The Birds and the Trees
The Khazakh Steppe is the largest dry steppe region in the world. Similar to the prairies of North America, steppes are grassland communities with little or no trees. In the Khazakh Steppe, you'll find hundreds of different species of plants, all of them adapted to regular droughts, strong winds, fires, and grazing. And you'll find a rich diversity of hardy mammals equally well-adapted to this environment, including saiga antelopes, corsac foxes, and steppe marmots.
Before being intensively cultivated in the 1950s, the Khazakh Steppe was a broad, continuous belt of grassland stretching from the Ural River to the Altai foothills. Summers here are hot and dry, and winters are cold with very little snow accumulation. In adapting to these conditions, many plants have evolved a "podushka" or cushion-like form--lying close the ground and investing their energy in growing deep root systems. Some parts of this grassland are almost desertlike, but depressions in the landscape retain more moisture and develop into meadow swamps.
You'll find a number of animals in this region that have close relatives in the prairies of North America. The steppe marmot is the Eurasian equivalent of the prairie dog. The saiga antelope is similar to the prairie pronghorn. And the blind mole rat lives its life in underground burrows much as the pocket gopher does. Other species found in this great grassland are steppe pikas, pallid harriers, white-headed ducks, and lesser kestrels.
Cause for Concern
Much of this ecoregion was plowed under in the 1950s, which removed native vegetation cover. Pesticide use was heavy, and many areas were overgrazed. In recent years, though, agricultural activity and associated pesticide use have decreased significantly. But growing threats remain in the form of illegal hunting of wildlife and increased oil development and mining.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001