Towering Monadnocks Are Islands of Ecology

Desert landscape with a red mesa against a clear sky

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Usually, mountains rise together with each individual peak sloping into the next, forming ranges and chains. Sometimes, however, erosion and local geology combine and allow for a single mountain to stand alone in the middle of an otherwise flat plane. Unlike volcanoes—like Kilermanjaro—which rise from the ground, monadnocks form when a core of hard rock resists erosion as the surrounding softer rock and soil is slowly carried away. Monadnocks like Uluru, seen here, have been recognized as sacred places throughout the world—and throughout human history. Often, however, their height in an otherwise flat landscape creates a unique habitat for plants and animals. Do you have comments on this slideshow? Leave them here. Photo credit: nosha/Creative Commons

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Mount Monadnock, in New Hampshire, may tower above the flat landscape below the White Mountains, but it is certainly not the most impressive monadnock in the world. Still, no discussion of the mountains would be complete without mentioning Mount Monadnock because it is from this Abenaki Indian-named peak that the unique geographic feature gets its name—at least in the United States. Much of the rest of the world calls them inselbergs, a German word that means "island mountain." Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dougtone//Creative Commons

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One of the most impressive monadnocks is Devils Tower, in Wyoming. Most geologists believe this mountain was once a part of a larger volcano: Either the solidified core of a larger mountain or a volcanic "plug" that stopped the formation of harder rock around it. Either way, the softer rock and ash that once covered Devils Tower has long since washed away, leaving an incredible example of a monadnock. Photo credit: backpackphotography/Creative Commons

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If Devils Tower is one of the most impressive monadnocks, Sugar Loaf Mountain, or Pão de Açúcar, is one of the most looked upon. Rising up from the mouth of Guanabara Bay, the peak is visible from much of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. READ MORE: Brazil's New President Vows to Defend the Environment Photo credit: Charlie Phillips/Creative Commons

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Suilven Mountain, seen here on the right, is one of Scotland's most distinctive peaks. Located in a remote part of Northern Scotland, Suilven rises almost vertically from a landscape of bogs and marshes. In 2005, the area was purchased with help from the John Muir Trust, to ensure its future conservation. Photo credit: Englishpointers/Creative Commons

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Towering above Hardangervidda, Northern Europe's largest mountain plateau, is the hat-like monadnock known as Hårteigen. The area around Hårteigen is home to to some of the largest wild reindeer herds in Europe, in addition to other animals like Arctic fox and snowy owl. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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In Madagascar, the Andringitra region is a massif created by volcanic uplift that was uncovered by slow erosion of the surrounding area. The massif is known for its incredible biodiversity, including unique species of animals and more than 1,000 species of plants. Pic Body, seen here, stands as the highest point on the massive. READ MORE: Super-Tiny Chameleon Photographed in Madagascar Photo credit: Effervescing Elephant/Creative Commons

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The Big Pinnacle of Pilot Mountain, in North Carolina, is a remnant of the ancient Sauratown Mountains. Today, it is a protected summit, closed to human visitors, and a excellent example of how monadnocks can harbor unique ecosystems. In the case of Pilot Mountain, the monadnock is home to both Low Elevation Rocky Summit and Pine-Oak Heath ecosystems and numerous species rarely found elsewhere. These species include greenland sandwort, the threatened bear oak, and endangered Appalachian golden banner. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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In Malawi, the Mulanje Massif, sometimes called Mount Mulanje, is a monadnock large enough to change the weather. Rain clouds traveling inland from the coast are caught by the massif and forced to drop their water vapor. The result is a local area with much more annual rainfall than elsewhere in the region. The Mulanje Massif is also home to many unique and endangered species, including the Mulanje Cypress tree, birds like the Thyolo Alethe, and numerous amphibian and lizard species. Indeed, these "island mountains" are often much more than prominent peaks—they are also islands of ecology. Do you have comments on this slideshow? Leave them here. Photo credit: Martin Lopatka/Creative Commons