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1 November 2016 Mountains of Our Future Earth: Defining Priorities for Mountain Research—A Synthesis From the 2015 Perth III Conference
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Abstract

The Perth conferences, held every 5 years in Perth, Scotland, bring together people who identify as mountain researchers and who are interested in issues related to global change in mountain social-ecological systems. These conferences provide an opportunity to evaluate the evolution of research directions within the mountain research community, as well as to identify research priorities. The Future Earth Strategic Research Agenda provides a useful framework for evaluating the mountain research community's progress toward addressing global change and sustainability challenges. Using a process originally set up to analyze contributions to the 2010 conference, the abstracts accepted for the 2015 conference in the context of the Future Earth framework were analyzed. This revealed a continued geographic underrepresentation in mountain research of Africa, Latin America, and South and Southeast Asia but a more even treatment of biophysical and social science themes than in 2010. It also showed that the Perth conference research community strongly focused on understanding system processes (the Dynamic Planet theme of the Future Earth research agenda). Despite the continued bias of conference contributions toward traditional observation- and conservation-oriented research, survey results indicate that conference participants clearly believe that transdisciplinary, transformative research is relevant to mountains. Of the 8 Future Earth focal challenges, those related to safeguarding natural assets, promoting sustainable land use, increasing resilience and understanding the water-energy-food nexus received considerable attention. The challenges related to sustainable consumption, decarbonizing socioeconomic systems, cities, and health were considerably less well represented, despite their relevance to mountain socioeconomic systems. Based on these findings, we outline a proposal for the future directions of mountain research.

Introduction

Mountains, which according to the FAO (Romeo et al 2015) cover 22% of the Earth's surface and are home to about 915 million people, provide ecosystem services (eg freshwater, food and fiber, genetic resources, timber, energy, and protection against natural hazards) to about half of the global population, and play a decisive role in shaping a sustainable future (Körner et al 2005; Viviroli et al 2007; Price et al 2011; Ariza et al 2013). The significance of mountain environments and people and the need for sustainable development in mountain regions has increasingly been recognized in global agendas, international conventions, and action plans, from the Mountain Chapter in Agenda 21 in 1992 (United Nations 1993) to 2 of the 17 recently agreed upon Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations 2015). These documents have been jointly developed and promoted by representatives of national governments, intergovernmental organizations, and scientists (Debarbieux and Price 2008; Messerli 2012; Debarbieux et al 2015).

With the goal of fostering sustainable development, scientists and scientific collectives have provided sound evidence for policy- and decision-making at different governance levels. They have contributed knowledge useful for addressing today's global societal challenges, enhanced justice, and the transformation toward a more desirable future (Rockström et al 2009; Raworth 2012). Accordingly, mountain researchers are constantly challenged to consider the orientation and framing of their research (Leach et al 2010). As Miller et al (2014: 240) argue, “sustainability scholars, practitioners and decision-makers [have to] critically reflect on how to best position sustainability research to ensure that knowledge creation enhances decision-making capacity and the ability of our institutions to navigate socio-technical systems along more sustainable trajectories.” However, depending on individual values and conceptions of sustainable development (Leach et al 2010; Wuelser 2014), conclusions related to the orientation and priorities of future research for sustainable mountain development may differ and need to be negotiated.

The Perth Conferences, held in 2005, 2010, and 2015 in Perth, Scotland (Perth I, II, and III, respectively), aimed to address issues of global change across the world's mountains. They have offered unique opportunities to evaluate the state, progress, and orientation of mountain research with regard to global change, as well as to ascertain how research can identify “critical priorities for global change and sustainability research” (Future Earth 2014a: 3) related to mountains. Conference participants come from all over the world and from a broad range of disciplines (210 people from 41 countries in 2005, 450 people from 60 countries in 2010, and 400 people from 52 countries in 2015). Each conference brings together a new cohort of mountain researchers; for instance, only 75 participants at the 2015 conference had attended the 2010 conference. The participation in and contributions to these conferences can therefore yield insights into priorities and progress within the research community.

Before, during, and after the 2010 conference, a group of participants jointly evaluated the status of global change research in mountain areas based on conference contributions (Björnsen Gurung et al 2012). To do so, they assessed the accepted abstracts using the analytical structure of the Global Land Project (GLP 2005) and the then-current Grand Challenges in Global Sustainability Research (ICSU and ISSC 2010) as the guiding frameworks. This assessment revealed a “need for a reorientation of both mountain research and the mountain research community” (Björnsen Gurung et al 2012: S54). The authors called for more research into social systems and their interactions with ecological systems, as well as a greater emphasis on responses and innovation toward sustainability. To achieve this, they recommended a stronger integration of social and political scientists into the mountain research community, as well as an increase in the involvement of mountain societal partners in transdisciplinary research.

Since 2010, the international debate about global change in mountains has evolved, as have the global research and policy frameworks. The title of the Perth III conference was chosen to link this event to the new Future Earth program, a 10-year international research initiative that aims to develop the knowledge for responding effectively to the risks and opportunities of global environmental change and for supporting transformation toward global sustainability. The Strategic Research Agenda of Future Earth is the outcome of a worldwide consultation among scientists and societal partners (Future Earth 2014a). Like the Global Challenges framework used in 2010, this agenda provides a useful frame of reference for evaluating how the research presented at the Perth III conference contributes to addressing emerging challenges of global change in mountains, and to identifying existing gaps in knowledge.

This paper continues the effort of Björnsen Gurung et al (2012) to (1) assess the geographic and thematic coverage of the 2015 presentations and the respective changes since 2010, (2) evaluate the Future Earth research priorities' relevance for mountains and current contributions toward these priorities, and (3) propose future directions for research on global change in mountain regions based on identified gaps and opportunities. This analysis of the Perth III contributions should enable the mountain research community to “explore new development paths, and to find new ways to accelerate transitions to sustainable development,” as called for in the Future Earth vision statement (Future Earth 2014b: 2).

Assessment and synthesis

To address these objectives, a 3-step assessment approach was developed. A synthesis of this assessment was presented during the final plenary session of the Perth III conference, during which a roundtable of experts discussed elements of an effective framework for achieving sustainable development in mountains. (A video of the roundtable is accessible at  https://cast.switch.ch/vod/clips/ux5ps72nv/streaming.html.) The authors of this article used the synthesis and the outcomes of the roundtable discussion to develop a proposal for the future direction of mountain research.

Step 1: Comparing Perth II and Perth III presentations

Following the same synthesis procedure used at the 2010 conference (Björnsen Gurung et al 2012), the same 2 experts who coded the Perth II abstracts coded the 446 Perth III abstracts according to their geographical and thematic foci and categorized them according to the components of a simplified representation of mountain social–ecological systems, based on the analytical structure of the Global Land Project's Science Plan and Implementation Strategy (GLP 2015). In 2015, the experts used 7 of the 9 components used in 2010, deeming the other 2 redundant. Abstracts were coded for multiple components where appropriate. Of the 7 components used in both analyses, the average abstract addressed 2.13 in 2010 and 2.38 in 2015. Comparison of the results from 2010 and 2015 allowed evaluation of the extent to which the research community present in Perth in 2015 addressed research gaps and needs identified in 2010.

Step 2: Assessing contributions to the Future Earth Strategic Research Agenda

The experts also assessed the papers in terms of their contribution to Future Earth's 8 focal challenges and 9 research themes (Future Earth 2014a: 6, 12). Perth III participants were also asked which of the 9 Future Earth research themes and 62 research priorities were especially relevant to mountains. The conference registrants were asked to complete an online Qualtrics survey. A total of 302 surveys were completed, yielding a 72% response rate. The first part of the survey served to develop a deeper understanding of the research community present in Perth and included questions regarding participants' involvement in single-disciplinary and inter- or multidisciplinary research (see Lang et al 2012). In the second part of the survey, respondents were asked to rank the Future Earth research priorities for mountains on a scale from 1 (“not a priority”) to 5 (“high priority”). The data were analyzed to assess overall priority rankings as well as differences based on respondent characteristics.

Step 3: Identifying gaps and emerging issues to inform future research directions

The goal of the third part of the analysis was to derive a synthesis of each of the 31 sessions and of the conference as a whole. To distill the outcomes of each session, the session chairs summarized their impressions and insights in the conference blog ( https://perthmountains2015.wordpress.com/). The session attendees were encouraged to record their own impressions and continue the discussion on the blog.

Subsequently, members of the Mountain Research Initiative's Science Leadership Council, which is composed of leading scientists from a range of disciplines and locations, worked in 3 teams of 6 people each to distill the outcomes of the conference with regard to the 3 Future Earth themes (Dynamic Planet, Global Sustainable Development, and Transformations towards Sustainability). Using the session blogs and the insights gained throughout the conference, the 3 teams synthesized the research contributions presented at Perth III to identify major trends and gaps in our understanding of mountains. This provided crucial inputs for the identification of future work and research lines in relation to the Future Earth program.

Status of global change research in mountains

Toward more balanced geographic and thematic coverage

The assessment of abstracts revealed a geographic bias similar to that observed at Perth II, although less pronounced. Europe was over-represented and Africa, Latin America, and North America under-represented—a pattern that does not reflect the geographical distribution of mountain areas or mountain people, who live primarily in developing regions, especially Asia and Africa (Figure 1; Romeo et al 2015). The lack of geographic balance, especially regarding Africa, thus remains a challenge.

FIGURE 1 

The worldwide distribution of mountain areas and mountain people (Romeo et al 2015), compared with the geographic foci of research presented at Perth II and III.

i0276-4741-36-4-537-f01.tif

The comparison between the Perth II and III contributions also revealed a thematic shift (Figure 2). In 2015, ecological systems were still the most frequent focus of mountain research, but the distribution between the main components of the social–ecological system was more even. For instance, while attention to the impacts of global environmental change on ecological systems decreased markedly, attention to impacts on social systems remained rather low. Overall, the natural science bias identified in 2010 (Björnsen Gurung et al 2012) was less pronounced in 2015; the contributions in 2015 provided a more balanced treatment of the interactions between the social and ecological systems in mountain regions.

FIGURE 2 

Occurrence of common thematic foci (Björnsen Gurung et al 2012) in the abstracts submitted to Perth II and Perth III. The top figure is the modified analytical structure of the GLP Science Plan and Implementation Strategy (GLP 2005); the bottom 2 figures show the emphasis given to the various components of the structure by the papers presented at the 2 conferences.

i0276-4741-36-4-537-f02.tif

Contributions to Future Earth challenges and priorities

The abstracts focused principally on 4 of the 8 Future Earth focal challenges (Table 1). The challenge most frequently addressed, safeguarding natural assets, corresponds well with the predominance of ecological systems as research topics (Figure 2). The second most important challenge, identifying options, matches the more even treatment given to social, management, and ecological aspects of land systems. The third and fourth topics, increased resilience and the water-energy-food nexus, indicate a strong interest in the livelihood and governance aspects of mountain systems and how people cope with changes.

TABLE 1 

Number of Perth III abstracts (N = 446) addressing specific Future Earth focal challenges.

i0276-4741-36-4-537-t01.tif

a)

Challenges are quoted from Future Earth 2014a: 6.

The extremely limited interest in the remaining 4 challenges—sustainable consumption, decarbonizing socioeconomic systems, cities, and health—is striking, as at least 3 of these challenges are directly relevant to mountain regions. In particular, hydropower from mountain areas has great potential for contributing to decarbonization (Ahlers et al 2015; Kohler et al 2015; Björnsen Gurung et al 2016; Hastik et al 2016). Furthermore, about 30% of mountain people today live in urban areas (Romeo et al 2015), which poses challenges with regard to city design, sustainable consumption, and health.

A similarly lopsided picture emerged in the distribution of abstracts' topics among the 9 themes of the Future Earth Strategic Research Agenda (Figure 3). A majority of the abstracts addressed focal areas related to the Dynamic Planet theme (A), particularly observation (A1) and understanding (A2), while noticeably fewer focused on forecasting future conditions (A3) was noticeably less in focus. A smaller but still considerable number of abstracts addressed the 2 other main themes: Global Sustainable Development (B) and Transformations towards Sustainability (C).

FIGURE 3 

Future Earth themes (Future Earth 2014a: 12) addressed by Perth III abstracts and their ranking by conference participants as a priority for mountain areas.

i0276-4741-36-4-537-f03.tif

Conference participants' focus on Future Earth themes in their contributions differed substantially from their perceptions of the relevance of those themes for mountains. While the first theme was predominant in the contributions, all 3 themes ranked high (over 3.5 on a 5-point scale) in terms of relevance (Figure 3). This suggests that, while current mountain research is strongly focused on assessing dynamic processes, the mountain research community considers many other research areas important.

An in-depth analysis of this mismatch could be helpful in prioritizing research that can contribute effectively to sustainable development in mountains. A first step in this direction is to drill down into the averages summarized in Figure 3 to the relevance rankings of all 62 Future Earth research priorities. Table 2 lists Perth III participants' 10 highest and lowest priorities, and Table S1, Supplemental materialhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1659/MRDJOURNAL-D-16-00094.S1) explores responses to all 62 priorities in more detail. The main trends in those responses are discussed below.

TABLE 2 

Perth III participants' highest and lowest research priorities in terms of relevance for mountains.

i0276-4741-36-4-537-t02.tif

Differences in personal values and conceptions of sustainable development may lead researchers to assess priorities differently. We therefore investigated whether or not subgroups of mountain researchers varied in their ratings of research priorities. The first comparison made was between biophysical scientists (63% of respondents) and social or sustainable-development scientists (37% of respondents). For just over half of the priorities (33 out of 62), there were no statistically significant differences (at p < 0.05 level) between these 2 groups. For the remaining priorities, the 2 groups differed as expected. Biophysical scientists gave higher ratings to biodiversity and ecosystem trends as well as climate variability; social and sustainable-development scientists' higher ratings fell mainly under the Future Earth themes Global Sustainable Development (B) and Transformation towards Sustainability (C). This is not surprising, given that many of these priorities referred to elements within social systems, including human wellbeing, demographic change, urban systems, governance, markets, and technology.

Similar findings emerged with regard to the influence of interaction with societal partners. The more respondents reported such interactions, the more likely they were to rate highly priorities that referred to human wellbeing or vulnerability. The extent of reported interdisciplinary focus influenced ratings as well, with positive and significant relationships for priorities emphasizing topics relating to social–ecological systems or comparisons across varying contexts.

A new kind of knowledge

The Future Earth 2025 Vision calls for a “new type of science that links disciplines, knowledge systems and societal partners” to shape pathways toward a more sustainable and equitable world (Future Earth 2014b: 2). The analysis of the Perth III sessions by the Science Leadership Council revealed that numerous sessions reflected this plea for collaborative research formulation, implementation, and diffusion of results. It was recognized that transdisciplinary research can be a powerful means to involve various actors in the generation of shared knowledge, as well as to ensure their ownership of research results, including scenarios, models, and future trajectories. This finding is supported by the survey: close to 70% of respondents assessed their work as moderately or even highly inter- and multidisciplinary, and close to 50% work closely with societal partners in the context of their research projects in mountain regions (Figure 4).

FIGURE 4 

Perth III participants' approaches to conducting research in mountain regions.

i0276-4741-36-4-537-f04.tif

However, discussions during sessions and roundtables showed that, in many cases, researchers still view stakeholders mainly as sources of information, not as full partners in the co-design of projects and the co-production of knowledge, as put forward by transdisciplinary research approaches (Pohl et al 2010; Renner et al 2013; Schneider and Rist 2014). Understanding of the true nature of transdisciplinarity and associated research methods still needs more refinement to avoid labeling as transdisciplinary any research involving stakeholders as information sources. Until this is achieved, scientific projects are less likely to have positive transformative impacts (Lang et al 2012). Nevertheless, many of the Science Leadership Council observers felt that the Perth III conference was the first they had attended in which the key role of stakeholders was repeatedly addressed in so many different contexts. It is important to acknowledge the challenge associated with questions about transferability of findings in transdisciplinary research, especially in the face of the highly contextual nature of most such research (Lang et al 2012).

Future directions for mountain research

Together, the Perth conferences and the Future Earth framework provide a unique opportunity to evaluate progress toward sustainability-oriented mountain research and to identify priorities. Over the past 15 years, a number of proposals for mountain research have been published (Becker and Bugmann 2001; Björnsen Gurung et al 2006; Björnsen Gurung et al 2012). All of these have emphasized that sustainable mountain development in the context of global change requires holistic approaches, a conclusion reinforced by our analysis of the Perth III conference. Although the mountain research community is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, it does not yet fully address all aspects of social–ecological systems in the many mountain ranges around the world, nor fully exploit the potential for knowledge co-production that actively advances transformation processes (WBGU 2011: 22; Future Earth 2014a). We therefore make the following propositions for the future directions of mountain research.

Filling geographical gaps in mountain research

Although one would expect more research on mountains in which more people live, the number of research presentations pertaining to mountainous areas in Africa, Latin America, South Asia (apart from the Hindu Kush–Himalaya), and Southeast Asia was not commensurate with these regions' share of mountain areas and mountain populations. As priority funding for all 3 Perth conferences was available to registrants from developing countries and underutilized, we suggest that this under-representation may be due more to a lack of research output, penetration (networking), and perhaps capacity than a lack of travel funding per se.

To overcome the geographic under-representation of African, Latin American, and South and Southeast Asian mountain research, we suggest the following:

  • 1. Engage existing contacts in these regions in a rapid review of the literature, in all languages, to obtain a more complete overview of the research output and capacity in these regions.

  • 2. Encourage participation in long-term capacity-building programs for researchers, especially for those early in their careers. These long-term programs should involve both South–South and North–South exchange. Examples include the 14-year “Uplands program” in the mountains of Southeast Asia (Fröhlich et al 2013), the Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowships ( http://ec.europa.eu/research/mariecurieactions/), and the 12-year Swiss-based National Centre of Competence in Research North-South ( http://www.north-south.unibe.ch; see also Heim et al 2012). The Global Change System for Analysis, Research and Training ( http://start.org/) is another important means for such capacity-building and an existing initiative with which the mountain research community could become more strongly engaged. In addition, regional initiatives such as the University of Central Asia's Mountain Societies Research Institute ( www.ucentralasia.org/Research/MSRI) and the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development's Himalayan University Consortium ( www.icimod.org/huc) are key to strengthening research capacities.

  • 3. Commit to clearly defined, long-term projects that become axes around which research communities can coalesce. Pathfinders in this regard include the Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA:  http://www.gloria.ac.at/), the Global Network of Mountain Observatories (GNOMO:  http://gnomo.ucnrs.org/), the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA:  http://www.gmba.unibe.ch/), and the Mountain Invasion Research Network (MIREN:  www.mountaininvasions.org/).

Filling thematic gaps in mountain research

Research that focuses on mountain areas is place-based and benefits from a social–ecological approach (Ostrom 2009). Compared to the 2 previous conferences, the focus of abstracts accepted for Perth III was more evenly spread over social and ecological systems and the links between them. This is not to say that research in every mountain region benefited from a social-ecological approach, but rather that the research community covers the breadth of interests and competences requisite for interdisciplinary science.

If one accepts the Future Earth focal challenges as a useful description of the scope of research needed, the mountain research community has to significantly expand its scope. Currently, it addresses 4 of the 8 focal challenges well (see Table 1). It shows its origins in conservation through its interest in ecosystem health and the wise use of natural resources, particularly with regard to the water-food-energy nexus and adaptive governance. However, it almost entirely fails to address the remaining 4 focal challenges—health, energy, urbanization, and sustainable economies—although these were all ranked as moderately relevant for mountains. In order to address these shortcomings, we recommend the following:

  • 1. Strengthen the mountain research community's ability to apply an integrated systems approach, using the concept and frameworks of social-ecological systems (Binder et al 2013; Greenwood 2013; McGinnis and Ostrom 2014). While there is general agreement within the community regarding the appropriateness of the social–ecological-systems approach, the development of methodologies for applying this approach still requires a concerted effort. In this context, the Mountain Sentinels Initiative ( http://mountainsentinels.org) is particularly welcome.

  • 2. Identify and engage with social and policy scientists to expand from biophysical foci into the social and policy realms. One means for doing this may be to support social and policy scientists who are already working in mountains to convene special sessions and discussion panels at their disciplinary conferences.

  • 3. Identify researchers who work on the 4 currently under-represented focal challenges and bring them into the community. This effort should include conferring with the few authors at Perth who did address these themes, reviewing the literature to identify other active scientists, and creating new venues for future exchange.

Embracing transformative research

Although the mountain research community clearly believes that all 9 sub-themes of Future Earth are relevant to mountains (Figure 3), this community is still strongly anchored in disciplinary scientific endeavor, as the majority of scientists continue to focus their research on understanding system processes. Fully embracing transformative research that supports sustainable development will require a systemic perspective (WBGU 2011) and will thus challenge the mountain research community to become more diverse, as recommended above. We also recommend the following:

  • 1. Devote more research to understanding how transformation occurs, how it can best be accomplished, and how unintended consequences can be avoided. This focus implies a better understanding of not only the outcomes of scientific research activities, but also their effective communication and utilization. Two relevant examples are the Hindu Kush–Karakorum–Himalaya (HKKH) Partnership project (Amatya et al 2010) and the C3-Alps project, funded by the EU Alpine Space program ( http://www.c3alps.eu/index.php/en/), which brought together the outcomes of a number of previous projects funded by the program.

  • 2. Increase the focus on transformative research. This implies a new emphasis on transformative research as an alternative for standard ecosystem-services approaches that are typically based on valuing ecosystem goods and services and their trade-offs (Gorddard et al 2016). Again, this implies a need for more effective learning, using examples of both failure and success, to foster the necessary inter- and transdisciplinary research.

  • 3. Develop the community's capacity to promote co-production, which replaces the trope of producer and consumer with a vision of a shared quest in which knowledge production is achieved through the active collaboration of scientists and diverse stakeholders. Future Earth's Knowledge-Action Networks ( www.futureearth.org/knowledge-action-networks), for example, provide valuable opportunities for mountain researchers to engage in and promote solution-driven knowledge co-production.

  • 4. Call for funding opportunities that support the inclusion of inter- and transdisciplinary components in funding proposals. For example, this need has been an explicit emphasis in Belmont Forum's recent collaborative research awards on Mountains as Sentinels of Change (Belmont Forum 2016). Drexler et al (2016) and others have also campaigned for more specific calls for proposals for research in mountain areas within the EU's Horizon 2020 program.

Setting up new science frameworks

Around the world, a number of collectives of mountain scientists already exist, both globally (eg the Mountain Research Initiative— http://mri.scnatweb.ch/en/) and at regional scales (eg the Consortium for Integrated Climate Research in Western Mountains— www.fs.fed.us/psw/cirmount/; see also Debarbieux et al 2015). These are important structures within which the recommendations presented above can be taken forward, but other elements of science frameworks also need to be developed or strengthened:

  • 1. Geographies—A conscious awareness on the part of researchers as to the meaning, not just the accuracy, of their work in territorial contexts would improve effectiveness. A key set of issues to be considered and addressed relates to the most effective ways to study mountains and inform action when phenomena do not map to jurisdictional boundaries. This is a particular problem in mountain areas, where mountain ridges often define such boundaries (Price 2015). Research that increases the awareness and recognition of upland–lowland interrelations may be particularly effective in conveying the need for mountain research to funding agencies, policy-makers and other relevant decision makers, as these are predominantly based in lowland areas.

  • 2. Time frames and funding—These elements link to the previous point as well as the need for capacity-building and transformative research. Research funding is typically awarded in 3- to 5-year cycles and may not mesh well with relevant timescales in governance. As funding agencies are unlikely to change their time frames, it might be more productive to convince universities and other research organizations to create institutions with a long-term commitment to a mountain region—as suggested in the call for “centres of excellence” in The Future We Want (United Nations 2012)—and thus create a framework for shorter-term, more focused projects.

  • 3. Partnerships within the scientific community—Since Perth III, Future Earth has begun to develop Knowledge-Action Networks ( www.futureearth.org/knowledge-action-networks), which present particular opportunities for developing mountain research agendas in partnership. Some networks relate to Future Earth's societal challenges, whereas others are cross-cutting. Of the first group, launched this year, those that present the greatest opportunities in relation to mountain research are probably Water-Energy-Food Nexus, Transformations, Natural Assets, and Sustainable Development Goals. The last of these, in particular, shows a clear link between research and policy agendas. As has been done recently in Europe (Drexler et al 2016), emphasizing this link may be crucial to ensuring that mountain researchers contribute not only to increased knowledge, but also to the achievement of the SDGs Sustainable Development Goals in and beyond mountains.

  • 4. Partnerships with other mountain constituencies—In the policy arena, depositing knowledge in the form of reports has been marginally effective in inducing knowledge uptake by policy- or decision-makers. As suggested above, establishing clear links between upland and lowland issues may be particularly effective for communicating the value of sustainable mountain development to policy-makers, as well as for establishing stronger partnerships with other mountain constituencies. As noted at the beginning of this article, the principal documents advocating for sustainable mountain development have emerged from long-term initiatives in which scientists and other mountain stakeholders have worked collaboratively. It is imperative for the mountain research community to strengthen such collaborations with both global structures—such as the Mountain Partnership, Mountain Forum, and World Mountain Forum—and regional institutions, which exist in many parts of the world (Price 2015).

Conclusion

The Perth III conference, like its predecessors, was important not only for exchanging information and strengthening connections within the mountain research community, but also for providing opportunities to assess the state of the art and to propose future directions. The imperatives for transformative research—contributing both to scientific knowledge and to sustainable development in mountain areas and beyond—are clear. This is a challenging process that requires not only an expansion of the mountain research community, but also a shift in science funding and science policy frameworks. Such concerns are currently being tackled at scales beyond the mountains within institutions, such as Future Earth and the Global Change System for Analysis, Research and Training, giving mountain scientists opportunities to create new synergies and play key roles.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

We would like to thank the members of the Mountain Research Initiative Science Leadership Council for their synthesis work at the conference, all the conference session chairs for their input to the session synthesis blogs, and all the conference participants who responded to our survey. Moreover, we would like to thank Hans Hurni (University of Bern Institute of Geography and Centre for Development and Environment) for organizing the final conference roundtable, which contributed elements to the propositions for “new science frameworks.” We also acknowledge thoughtful and constructive feedback on the manuscript from Davnah Payne (Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment). Financial support by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation enabled the synthesis work of the Perth III conference and Swiss National Science Foundation funding from project number 137989 enabled co-author collaboration.

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Appendices

Supplemental material

TABLE S1 Detailed ranking of Future Earth research priorities by Perth III participants.

Found at DOI:  10.1659/MRD-JOURNAL-D-16-00094.S1 (175 KB PDF).

© 2016 Gleeson et al. This open access article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Please credit the authors and the full source.
Erin H. Gleeson, Susanne Wymann von Dach, Courtney G. Flint, Gregory B. Greenwood, Martin F. Price, Jörg Balsiger, Anne Nolin, and Veerle Vanacker "Mountains of Our Future Earth: Defining Priorities for Mountain Research—A Synthesis From the 2015 Perth III Conference," Mountain Research and Development 36(4), 537-548, (1 November 2016). https://doi.org/10.1659/MRD-JOURNAL-D-16-00094.1
Received: 1 March 2016; Accepted: 1 July 2016; Published: 1 November 2016
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