize a mountain habitat reflect the local climate conditions, which can vary greatly based on the orientation of the mountain (with respect to the sun and continental weather patterns) as well as elevation. A sequence of changes can be observed as you follow the profile of the mountain upward. These changes are referred to as altitudinal vegetation zones and they influence the animal species that can be found at different locations within a mountain range.

Local topography produces variation in climate patterns and this is evident on mountains where topography is dramatic. Different locations on a mountain receive varying degrees of solar radiation, temperature, and precipitation. As you move to higher elevations, temperature decreases, winds may be more prevalent. Depending on the orientation of the mountain range, one face may receive more precipitation than the other due to a phenomenon known as the rainshadow effect.

Mountains provide habitat for a wide range of terrestrial animals including mammals, birds, reptiles, invertebrates and amphibians. Mountain rivers, streams, and lakes also provide habitat for aquatic animals such as fish and invertebrates.

Habitat Classification:

Terrestrial > Alpine and Montane

Mountain Ranges of the World:

The following are some of the mountain ranges found throughout the world:
  • Alps (southern Europe)
  • Altai (Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia, China)
  • Andes (along the western spine of South America)
  • Appalachian Mountains (eastern United States)
  • Atlas (Moroco and Tunisia)
  • Caledonian Mountains (Scotland, Scandinavia, Ireland)
  • Carpathians (Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania)
  • Caucaus (Russia and Georgia)
  • Drakensberg Plateau (Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho)
  • Great Dividing Range (eastern coast of Australia)
  • Himalayas (northern Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan)
  • Pyrenees (France and Spain)
  • Rocky Mountains (western North America)
  • Sierra Madre (Mexico)
  • Sierra Nevada (Spain)
  • Southern Alps (New Zealand)
  • Transantarctic Mountains (Greater Antarctica)
  • Urals (Russia and Kazakhstan)
  • Zagros Mountains (Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Persian Gulf)
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