In physical geography, a steppe (Russian: степь, IPA: [stʲepʲ]) is an ecoregion, in the montane grasslands and shrublands and temperate grasslands, savannas and shrublands biomes, characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes. In South Africa, they are referred to as veld. The prairie of North America (especially the shortgrass and mixed prairie) is an example of a steppe, though it is not usually called such. A steppe may be semi-arid or covered with grass or shrubs or both, depending on the season and latitude. The term is also used to denote the climate encountered in regions too dry to support a forest but not dry enough to be a desert. The soil is typically of chernozem type.
Steppes are usually characterized by a semi-arid or continental climate. Extremes can be recorded in the summer of up to 45 °C (113 °F) and in winter, −55 °C (−67 °F). Besides this huge difference between summer and winter, the differences between day and night are also very great. In both the highlands of Mongolia and northern Nevada, 30 °C (86 °F) can be reached during the day with sub-zero °C (sub 32 °F) readings at night.
The mid-latitude steppes can be summarized by hot summers and cold winters, averaging 250–510 mm (10–20 in) of precipitation per year. Precipitation level alone is not what defines a steppe climate; potential evapotranspiration must also be taken into account.
Two types of steppe can be recorded:
The Eurasian Grass-Steppe of the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands had a role in the spread of the horse, the wheel, and the Indo-European languages. The Indo-European expansion and diverse invasions of horse archer civilizations of the steppe eventually led to, e.g., the rise of Mycenaean Greece by amalgamation of Indo-Europeans with the autochthonous pre-Greek population and also its destruction during the Dorian invasion in the Late Bronze Age collapse, followed by the demise of the Achaeans, the spread of the Sea Peoples, and eventually the rise of Archaic and ultimately Classical Greece.
The world's largest steppe region, often referred to as "the Great Steppe", is found in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and neighbouring countries stretching from Ukraine in the west through Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the Altai, Koppet Dag and Tian Shan ranges.
The inner parts of Anatolia in Turkey, Central Anatolia and East Anatolia in particular and also some parts of Southeast Anatolia, as well as much of Armenia and Iran are largely dominated by cold steppe.
Another large steppe area (prairie) is located in the central United States, western Canada and northern part of Mexico. The shortgrass prairie steppe is the westernmost part of the Great Plains region. The Channeled Scablands in Southern British Columbia and Washington State is an example of a steppe region in North America outside of the Great Plains.
In Europe, some Mediterranean areas have a steppe-like vegetation, such as central Sicily in Italy, southern Portugal, parts of Greece in the southern Athens area, and central-eastern Spain, especially the southeastern coast (around Murcia), and places cut off from adequate moisture due to rain shadow effects such as Zaragoza.
In North America this environment is typical of transition areas between zones with a Mediterranean climate and true deserts, such as Reno, Nevada, the inner part of California, and much of western Texas and adjacent areas in Mexico.
The Baraba steppe, also known as Barabinsk steppe, Barabinskaya steppe Russian: Барабинская низменность, is a grassland steppe and wooded flat plain situated in western Siberia.
The steppe has an area of 117,000 km² and stretches between the Irtysh and the Ob Rivers. Barabinsk is the largest city on the steppe. The Baraba steppe also contains an important Russian agricultural district.Bison
Bison are large, even-toed ungulates in the genus Bison within the subfamily Bovinae.
Two extant and six extinct species are recognised. Of the six extinct species, five became extinct in the Quaternary extinction event. Bison palaeosinensis evolved in the Early Pleistocene in South Asia, and was the evolutionary ancestor of B. priscus (steppe bison), which was the ancestor of all other Bison species. From 2 MYA to 6,000 BC, steppe bison ranged across the mammoth steppe, inhabiting Europe and northern Asia with B. schoetensacki (woodland bison), and North America with B. antiquus, B. latifrons, and B. occidentalis. The last species to go extinct, B. occidentalis, was succeeded at 3,000 BC by B. bison.
Of the two surviving species, the American bison, B. bison, found only in North America, is the more numerous. Although commonly known as a buffalo in the United States and Canada, it is only distantly related to the true buffalo. The North American species is composed of two subspecies, the Plains bison, B. b. bison, and the Wood bison, B. b. athabascae, which is the namesake of Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. A third subspecies, the Eastern Bison (B. b. pennsylvanicus) is no longer considered a valid taxon, being a junior synonym of B. b. bison. References to "Woods Bison" or "Wood Bison" from the eastern United States confusingly refer to this subspecies, not B. b. athabascae, which was not found in the region. The European bison, B. bonasus, or wisent, is found in Europe and the Caucasus, reintroduced after being extinct in the wild.
While all bison species are classified in their own genus, they are sometimes bred with domestic cattle (genus Bos) and produce fertile offspring called beefalo or zubron.Corsac fox
The corsac fox (Vulpes corsac), also known simply as a corsac, is a medium-sized fox found in steppes, semi-deserts and deserts in Central Asia, ranging into Mongolia and northeastern China. Since 2004, it has been classified as least concern by IUCN, but populations fluctuate significantly, and numbers can drop tenfold within a single year.It is also known as the steppe fox, and sometimes referred to as the "sand fox", but this terminology is confusing because two other species, the Tibetan sand fox and Rüppell's fox, are also sometimes known by this name. The word "corsac" is derived from the Russian name for the animal, "korsák" (корса́к), derived ultimately from Turkic "karsak". The corsac fox is threatened by hunting for the fur trade.Eurasian Steppe
The Eurasian Steppe, also called the Great Steppe or the steppes, is the vast steppe ecoregion of Eurasia in the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome. It stretches from Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova through Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Xinjiang, and Mongolia to Manchuria, with one major exclave, the Pannonian steppe or Puszta, located mostly in Hungary and partially in Serbia and Croatia.Since the Paleolithic age, the Steppe route has connected Eastern Europe, Central Asia, China, South Asia, and the Middle East economically, politically, and culturally through overland trade routes. The Steppe route is a predecessor not only of the Silk Road which developed during antiquity and the Middle Ages, but also of the Eurasian Land Bridge in the modern era. It has been home to nomadic empires and many large tribal confederations and ancient states throughout history, such as the Xiongnu, Scythia, Cimmeria, Sarmatia, Hunnic Empire, Chorasmia, Transoxiana, Sogdiana, Xianbei, Mongols, and Göktürk Khaganate.Eurasian nomads
The Eurasian nomads were a large group of nomadic peoples from the Eurasian Steppe, who often appear in history as invaders of Europe, the Middle East and China.
The generic title encompasses the varied ethnic groups who have at times inhabited the steppes of Central Asia, Mongolia, and what is now Russia. They domesticated the horse around 3500 BC, vastly increasing the possibilities of nomadic life, and subsequently their economy and culture emphasised horse breeding, horse riding and nomadic pastoralism; this usually involved trading with settled peoples around the steppe edges. They developed the chariot, wagon, cavalry and horse archery and introduced innovations such as the bridle, bit and stirrup, and the very rapid rate at which innovations crossed the steppelands spread these widely, to be copied by settled peoples bordering the steppes.Grassland
Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses (Poaceae); however, sedge (Cyperaceae) and rush (Juncaceae) families can also be found along with variable proportions of legumes, like clover, and other herbs. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica. Grasslands are found in most ecoregions of the Earth. For example, there are five terrestrial ecoregion classifications (subdivisions) of the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome (ecosystem), which is one of eight terrestrial ecozones of the Earth's surface.Kazakh Steppe
The Kazakh Steppe (Kazakh: Qazaq dalasy, Қазақ даласы, also Uly dala, Ұлы дала "Great Steppe"), also called the Great Dala, ecoregion, of the Palearctic temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome, is a vast region of open grassland in northern Kazakhstan and adjacent portions of Russia, extending to the east of the Pontic steppe and to the west of the Emin Valley steppe, with which it forms part of the Eurasian steppe. Before the mid-nineteenth century it was called the Kirghiz steppe, 'Kirghiz' being an old name for the Kazakhs.Kurgan hypothesis
The Kurgan hypothesis (also known as the Kurgan theory or Kurgan model) or steppe theory is the most widely accepted proposal to identify the Proto-Indo-European homeland from which the Indo-European languages spread out throughout Europe, Eurasia and parts of Asia. It postulates that the people of a Kurgan culture in the Pontic steppe north of the Black Sea were the most likely speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE). The term is derived from the Russian kurgan (курга́н), meaning tumulus or burial mound.
The Kurgan hypothesis was first formulated in the 1950s by Marija Gimbutas, who used the term to group various cultures, including the Yamnaya, or Pit Grave, culture and its predecessors. David Anthony instead uses the core Yamnaya culture and its relationship with other cultures as a point of reference.
Marija Gimbutas defined the Kurgan culture as composed of four successive periods, with the earliest (Kurgan I) including the Samara and Seroglazovo cultures of the Dnieper–Volga region in the Copper Age (early 4th millennium BC). The people of these cultures were nomadic pastoralists, who, according to the model, by the early 3rd millennium BC had expanded throughout the Pontic–Caspian steppe and into Eastern Europe.Three genetic studies in 2015 gave partial support to Gimbutas's Kurgan theory regarding the Indo-European Urheimat. According to those studies, haplogroups R1b and R1a, now the most common in Europe (R1a is also common in South Asia) would have expanded from the Russian and Ukrainian steppes, along with the Indo-European languages; they also detected an autosomal component present in modern Europeans which was not present in Neolithic Europeans, which would have been introduced with paternal lineages R1b and R1a, as well as Indo-European languages.Mongolian-Manchurian grassland
The Mongolian-Manchurian grassland ecoregion, also known as the Mongolian-Manchurian steppe, in the temperate grassland Biome, is found in Mongolia, the Chinese Autonomous region of Inner Mongolia and northeastern China.Palearctic realm
The Palearctic or Palaearctic is one of the eight biogeographic realms on the Earth's surface, first identified in the 19th century, and still in use today as the basis for zoogeographic classification. The Palearctic is the largest of the eight realms. It stretches across all of Europe, Asia north of the foothills of the Himalayas, North Africa, and the northern and central parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
The realm consists of several ecoregions: the Euro-Siberian region; the Mediterranean Basin; the Sahara and Arabian Deserts; and Western, Central and East Asia. The Palaearctic realm also has numerous rivers and lakes, forming several freshwater ecoregions. Some of the rivers were the source of water for the earliest recorded civilizations that used irrigation methods.Patagonian Desert
The Patagonian Desert, also known as the Patagonian Steppe or Magellanic Steppe, is the largest desert in Argentina and is the 8th largest desert in the world by area, occupying 673,000 square kilometers (260,000 mi2). It is located primarily in Argentina with small parts in Chile and is bounded by the Andes, to its west, and the Atlantic Ocean to its east, in the region of Patagonia, southern Argentina. To the north the desert grades into the Cuyo Region and the Pampas. The central parts of the steppe are dominated by shrubby and herbaceous plant species albeit to the west, where precipitation is higher, bushes are replaced by grasses. Topographically the deserts consist of alternating tablelands and massifs dissected by river valleys and canyons. The more western parts of the steppe host lakes of glacial origin and grades into barren mountains or cold temperate forests along valleys.
Inhabited by hunter-gatherers since Pre-Hispanic times, the desert faced migration in the 19th century of Mapuches, Chileans, Argentines, Welsh, and other European peoples, transforming it from a conflictive borderland zone to an integral part of Argentina, with cattle, sheep and horse husbandry being the primary land uses.Pontic–Caspian steppe
The Pontic–Caspian steppe, or Pontic steppe is the vast steppeland stretching from the northern shores of the Black Sea (called Euxeinos Pontos [Εὔξεινος Πόντος] in antiquity) as far east as the Caspian Sea, from Moldova and eastern Ukraine across the North Caucasus Federal District, Southern Federal District and the Volga Federal District of Russia to western Kazakhstan, forming part of the larger Eurasian steppe, adjacent to the Kazakh steppe to the east. It is a part of the Palearctic temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands ecoregion of the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome.
The area corresponds to Cimmeria, Scythia, and Sarmatia of classical antiquity. Across several millennia the steppe was used by numerous tribes of nomadic horsemen, many of which went on to conquer lands in the settled regions of Europe and in western and southern Asia.
The term Ponto-Caspian region is used in biogeography for plants and animals of these steppes, and animals from the Black, Caspian, and Azov seas. Genetic research has identified this region as the most probable place where horses were first domesticated.According to a theory, called Kurgan hypothesis in Indo-European studies, the Pontic–Caspian steppe was the homeland of the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language, and these same speakers were the original domesticators of the horse.Scythians
The Scythians (; from Greek Σκύθης, Σκύθοι), also known as Scyth, Saka, Sakae, Sai, Iskuzai, or Askuzai, were Eurasian nomads, probably mostly using Eastern Iranian languages, who were mentioned by the literate peoples to their south as inhabiting large areas of the western and central Eurasian Steppe from about the 9th century BC up until the 4th century AD. The "classical Scythians" known to ancient Greek historians, agreed to be mainly Iranian in origin, were located in the northern Black Sea and fore-Caucasus region. Other Scythian groups documented by Assyrian, Achaemenid and Chinese sources show that they also existed in Central Asia, where they were referred to as the Iskuzai/Askuzai, Saka (Old Persian: Sakā; New Persian/Pashto: ساکا; Sanskrit: शक Śaka; Greek: Σάκαι; Latin: Sacae), and Sai (Chinese: 塞; Old Chinese: *sˤək), respectively.The relationships between the peoples living in these widely separated regions remains unclear, and the term is used in both a broad and narrow sense. The term "Scythian" is used by modern scholars in an archaeological context for finds perceived to display attributes of the wider "Scytho-Siberian" culture, usually without implying an ethnic or linguistic connotation. The term Scythic may also be used in a similar way, "to describe a special phase that followed the widespread diffusion of mounted nomadism, characterized by the presence of special weapons, horse gear, and animal art in the form of metal plaques". Their westernmost territories during the Iron Age were known to classical Greek sources as Scythia, and in the more narrow sense "Scythian" is restricted to these areas, where the Scythian languages were spoken. Different definitions of "Scythian" have been used, leading to a good deal of confusion.The Scythians were among the earliest peoples to master mounted warfare. They kept herds of horses, cattle and sheep, lived in tent-covered wagons and fought with bows and arrows on horseback. They developed a rich culture characterised by opulent tombs, fine metalwork and a brilliant art style.
In the 8th century BC, they possibly raided Zhou China. Soon after, they expanded westwards and dislodged the Cimmerians from power on the Pontic Steppe. At their peak, Scythians came to dominate the entire steppe zone, stretching from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to central China (Ordos culture) and the south Siberia (Tagar culture) in the east, creating what has been called the first Central Asian nomadic empire, although there was little that could be called an organised state.Based in what is modern-day Ukraine, Southern European Russia and Crimea, the western Scythians were ruled by a wealthy class known as the Royal Scyths. The Scythians established and controlled the Silk Road, a vast trade network connecting Greece, Persia, India and China, perhaps contributing to the contemporary flourishing of those civilisations. Settled metalworkers made portable decorative objects for the Scythians. These objects survive mainly in metal, forming a distinctive Scythian art. In the 7th century BC, the Scythians crossed the Caucasus and frequently raided the Middle East along with the Cimmerians, playing an important role in the political developments of the region. Around 650–630 BC, Scythians briefly dominated the Medes of the western Iranian Plateau, stretching their power to the borders of Egypt. After losing control over Media, the Scythians continued intervening in Middle Eastern affairs, playing a leading role in the destruction of the Assyrian Empire in the Sack of Nineveh in 612 BC. The Scythians subsequently engaged in frequent conflicts with the Achaemenid Empire. The western Scythians suffered a major defeat against Macedonia in the 4th century BC and were subsequently gradually conquered by the Sarmatians, a related Iranian people from Central Asia. The Eastern Scythians of the Asian Steppe (Saka) were attacked by the Yuezhi, Wusun and Xiongnu in the 2nd century BC, prompting many of them to migrate into South Asia, where they became known as Indo-Scythians. At some point, perhaps as late as the 3rd century AD after the demise of the Han dynasty and the Xiongnu, Eastern Scythians crossed the Pamir Mountains and settled in the western Tarim Basin, where the Scythian Khotanese and Tumshuqese languages are attested in Brahmi scripture from the 10th and 11th centuries AD. The Kingdom of Khotan, at least partly Saka, was then conquered by the Kara-Khanid Khanate, which led to the Islamisation and Turkification of Northwest China. In Eastern Europe, by the early Medieval Ages, the Scythians and their closely related Sarmatians were eventually assimilated and absorbed (e.g. Slavicisation) by the Proto-Slavic population of the region.Semi-arid climate
A semi-arid climate or steppe climate is the climate of a region that receives precipitation below potential evapotranspiration, but not as low as a desert climate. There are different kinds of semi-arid climates, depending on variables such as temperature, and they give rise to different biomes.Siberia
Siberia (; Russian: Сиби́рь, tr. Sibír';, IPA: [sʲɪˈbʲirʲ] (listen)) is an extensive geographical region spanning much of Eurasia and North Asia. Siberia has historically been a part of modern Russia since the 17th century.
The territory of Siberia extends eastwards from the Ural Mountains to the watershed between the Pacific and Arctic drainage basins. The Yenisei River conditionally divides Siberia into two parts, Western and Eastern. Siberia stretches southwards from the Arctic Ocean to the hills of north-central Kazakhstan and to the national borders of Mongolia and China. With an area of 13.1 million square kilometres (5,100,000 sq mi), Siberia accounts for 77% of Russia's land area, but it is home to approximately 36 million people—27% of the country's population. This is equivalent to an average population density of about 3 inhabitants per square kilometre (7.8/sq mi) (approximately equal to that of Australia), making Siberia one of the most sparsely populated regions on Earth. If it were a country by itself, it would still be the largest country in area, but in population it would be the world's 35th-largest and Asia's 14th-largest.
Worldwide, Siberia is well known primarily for its long, harsh winters, with a January average of −25 °C (−13 °F), as well as its extensive history of use by Russian and Soviet administrations as a place for prisons, labor camps, and exile.Steppe eagle
The steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis) is a bird of prey. Like all eagles, it belongs to the family Accipitridae. It was once considered to be closely related to the non-migratory tawny eagle (Aquila rapax) and the two forms have previously been treated as conspecific. They were split based on pronounced differences in morphology and anatomy; two molecular studies, each based on a very small number of genes, indicate that the species are distinct but disagree over how closely related they are.Steppe polecat
The steppe polecat (Mustela eversmanii), also known as the white or masked polecat, is a species of mustelid native to Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN because of its wide distribution, occurrence in a number of protected areas, and tolerance to some degree of habitat modification.
It is generally of a very light yellowish colour, with dark limbs and a dark mask across the face. Compared to its relative, the European polecat, the steppe polecat is larger in size and has a more powerfully built skull.The steppe polecat is a nomadic animal which typically only settles in one area until its prey, mainly ground squirrels, are extirpated. It mates from March to May, and generally gives birth to litters of three to six kits, which attain their full growth at the age of two years. It hunts for larger prey than the European polecat, including pikas and marmots.Syrian Desert
The Syrian Desert (Arabic: بادية الشام, Bādiyat al-Shām), also known as the Syrian steppe, the Jordanian steppe, or the Badia, is a region of desert, semi-desert and steppe covering 500,000 square kilometers (200,000 square miles) of the Middle East, including parts of south-eastern Syria, northeastern Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia, and western Iraq. It accounts for 85% of the land area of Jordan and 55% of Syria. To the south it borders and merges into the Arabian Desert. The land is open, rocky or gravelly desert pavement, cut with occasional wadis.Temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands
Temperate grasslands, savannahs, and shrublands is a terrestrial habitat type defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature. The predominant vegetation in this biome consists of grass and/or shrubs. The climate is temperate and ranges from semi-arid to semi-humid. The habitat type differs from tropical grasslands in the annual temperature regime as well as the types of species found here.The habitat type is known as prairie in North America, pampas in South America, veld in Southern Africa and steppe in Asia. Generally speaking, these regions are devoid of trees, except for riparian or gallery forests associated with streams and rivers.Steppes/shortgrass prairies are short grasslands that occur in semi-arid climates. Tallgrass prairies are tall grasslands in areas of higher rainfall. Heaths and pastures are, respectively, low shrublands and grasslands where forest growth is hindered by human activity but not the climate.
Tall grasslands, including the tallgrass prairie of North America, the north-western parts of Eurasian steppe (Ukraine and south of Russia) and the Humid Pampas of Argentina, have moderate rainfall and rich soils which make them ideally suited to extensive agriculture, and tall grassland ecoregions include some of the most productive grain-growing regions in the world. The expanses of grass in North America and Eurasia once sustained migrations of large vertebrates such as buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), saiga (Saiga tatarica), and Tibetan antelopes (Pantholops hodgsoni) and kiang (Equus hemionus). Such phenomena now occur only in isolated pockets, primarily in the Daurian Steppe and Tibetan Plateau.The floral communities of the Eurasian steppes and the North American Great Plains, have been largely extirpated through conversion to agriculture. Nonetheless, as many as 300 different plant species may grow on less than 3 acres of North American tallgrass prairie, which also may support more than 3 million individual insects per acre. The Patagonian Steppe and Grasslands are notable for distinctiveness at the generic and familial level in a variety of taxa.