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Central Asia Mountain Ecosystems

Contact Information

Lead Institution

Regional Environmental Center for Central Asia (CAREC).

Intended Audience

Governments of the Central Asian states; international and national public organizations; nature users and persons using cultural ecosystem services; population of mountainous areas; mass media; educational, scientific, cultural, and health institutions; local self-government; environmental organizations.

Project Summary

The goal of the project is to ensure conservation of mountainous ecosystems and sustainable development of the Central Asian sub-region on the basis of continuous effective regional policy efforts designed to improve interaction of the society with ecosystems. The project tasks include the following:

  • analyzing the current status and magnitude of human-caused transformation of the Central Asia mountainous ecosystems at the local, national, and sub-global levels;
  • identifying causes and effects;
  • assessing the capacity of mountainous ecosystems to provide goods and services;
  • developing and approving a toolbox for an ecological assessment and examination of actions designed to reduce negative influences on ecosystems;
  • developing scenarios of possible ecosystem changes depending on adopted decisions;
  • developing recommendations for decision-making and planning related to conservation and restoration of Central Asia mountainous ecosystems.

Assessment Approach

The assessment consists of pilot projects in the following regions:

  • Northern part of Western Tien-Shan, near Almaty city (Republic of Kazakhstan)
  • Catchment basin of Talass (Kyrgyz Republic)
  • Vorzob gorge, Southern slope of Gissar mountains (Republic of Tajikistan)
  • Kopet-Dag reservation and surroundings (Turkmenistan)
  • Gissarskiy reservation and surroundings, Western Pamir-Altay (Republic of Uzbekistan)


Genetic resources: The mountains of Central Asia, due to their geographic location in the heart of the sub-region and a comprehensive range of altitude belts, are characterized by high biological diversity at the ecosystem, population, and species levels. Mountain ecosystems serve as the place of origin for many cultivated plants and animal breeds, refugia of plants and animal breeds, and gene pool for many globally important species.

Water: The mountains of Central Asia are a unique source of fresh water. Runoff formed in the high altitude mountains charges the large rivers (including the Ili, Shu, Talas, Syrdarya, Amudarya, Zeravshan, Atrek, Karatal, Aksu, Lepsa, etc) in the regions. A cascade of water reservoirs used for irrigation and power generation controls the runoff. Many small rivers start in the foothills as a result of underground runoff discharge. Their water is used to irrigate agricultural land in the piedmont valleys.

Forestry resources: The main forestry resources of the region are concentrated in the mountains of Central Asia. They are the source of timber and fuel wood, fruits, berries, and medicinal plants, and the habitat of various wild animals. The Tien Shan Mountains have a unique spruce forest belt formed by the relic species of Tien Shan spruce. Western Tien Shan still contains much Zeravshan juniper open woodlands. Considerable areas are under wild fruit bearing forests and represent the genetic centers of origin for cultivated varieties of apple, pear, pomegranate, apricot, and other fruit species. Mountainous forests play an important role in water saving, landscape control, oxygen production and carbon dioxide absorption.

The Central Asia Mountains are surrounded by a desert zone, therefore, they are somewhat specific, if compared to the mountain systems of other latitudes: foothills and low altitude areas are overpopulated due to more favorable climatic conditions and a better supply of water, land, pasture, forest, and other resources. The mountain ecosystems play a leading role in sustaining the livelihood of populations in the mountains and adjacent valleys (providing water, fuel, feed for domestic animals, treatment and recreational facilities, etc.)

Mountain ecosystems appear to be highly vulnerable and sensitive to human-made pressures due to a high speed of top-bottom material and energy transfers, which contributes to the threat of natural and human-caused disasters. Increasing exploitation of mountain ecosystems and degradation of biota result in disruption of ecosystem linkages and, as a consequence, reduction of their self-regulating function. The negative effects of human activities in the mountains are demonstrated by an increased occurrence of natural disasters (mudflows, landslides, floods), extremely fast biodiversity losses, water resource reduction, and soil degradation. This, in turn, makes the mountains less appealing in terms of tourism and recreation, negatively affects the revenues of the people populating both the mountains and surrounding valleys (deserts), and promotes the processes of ecosystem destruction. The low living standard and population growth often force the Central Asia governments and populations to compromise, accepting progressive environmental degradation to satisfy the urgent needs of life. People are depleting natural resources without leaving anything to future generations. Such resource depletion ultimately results in a more severe impoverishment of the population.

© 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment  
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