Kazakh forest steppe

Content Cover Image

Alasy wetlands, Russia (Photograph by WWF-Canon/Hartmut Jungius)

The Kazakh forest steppe is quite distinct from the forest steppe in European Russia. Situated 300 to 500 kilometers (km) to the north, it has a more continental climate and many more wetlands. Flora of the ecoregion is enriched by species from surrounding boreal, sub-boreal, and steppe regions. In total, the West Siberian forest steppe contains 1250 species representing 459 genera and 93 families. Common fauna of forest and steppe coexist here. There is a high diversity of rodents especially ground squirrels, hamster, jerboa, vole and steppe lemming.

Location and General Description

caption WWF

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.

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 millimeters (mm), with most of it falling during the first half of the summer. The relief is flat; the elevation varies from 120 to 280 meters (m), and there are numerous blind depressions. A peculiar feature of the eastern portion is "ridges-and-furrows" relief. 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. 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). 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. 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. 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.

Biodiversity Features

Flora of the ecoregion is enriched by boreal, sub-boreal, and steppe species. In total, the West Siberian forest steppe contains 1250 species representing 459 genera and 93 families. 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. Tertiary relicts are: Cardamine impatiens, Festuca gigantea, and Circaea lutetiana.

caption Eastern imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca) (Photograph by Keith Channing, The Hawk Conservancy)

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).

There are only two species of amphibians in this ecoregion: 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).

caption Naurzum Nature Reserve, northern Kazakhstan (Photograph by Heather Triplet)


Current Status

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. 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 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. 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 forest map of the USSR. In Kazakhstan, the ecoregion incorporates all forest-steppe in Pereladova’s map of Central Asian ecosystems.

Additional Information on this Ecoregion

Further Reading

  • Alyokhina, A. F. 1976. Zakonomernosti razmeshchenia topol'nikov v poime Obi i povyshenie ikh khozyayistvennoi roli. In: Povyshenie effektivnosti lesnogo khozyayistva v Zapadnoi Sibiri. Novosibirsk: Nauka, pp. 137-142 (Communities of Populus spp. in the Ob’ River flood plain).
  • Gvozdetskiy, N.A and N.I. Mikhailov. 1987. Fizicheskaya geografiya SSSR. Aziatskaya chast. Moskva: Vysshaya shkola.– 448 pp. (Physical geography of the USSR. Asian part).
  • Gvozdetskiy, N.A. and V.A. Nikolaev. 1971. Kazakhstan. Moskva: Mysl'. 296 p.
  • Gudochkin, M.V., O.E. Mikhailenko, and L.I. Stepanov. 1968. Lesa Kazakhstana. Chast' II. Alma-Ata:Kainar", pp. 176-179. (Forests of Kazakhstan).
  • Kurnaev, S. 1990. Forest regionalization of the USSR (1:16,000,000) Moscow: Dept. of Geodesy and Cartography
  • Pereladova, O., V. Krever and M. Williams. 1997. Biodiversity Conservation in Central Asia. Moscow.
  • Polozhiy, A. V. and E.D. Krapivkina. 1985. Relicty tretichnykh shirokolistvennykh lesov vo flore Sibiri. Tomsk: Izdatel'stvo TGU158 pp. (Relicts of the Tertiary broadleaved forests in the Siberian flora).
  • Vorobyov, V. V. and A.V. Belov, editors. 1985. Rastitelnyi pokrov Zapadno-Sibirskoi ravniny. Novosibirsk, Nauka. 251 pp. (Vegetation of the West Siberian plain).
  • Yermakov, N. B., A.U. Korolyuk, and N.N. Lakshinskiy. 1991. Floristicheskaya klassifikatsiya mezophil'nykh travyanyh lesov Yuzhnoi Sibiri. – Novosibirsk: Nauka. 96 pp. (Floristic classification of mesic forests of Southern Siberia).
  • Zelyonaya kniga Sibiri/ Redkie i nuzhshdayushchyesya v okhrane rastitel'nye soobshchestva. 1996. Novosibirsk: Nauka. 396 pp. (Green book of Siberia. Rare and endangered plant communities).


Disclaimer: This article contains information that was originally published by the World Wildlife Fund. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth have edited its content and added new information. The use of information from the World Wildlife Fund should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.








Fund, W. (2014). Kazakh forest steppe. Retrieved from


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