Location and General Description
The Kazakh forest steppe is quite different from the forest steppe in European Russia. It is situated 300 to 500 km farther to the north of the similar landscape in European Russia, has a more continental climate, a flat relief and a much higher percentage of wetlands. The northern border of the ecoregion stretches from the Ural Mountains along the southern end of the West Siberian Plain, and south of Novosibirsk it continues to foothills of the Altai and Sayan Mountains. The southern reach stretches along the Russia-Kazakhstan border within Russia, and near Petropavlovsk it crosses the border and reaches the Middle Irtysh River in East Kazakhstan. The width of the forested steppe zone is 150 to 250 km (Gvozdetskiy and Mikhailov 1987).
The climate is continental with hot and windy summers and periodical droughts. The winter lasts 150 to 170 days. The average July temperature is 18° to 20°C, and the average January temperature is -16° to -21°C. Precipitation is 300 to 400 mm, with most of it falling during the first half of the summer. The relief is flat; the elevation varies from 120 to 280 m, and there are numerous blind depressions. A peculiar feature of the eastern portion is "ridges-and-furrows" relief (Gvozdetskiy and Nikolaev 1971). The river network is not dense, part of the zone belonging to blind basins. Shallow lakes are numerous, containing both freshwater and bitter-salt waters. Ground waters are often close to the surface. The zonal soil type is chernozem, and other common types are solod and solonchak. Main vegetation types are meadow-steppe, forest and swamp. Forest vegetation is represented by birch, birch-aspen, and pine forests (Betula pendula, Populus tremula, Pinus sylvestris, and more rarely Betula verrucosa) growing in small groves called "koloks." Other tree species include: Populus nigra, Lonicera tatarica, Padus avium, Rhamnus catharctica, Viburnum opulus and Salix spp. (Gudochkin et al. 1968). Pine forests are situated on sandy soils forming long belts, or so called "ribbon forests." The grass layer of this forest type contains forest species (Vaccinium vitis-idaea, V. myrtillus, Calamagrostis arundinacea, Carex macroura, Chimaphla umbellata) and steppe species (Calamagrostis arundinacea, C. epigeios, Carex supia, Koleria cristata, Aegopodium podagraria, Artemisia commutata) (Vorobyov and Belov 1985). Characteristic plants of the meadowed steppe are: Poa pratensis, Phleum phleoides, Calamagrostis epigeios, Lathyrus pisiformis, Filipendula hexapetala, Artemisia sericea, and Lathyrus tuberosus. Other characteristic species include: Alopecurus ventricosus, Hordeum brevisubulatum, Agropyrum repens, Puccinelia distans, Saussurea amora, and Aster tripolium (Vorobyovand Belov 1985). Dominant species on solonets soil are: Galatella punctata, Glycyrrhiza uralensis, Agropyrum repens, Hordeum brevisubulatum, and others. Swamps are dominated by Phragmites communis, Calamagrosis spp. and Carex spp. (Gvozdetskiy et al. 1987). A specific type of swamp consists of lakes recently filled with deposits. They are covered by: Phragmites communis, Scirpus lacustris, Typha latifolia, Carex spp. and Salix sibirica.
Flora of the ecoregion is enriched by boreal, sub-boreal and steppe species. In total, the West Siberian forest steppe contains 1,250 species representing 459 genera and 93 families (Vorobyov and Belov 1985). The most abundant families are: Asteraceae (47%), Poaceae (38%), Rosaceae (20%), Brassicaceae (31%) and Ranunculaceae (20%). The ribbon forests have 400 species. Rare species in northern Kazakhstan are: Ledum palustre, Oxycoccus palustris, Petasites frigidus, Eriophorum vaginatum, and E. gracile. Epipactis helleborine and Lilium pilosiusculum are listed as rare species for Siberia (Alyokhina 1976). Tertiary relicts are: Cardamine impatiens, Festuca gigantea, and Circaea lutetiana (Polozhiy and Krapivkina 1985).
The ecoregion has common forest and steppe fauna. There is a high diversity of rodents including ground squirrels (Citellus rufescens, C. erythrogenus), hamster (Cricetus cricetus), jerboa (Allactaga saltator), voles (Microtus oeconomus, Clethrionomys rutilus), and steppe lemming (Eremiomys lagurus). Other common species of mammals are wolf (Canis lupus), corsac fox (Vulpes corsac), Siberian polecat (Mustela eversmanni), ermine (Mustela erminea), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), badger (Meles meles), hare (Lepus timidus)and flying squirrel (Pteromys volans)(Gvozdetskiy et al. 1987).
There are only two species of amphibians: common newt (Triturus vulgaris) and frog (Rana terrestris).
Common birds include grey-headed green woodpecker (Picus canus,) jay (Garrulus glandarius), Eurasian roller (Coracias garrulus), swans (Cygnus cygnus, C. olor), greylag goose (Anser anser), ruddy shelduck(Casarca ferruginea), common shelduck (Tadorna tadorna), white-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala), grebes (Colymbus cristatus, C. auritus, C. nigricollis), black tern (Chlidonias nigra), marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus), short-eared owl (Asio flammeus), common snipe (Gallinago gallinago), greenshank (Tringa nebularia), cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), and pelicans (Pelecanus crispus, P. onocrotalus).
Rich in biodiversity, this belt of forest steppe attracted human activities long ago, and landscapes of the ecoregion have been markedly altered. Forests have been repeatedly cut and used for pasturing and hay fields. During the twentieth century, the southern border of forested steppe moved northward as a result of anthropogenic pressure ( Vorobyov and Belov 1985). Ribbon pine forests are subject to frequent fires. Within the ecoregion there are no protected areas. Currently, birch tall-grass forests are close to extinction throughout their range.
First priority for conservation (Zelenaya 1996) should be the small remnants (koloks) of the original birch forests (associations: Poo urssulensis-Betuletum and Peucedano morisoni-Betuletum of the class Brachypodio pinnati-Betuletea (Yermakov et al. 1991) Priority should also be given to the meadow-steppe and swamp ecosystems.
Types and Severity of Threats
The main threat is clear-cutting of kolok forests, followed by conversion to agriculture. Since the end of the nineteenth century, birch forests were most intensively developed for agriculture. Other pervasive threats are overgrazing by domestic animals and set fires.
Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
Located between northern Kazakhstan and southern Russia, this ecoregion forms a transitional zone between broadleaf forests and temperate steppe. In Russia, ecoregion boundaries correspond to those of the forest steppe in the Eastern Kazakh forest province in Kurnaev’s (1990) forest map of the USSR. In Kazakhstan, the ecoregion incorporates all forest-steppe in Pereladova’s (1998) map of Central Asian ecosystems.
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Prepared by: Sergei-Ponomarenko
Reviewed by: Victor Fet