Temperate steppes are areas with a semiarid continental climatic regime in which, despite maximum summer rainfall, evaporation usually exceeds precipitation. Trewartha classifies the climate as BSk; the letter k signifies a cool climate with at least 1 month of average temperatures below 32°F (0°C). Winters are cold and dry, summers warm to hot. The vegetation is steppe, sometimes called shortgrass prairie, and semidesert. Typical steppe vegetation consists of numerous species of short grasses that usually grow in sparsely distributed bunches. Scattered shrubs and low trees sometimes grow in the steppe; all gradations of cover are present, from semidesert to woodland. Because ground cover is generally sparse, much soil is exposed. Many species of grasses and other herbs occur. Buffalo grass is typical of the American steppe; other typical plants are the sunflower and locoweed.
The semi-desert cover is a xerophytic shrub vegetation accompanied by a poorly developed herbaceous layer. Trees are generally absent. An example of semi-desert cover is the sagebrush vegetation of the middle and southern Rocky Mountain region and the Colorado Plateau.
In this climatic regime, the dominant pedogenic process is calcification, with salinization on poorly drained sites. Soils contain a large excess of precipitated calcium carbonate and are very rich in bases. Mollisols are typical in steppe lands. The soils of the semi-desert shrub are Aridisols with little organic content, pedogenic and (occasionally) clay horizons, and (in some places) accumulations of various salts. Humus content is small because the vegetation is so sparse.
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