Chaire AXA The Impact of Global Change on Mountains: Assessing the Threat to Nature’s Water Towers

Whether we live in cities, in rural areas or in remote areas like mountains, we depend on nature and biodiversity for the air we breathe, the water we drink and our food supply.

While mountain ecosystems have hundreds of thousands of species coexisting in a fragile natural balance, human-induced pressures - climate change, pollution, land use - are hurting this biodiversity.



This results show that the quality of our food is in decline as well as a decrease in clean drinking water resources, and the risk of diseases for animal species and for humans.


Prof. Dirk Schmeller, holder of the AXA Chair on Functional Mountain Ecology at the Toulouse INP-ENSAT, received on the 13th of July the INP INNOV’ price from Olivier SIMONIN, Toulouse INP President. The creation of this research programme comes in response to the recognition that despite the importance of freshwater for human society, studies on ecosystem health in relationship to global change, pollution and pathogens remain scarce. The overall objective will be to deliver estimates of global change impacts for mountain ranges and their biodiversity in order to better understand the degree of threat to human well-being and wildlife.


To do so, Prof. Dirk Schmeller and his team have set up an ambitious research program that will not only involve fieldwork in the Pyrenees, only a step away from Toulouse, but also in other mountain areas all over the globe, including the Sierra Nevada (United-States), the Dhofar Mountains (Oman), and the Zhongyang Mountain range (Taiwan). In these regions, the researchers will collect samples from small water bodies and streams, notably looking for fluctuations among different types of organisms, including microorganisms, such as planktonic species or biofilms, as well as key species like amphibians, who are good indicators of critical ecological change.



“Public opinion often considers the mountain as an intact place, distant from the sources of pollution and the impact of the human. In reality, mountains have sensitive ecosystems and are at the forefront of the impacts of climate change and global change. High mountain freshwater ecosystems are affected by climate change and pollution. It is the resources of 50% of humanity that are threatened! There is an urgent need to estimate the impact of human activity on mountain ranges in order to understand the degree of threat to ecosystems and to humans.

The IPBES global assessment report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is clear: Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history with grave impacts on people around the world now likely. The UN is calling for transformative change in the coming 20 years. Our project fits into this framework and aims to contribute to raising awareness and implementing good practices”


Regarding EcoLab

This work will be conducted within the Laboratoire Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Environnement (EcoLab, UMR 5245 INP-CNRS-UPS) on the Toulouse INP-ENSAT site. EcoLab is particularly interested in studying the responses of organisms, communities, ecosystems and their interrelationships to external pressures and in enhancing this work by developing applied research to meet society's expectations. Toulouse INP-ENSAT is one of the five National Schools of Agronomy in France. Every year, 170 engineers graduated from Toulouse INP-ENSAT in the fields of agronomy, agro-food, agro-industries, management and the environment.


Regarding the AXA Research Fund

The AXA Research Fund aims to support the development and dissemination of scientific research in order to build a better future. For more than 10 years, the Fund has supported nearly 600 research projects carried out by scientists from 58 nationalities in 35 countries, with a financial commitment of 189 million euros.


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