Restoring steppe landscapes: patterns, drivers and implications in Russia’s steppes

Robert Pazur*, Alexander V. Prishchepov, Ksenya Myachina, Peter H. Verburg, Sergey Levykin, Elena V. Ponkina, Grigory Kazachkov, Ilya Yakovlev, Renat Akhmetov, Natalia Rogova, Matthias Bürgi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Context: Agricultural land abandonment across the steppe belt of Eurasia has provided an opportunity for the restoration of steppe landscapes in recent decades. However, global food demands are about to revert this trajectory and put restored steppe landscapes at risk. Objectives: We analysed steppe development in southern Russia in the last 40 years, assessed its spatial patterns and drivers of change for several periods. Methods: Using Landsat imagery, we mapped the permanent steppe and steppe restoration from 1990 to 2018. Based on regression tree models, we evaluate and explain its dynamics. Results were compared with district-level trends in land-use intensities of cropland. Results: We found 70% of the steppe in 2018 represented permanent steppe and 30% of former cropland dominantly abandoned in the postsocialism (1990–2000). The permanent steppe and steppe restored in the postsocialism (1990–2000) were located far from settlements, on rough terrain and in districts of the Virgin Land Campaign (1954–1963). In recent decades, the patterns of steppe restoration (2000–2018) were mostly determined by unfavourable agroclimatic conditions and distance from grain storage facilities. The restoration pattern reflects regional differences in land-use intensities, e.g., isolated steppe patches mostly appeared in areas of intensive agricultural land-use. Conclusions: Steppe restoration has appeared in areas marginal for agricultural production, with poor natural conditions and little human footprint. Consequently, the permanent steppe became less fragmented and a more continuous steppe landscape resulted. The remaining isolated steppe patches require attention in restoration programs as they are mostly located in areas of intensive agricultural land-use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-425
Number of pages19
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number2
Early online date28 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge funding of EU FP7 ERA.Net Russia Plus (Grant Number: 449 CLIMASTEPPE), funding for the Scientific Research of the OFRC UrB RAS - Institute of Steppe UrB RAS No. AAAA-A19-119080190044-5), DFF-Danish ERC Support Program (Grant Numbers: 116491, 9127-00001B). We also thank Alexander Tsypin for statistical data preparation and Dr. Alexander Chibilyev for the project's overall support and advice. We thank Curtis Gautschi for professional language editing and the two anonymous reviewers whose comments considerably improved the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Agricultural land abandonment
  • Driving forces
  • Eurasia
  • Land cover
  • Land-use
  • Land-use intensity
  • Remote sensing
  • Spatial determinants
  • Steppe


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