Fieldwork: Grasslands across Eurasia

For the first post in our new fieldwork section on the blog, Salza Palpurina has shared some photos taken by her colleagues related to her recently published Journal of Ecology paper; The type of nutrient limitation affects the plant species richness–productivity relationship: Evidence from dry grasslands across Eurasia. 


Altai Mountains, Ongudai district, Altai Republic, Russia (Photo: S. Kubešová, text: M. Chytrý). 

One of the fascinating sites that we sampled for our study was the river terraces at the confluence of the Katun and Chuya Rivers in the central part of the Russian Altai Mountains. These huge terraces were created by cataclysmic floods resulting from the outburst of glacier-dammed lakes at the end of the Pleistocene (Baker et al., 1993). Here we worked on a dry steppe with Artemisia obtusiloba, Cleistogenes squarrosa and Potentilla acaulis.


Osakarovka, Karagandy region, Kazakhstan (Photo: S. Kubešová, text: M. Chytrý).

A really great thing about Kazakhstan is that you can stop nearly anywhere in a huge steppe landscape, build your camp, sample vegetation, work there with a herbarium and dry your biomass samples, stay overnight and continue your trip to the next site in the morning. Here we are camping and sampling in a steppe co-dominated by three feather-grass species: Stipa korshinskyi, S. lessingiana and S. zalesskii.


Burevestnik, Kustanai region, Kazakhstan (Photo and text: M. Freitag) 

Norbert Hölzel negotiating cover estimates with the Kazakh geobotanist Tatyana Sidorova. Estimating cover in the dry steppes of Kazakhstan was not easy, as closely related feathergrass species (Stipa) could easily be confused. At the southern edge of the dry steppe zone in northern Kazakhstan vast and completely treeless steppe grasslands still prevail with feather grasses (Stipa lessingiana, S. sareptana) and wormwood species (Artemisia austriaca, A. nitrosa) as dominants. Due to the large scale cessation of livestock grazing since the collapse of the Soviet Union, dominance of feather grasses (Stipa sp.) has significantly increased in recent years. This process is enhanced by litter accumulation and subsequent increase in fire frequency.


Moskolevka, Kustanai region, Kazakhstan (photo and text: M. Freitag)

Tatyana Sidorova and Martin Freitag enjoying the mass flowering of Medicago falcata, an abundant legume in the herb-rich steppes of northern Kazakhstan. Unlike the steppes of the southern dry steppe zone which are dominated by tussock grasses of the genus Stipa, these more humid steppes in the north are much richer in herbs creating waves of colourful flowering aspects throughout May and June. Such herb-rich and more productive steppes are often used for hay-making.


Korgalzhyn, Akmola region, Kazakhstan (photo and text: N. Hölzel)

Vegetation and biomass sampling in the dry steppe dominated by Stipa lessingiana and Serratula kirghisorum on strongly loamy calcareous soils ca. 150 m south-west of Astana in central northern Kazakhstan. The so-called ”Tabletka”, a Russian four wheel army ambulance car from soviet times is an ideal expedition vehicle used to reach remote places in the steppe on bumpy dirt roads. Heavy, loamy soils with desiccation cracks as in this scene may be impassable for days after heavy rainfalls bring about enforced days off during field sampling campaigns.


Ukok plato, Russia (Photo and text: P. Hájková)

Our fieldwork on the high-mountain Ukok plateau (~2500 m a.s.l.) in the southern Russian Altai had an amazing view of the more than 3000 m high glacier-covered mountains demarcating the border with Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan. This region is typical by a mosaic of steppe and tundra habitats and complete absence of trees (see Chytrý et al., 2018). Our expedition car GAZ-66 was very useful for crossing the wild glacier rivers.


Camping site by Kara-Chad brook, Ukok plateau, Russia (Photo and text: P. Hájková)

Expedition camping site in the treeless Ukok plateau with many rivers and lakes. While we were recording vegetation and collecting new samples on the slopes in steppe-tundra, samples from previous days (herbarium specimens, biomass samples and soil samples) were sun-drying among our tents. Days in mid-summer were quite hot there, but in the morning our tents and also plants were covered by hoarfrost.

If you would like to contribute some fieldwork photos to the blog, please get in touch with the blog team

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