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Biomes and Regions of Northern Eurasia

Steppe and Forest-steppe

<<< Anthropogenic Transformation of Steppe and Forest-steppe | Biomes & Regions Index | Issues and Problems of Development >>>

The Modern Structure of Land Use

The land use structure in the steppe and forest-steppe developed over centuries and agriculture has played the most important role. There are five major types of land use (Milkov, 1973; Chibilyov, 1992). The first, characterized by the highest degree of transformation, includes urban, industrial and agro-industrial areas, and transport networks. Landscapes of this type account for 2-7 per cent of all the territory in the steppe and forest-steppe. Because these zones accommodate large mining areas, about 200 km2 in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan have been mined (Mordkovich et. al., 1997). The second category includes rural settlements and small agricultural plots of land such as private gardens and allotments. The third and the largest group comprises arable land and pastures. It occupies between 50 per cent and 85 per cent of the total area in European Russia and the Ukraine, and between 30 per cent and 55 per cent in northern Kazakhstan. Agriculture in the steppe zone often relies on irrigation and irrigated lands are among the most strongly transformed landscapes of this group. The fourth category is represented by natural grazing lands (transformed in various extents), hayflelds, and marginal lands, such as ravines, small woodlands, and shrublands. Lands of this type often have a mosaic distribution within the agricultural landscape and have a stabilizing effect on the transformed and disturbed ecosystems. Their share increases eastwards from 5 per cent to 12 per cent in the Ukraine to 37 per cent in northern Kazakhstan. The fifth group comprises riparian woodlands and meadows, vegetated wetlands, and large woodlands. The stabilizing function of these landscapes is particularly important. Floodplains of the large steppe rivers are important centres of biological diversity and are highly productive. They also accommodate agriculturally valuable lands which are central to the development of the region. Lands of this group usually occupy between 3 per cent and 4 per cent of the total territory. Large areas of the steppe, where agricultural development has never advanced, belong to the Russian Ministry of Defence. One such area, the Donguzskaya Steppe, is located to the south of Orenburg and occupies 900 km2. It is the largest fragment in Northern Eurasia of the Stipa-Festuca steppe on the southern chernozems which has never been used for arable agriculture (Chibilyov, 1996; Levykin, 1997). Protected areas account for 0.3-0.8 per cent of the steppe and forest-steppe biomes. The largest protected areas are the Askania Nova nature reserve (11054 ha) in the southern Ukraine and the Orenburgsky (21700 ha) nature reserves in the Orenburg region.

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