Project UNDP/GEF Improving the Coverage and Management Efficiency of Protected Areas in the Steppe Biome of Russia
ПРООН ГЭФ Минприроды России
This website was created and is supported by the UNDP / GEF / Ministry of Russia project "Improving the coverage and management efficiency of protected areas in the steppe biome of Russia"


Steppe – what is it?

Настоящая ковыльная степь с доминированием Stipa zalesski. Север Тургайского плато. Оренбургский заповедник, участок «Ащисайская степь». Светлинский р-н Оренбургской области. Июнь 2010. Фото И.Э. Смелянского Steppe is a semiarid temperate grassland ecosystem that is characterised by the dominance of turf grasses and the absence of trees. Although the climate is called temperate, steppe ecosystems are well used to extreme weather conditions. Soil type is typically chernozem, or chestnut soil. Plants and animals of steppe ecosystems are equally well-adapted to lack of moisture, relentless summer sun, severe frosts and strong winds. In such conditions, trees can only occur in special naturally protected habitats, but shrubs are as common as grasses. Shrubs are usually not taller than grasses and, as such, are resilient to extreme conditions. To the average Russian, who views forests and wild nature as synonyms, steppe comes across as being something abnormal. But, far from being this, steppe is one of the world’s major ecosystem types with its own natural zone on the Eurasian plains and distinct steppe belt in many Eurasian mountain systems. Beyond their zonal distribution, steppe ecosystems can be found in any location where conditions are suitable for them, from the far north down to subtropical latitudes. Steppes are also radically different to forests in their origin.

Steppe has tremendous global biodiversity value and ecological significance. Responsibility for its conservation lies with those countries possessing major grassland areas, including Russia. At the same time, in many areas of Russia, it is only steppe ecosystems that form the basis of the natural environment and provide ecological services that are critically important to human life and agriculture. Worldwide, steppe grasslands are amongst the most disturbed and least protected biomes. This grave situation has been recognised and, in the past decade, has begun to attract much more attention, especially from international institutions and organisations.

Steppes are especially important to Russia. Around two centuries ago, natural steppe ecosystems formed one of the principal bases of Russian agriculture. Chernozem and similar types of soil, the most fertile soils within the steppe ecosystem, formed the foundation of Russian agriculture. Steppe grasslands are also very important for the domestic production of meat, milk, wool and other animal products. For many people in Russia, steppe represents most of all the ’mother landscape’ that is the basis of the cultural and spiritual world.

Steppes represent a major component of Russian biodiversity. Many threatened and endangered plant and animal species live in steppe habitats and within elements of steppe ecosystems. Hundreds of steppe species are endemic and found only within Russia and in neighbouring countries.

As elsewhere in the world, most steppes in Russia have been destroyed – in their place are now found fields, settlements, quarries and mine spoils. Most remaining steppe areas are used as pastures and hayfields, as well as military training areas and hunting grounds. The proportion of steppe ecosystems in Russia’s protected areas is less than 1%, this being the smallest percentage among all types of ecosystems in the country.

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