Mountains, Uplands, Lowlands – European Landscapes from an Altitudinal Perspective

The 27th PECSRL is the first PECSRL meeting to be held in a mountain context and setting. Mountain landscapes represent extreme and exposed locations of great sensitivity and vulnerability. If they are cut through by valleys, they also present great altitudinal ranges, i.e. high relief energy, within small spaces and great habitat diversity in flora and fauna, as well as highly diverse conditions for human settlements and livelihoods. Small-scale diversity and difficult access have left most mountain areas predominantly rural in structure; to this day, they often provide a retreat for ethno-linguistic and cultural minorities. Beauty in such diversity has allowed for outstanding leisure opportunities and tourist landscapes to evolve, at the same time as modern agricultural activities have been withdrawing from these areas. The downside of their special geological, geomorphological and climatic particularities has been a higher potential for natural hazards (i.e. landslides, debris flows, avalanches, floods). We may expect that, as a result of climatic, demographic and socio-economic, change (i.e. abandonment of cultivated land in remote areas and urban sprawl, in the main valleys), natural disasters will intensify, but also that new utilization opportunities may emerge.

However, high mountains cannot be considered solely as closed landscape systems, separate and isolated from adjacent regions. As there are various transitional zones between highlands and lowlands, a clear natural delimitation of mountain landscapes is difficult to establish. In all cases of high mountains on earth, numerous and diverse interactions exist between highlands and lowlands. Mountain ranges supply several provisioning and cultural ecosystem services, not just for the immediate local populations and visitors, but also for adjacent regions: freshwater, energy (hydropower), minerals, pastures, culture, settlement and leisure. In many mountain areas, intensive cultural interchanges have historically taken place between highlands and lowlands. Great civilizations have developed predominantly on coastal areas and along river valleys, as well as in favourable mountain regions, often with intensive mutual interactions. Temporary or permanent migrations between highlands and plains also have a long-standing tradition. Varied and intensive economic exchanges, as well as political influences have always existed between the two spheres.