Animals, Plants, and Habitats

Distant granite dome and clouds reflected in mountain lake
View from mountain lake of Fin Dome and subalpine forest and other vegetation along lake edges, Kings Canyon National Park.

NPS / Talia Chorover

Mountains host a rich assortment of terrestrial and aquatic habitats, which vary across elevations within mountain ranges, and across south-to-north latitudes among mountain ranges.The diversity of habitats are home to a wealth of plants, animals, and other biota. Mountains contribute disproportionately to the Earth’s diversity of life relative to the area they occupy. While mountains account for about 25 percent of the land area on Earth, they are home to more than 85 percent of the world’s amphibians, birds, and mammals, many entirely restricted to mountains.

Mountain ecosystems face numerous threats. The most significant include air pollution, climate change, invasive species, altered fire regimes, and habitat fragmentation outside of parks.
Graphic shows a profile of a mountain range, indicating different vegetation zones from the foothills to montane, subalpine, and alpine areas.
Vegetation zones on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, from the oak woodlands and chaparral shrubland in the low-elevation foothills, to mid-elevation montane forests, subalpine forests that extend to the upper limit of tree growth, and the alpine zone that includes perennial herbs and shrubs.

Illustration by: Justin Hofman and Meryl Goldin Rose

How Do Habitats Vary on Mountains?

One example of a mountain elevation gradient is illustrated by this graphic of vegetation zones across the steep western slope of the Sierra Nevada, in Sequoia National Park. Species diversity typically decreases from low to high elevations, and across latitudes from the Equator toward each pole. Temperature and moisture availability vary across elevations and latitudes, and are important drivers of where plants and animals can live.

Exploring Mountain Life and Habitats

People who visit national parks are often drawn to the solitude and natural environments that parks offer. Viewing wildlife (from safe distances) can be a memorable highlight for park visitors--whether watching a bear foraging in a forest, seeing a hawk soaring overhead, or hearing frogs chorusing in a wetland. Many also time their visits to see the reds and golds of fall foliage or the many-colored wildflowers blooming in mountain meadows. Visit the links below to explore the variety of plants, animals, and habitats of mountain parks.

Learning about Mountain Life

  • Alpine chipmunk on granite rock

    Learn more about animals living in mountain habitats.

  • Purple flowers in a meadow with views of a high peak in background.
    Plant Life

    Explore mountain plant life including conifer and deciduous forests, and alpine and arctic tundra.

  • Green wetland with mountain slopes and trees in background
    Wetlands and Meadows

    Learn about wetlands and the diversity of life they support.

Last updated: December 3, 2020