Multiple trajectories of grassland fragmentation, degradation, and recovery in Russia's steppes

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • V. Prishchepov, Alexander
  • Ksenia V. Myachina
  • Johannes Kamp
  • Ilya Smelansky
  • Svetlana Dubrovskaya
  • Roman Ryakhov
  • Dmitriy Grudinin
  • Ilya Yakovlev
  • Ruslan Urazaliyev

Over the 20th century, the Eurasian steppes underwent drastic land-cover changes. Much progress was made studying cropland expansion and the post-1990 (i.e., post-Soviet) agricultural land abandonment in Eurasia. However, the alteration of steppe landscapes may include other disturbances, such as oil and gas development, formal and informal roads and garbage dumps, which were not systematically documented. Considering the example of the steppe Orenburg Province in Russia, we reconstructed agricultural land-cover change dynamics using Landsat and Sentinel-2 imagery from 1990 to 2018. Furthermore, we used very high-resolution imagery and assessed the patterns and determinants of other steppe landscape anthropogenic disturbances. Our study showed that, despite steppe recovery due to widespread cropland abandonment from 1990 to 2018, the steppes, including the recovered steppe patches, underwent fragmentation due to informal roads, oil and gas development, shrub encroachment, garbage dumps and quarries, as well as abandonment of settlements and buildings. Only 6.4% of the sampled 7859 1×1 km blocks in 2018 showing grassland extent had no documented disturbances. The mapped disturbances occurred primarily near settlements and roads, while some disturbances occurred in remote areas. Given the accessibility of steppes, our study calls for a urgent need to systematically document alternatives to agricultural land uses in the steppes of Eurasia and other parts of the global grassland biome.

Original languageEnglish
JournalLand Degradation and Development
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)3220-3235
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors acknowledge funding of the EU FP7 ERA.Net Russia Plus (grant number: 449 CLIMASTEPPE) and DFF‐Danish ERC Support Program (grant number: 116491, 9127‐00001B). The authors also acknowledge funding Goszadanie of Institute of Steppe “Problems of steppe management in the conditions of modern challenges: optimization of the interaction between environmental and socio‐economic systems” No. AAAA‐A21‐121011190016‐1. The authors thank Oleg Bandler, Victor Fedosov, Maria Fokina, Galina Savchenko, Tatiana Zharkih, and Igor Karyakin for their expert evaluations of disturbance impacts on the habitats of selected species as well as Nikolai Sobolev for constructive discussion. We also thank four anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and time.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

    Research areas

  • disturbance, enchroachment, grasslands, informal roads, land abandonment, land-cover change, machine-learning, mining, oil and gas development, recultivation, remote sensing, satellite imagery, steppes

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