As a result of global change, mountain areas are increasingly threatened by invasive alien plants. The Mountain Invasion Research Network (MIREN) initiates and integrates surveys, monitoring, experimental research, and management of plant invasions into mountains at a global scale.
Mountain ecosystems are increasingly threatened by alien plants, and research is urgently needed to understand this problem. Mountains are also useful model systems for ecological research; investigating alien plants along the strong environmental gradients in mountains is a promising approach to understanding the general processes driving invasions. To meet this research challenge, the Mountain Invasion Research Network (MIREN) was launched during an international workshop on plant invasions into mountain regions, held near Vienna (Austria) from 15 to 17 July 2005. The network addresses several important questions:
How great is the threat to mountains from alien plants?
Do plant invasions affect mountain ecosystem services?
What are the main drivers of invasions into mountains?
Are mountain invasions indicators of climate change?
Are there efficient ways of managing mountain invasions?
What can invasion biology learn from mountain systems?
MIREN will operate at 3 levels, including a limited set of core research regions (level 1), an extended set of mountain regions for general surveys and case-specific management projects (level 2), and general information processing that is relevant to all mountain regions (level 3).
MIREN features 6 core high mountain regions (Pacific Northwest [USA], Swiss Alps, Chilean Andes, Australian Alps, Hawaii, and the Canary Islands [Spain]; Figure 1), covering the major climatic zones and including island and continental systems. All core areas will participate in standardized baseline screening and monitoring, and in standardized comparative experiments. The MIREN network of researchers, managers, and practitioners in an extensive set of mountain regions aims to respond to the increasing needs of managing plant invasions into mountains by (i) developing a mechanistic understanding for efficient control; (ii) providing reference databases on mountain invasions; (iii) facilitating exchange of expertise; and (iv) providing specific management guidelines. To achieve these goals MIREN will cooperate with Mountain Biosphere Reserves (MBRs).
MIREN is associated with the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA), one of the 4 transversal networks of DIVERSITAS. In addition, MIREN cooperates closely with the Mountain Research Initiative (MRI; http://mri.scnatweb.ch/). It has also become part of the Global Change in Mountain Regions (GLOCHAMORE) program (see MRI Newsletter 3, MRD Vol 24 No 2, May 2004, and MRI Newsletter 5, MRD Vol 25 No 3, August 2005).
At present, MIREN is developing approaches for an inventory of plant invasions into mountains, including retrieval of existing data and development of survey protocols and a database of non-native plant species in mountains. Initial PhD research projects comparing patterns and processes of plant invasions between the Blue Mountains (Oregon, USA) and the Swiss Alps in a reciprocal approach were begun in 2004.
There is a recent special issue of Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics on plant invasions into mountains (Vol 7 No 3, 2005) bringing together 6 articles that focus upon patterns and processes of plant invasions into mountain ecoregions. This special issue presents a significant portion of the knowledge available today on this topic and will help develop the MIREN research program.
More information on MIREN, including downloadable documents and a questionnaire for anyone interested in the problem of plant invasions into mountains, is available at www.miren.ethz.ch. For further questions contact the project coordinator Christoph Kueffer (firstname.lastname@example.org).