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Biomes and Regions of Northern Eurasia

Steppe and Forest-steppe

<<< Issues and Problems of Development | Biomes & Regions Index | Arid Environments: Introduction >>>

The Future of the Steppe

Steppe and forest-steppe occupy a vast area in Northern Eurasia, extending as an uninterrupted zone from the Carpathians to the Altay mountains. In contrast to most other biomes, steppes and forest-steppes have been transformed by human activities of which agriculture is the most important. Natural steppe and forest-steppe landscapes have been widely replaced by agricultural ecosystems. In no single steppe or forest-steppe region of Northern Eurasia do protected areas, accommodating pristine ecosystems, occupy more than 1 per cent of the territory. The degree of transformation varies. The Black Soils region of Central Russia has been transformed most radically. The steppe and forest-steppe zones are, therefore, represented by three types of landscape:

  • (1) agricultural landscape with artificially created ecosystems (arable land);
  • (2) pastures and hayfields with strongly modified biota; and
  • (3) protected ecosystems that have experienced only minor changes.

The nature and functions of these landscapes differ. Although protected areas occupy only a fraction of the territory, their role in the protection of biodiversity and sustaining ecological equilibrium is very important. In many regions, such as the Transvolga and northern Kazakhstan, there is still a chance of partial restoration and preservation of biological diversity in the areas untouched by humans. The establishment of the Orenburgsky nature reserve, comprised of fragments of virgin steppe which in the future could serve as 'centres of steppe biodiversity', provides a good example of nature preservation in these biomes (Chibilyov, 1980, 1992, 1993). Another way of partial restoration of steppe ecosystems is the conversion of unproductive arable fields into pastures and hayfields. The share of such lands in the Transvolga and northern Kazakhstan varies between 18 per cent and 30 per cent (Chibilyov, 1992). The situation is different in the European territory where all opportunities to restore steppes were lost a long time ago. Here most important is conservation of small remaining fragments of natural steppes and forest-steppes and regeneration of steppes through the creation of the so-called agrosteppes, the development of which began in the 1980s in the Ukraine and Stavropol region. Agrosteppes are those steppes in which natural species and vegetation communities have been restored using agronomic methods.

Preservation of productivity of arable lands is another important issue. However, in order to do so, the approach to agriculture should be revised (Bekarevich and Masyuk, 1983; Rozanov, 1983; Chibilyov, 1992; Mordkovich et al, 1997; Blokhin, 1997; Klimentiev, 1997). New and more sustainable agriculture should rely on techniques which are well suited for natural conditions of the region; reduction of pressure on arable lands and retaining fragments of natural vegetation among arable fields; anti-erosion measures; prevention of the degrading effects of irrigation on chernozems; and further development of protective woodlands. These measures and techniques have been tested by many generations of scientists and practitioners beginning with Vasily Dokuchaev (1892, 1895) and have proved successful. Possibly in the future, the role of steppe and forest-steppe zones as major food providers may be reduced. They could then again become highly productive natural pastures. This, however, requires protection of natural landscapes across the whole biome so that they can serve as refugia and future centres of dissemination of biological diversity.

<<< Issues and Problems of Development | Biomes & Regions Index | Arid Environments: Introduction >>>



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