Inselbergs in a changing world — global trends


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Abstract. Based on a review of recent literature, this paper puts forward hypotheses for global trends of inselbergs (isolated mountains) with regard to: (a) their bioclimatic position in relation to the surroundings; (b) their potential for providing habitat niches; and (c) human impacts that may influence ecological processes. This review takes a landscape-level perspective and highlights the challenges ahead in view of changing environmental conditions. Recognizing that inselbergs per se are composed of different microhabitats relative to their surroundings, inselbergs are hypothesized to be bioclimatic ‘islands’ of xeric conditions in a humid matrix in tropical and temperate regions, and ‘islands’ of mesic conditions in arid regions. The bioclimatic status of intermediate positions along this global axis (e.g. semiarid and subtropical savanna regions) is less clear. Here, other environmental variables may be of greater importance (microhabitat composition, size of inselberg, distance to other mountain habitats and biogeographical influences). Whether or not biotic communities match these hypothesized physical and bioclimatic trends warrants investigation and could contribute to explaining global species diversity patterns. Invasion of alien species in tropical and Mediterranean-climate regions, and altered fire regimes and resource use pose threats to inselberg communities. Their role as sources of native species to recolonize disturbed surroundings is important in degraded semiarid and arid regions. A generalized model is proposed hypothesizing possible processes between inselberg habitats and disturbed areas in their surroundings in different climatic regions. This model may help to direct further research towards substantiating these perceived trends.