Mountain regions provide diverse goods and services to human society. At the same time, mountain ecosystems are sensitive to rapid global development. Over the past 2 decades the number of papers mentioning “ecosystem services” (ESS) has risen exponentially. While the concept holds great potential to improve the societal relevance of conservation efforts, it is at risk of dying of misuse and reduction to a buzzword. The definitions of the term often compete and the utility of the concept is under debate. The present article reviews the literature on mountain ESS to investigate whether the term was understood correctly by the community, and addresses the question whether ESS is a suitable concept to protect mountain regions. We link land use and other physical properties of terrestrial ecosystems with their capacity to provide ESS with a view to mapping the global supply of ESS and we contrast it with population density data as a proxy for the demand for ESS. The spatially explicit assessment shows that we can distinguish between mountain areas where demand and supply are well balanced from mountain areas where demand and supply are unbalanced. For these different types of mountain regions we suggest different approaches to package the concept of ESS into spatial decision-making.
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