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Persistent and novel threats to the biodiversity of Kazakhstan’s steppes and semi-deserts

Kamp, Johannes, Koshkin, Maxim A., Bragina, Tatyana M., Katzner, Todd E., Milner-Gulland, E. J., Schreiber, Dagmar, Sheldon, Robert, Shmalenko, Alyona, Smelansky, Ilya, Terraube, Julien, Urazaliev, Ruslan
Biodiversity and conservation 2016 v.25 no.12 pp. 2521-2541
biodiversity, biofuels, climate change, cropland, data collection, databases, habitat destruction, infrastructure, land use change, monitoring, population growth, steppes, surveys, wildlife, wind power, Kazakhstan
Temperate grasslands have suffered disproportionally from conversion to cropland, degradation and fragmentation. A large proportion of the world’s remaining near-natural grassland is situated in Kazakhstan. We aimed to assess current and emerging threats to steppe and semi-desert biodiversity in Kazakhstan and evaluate conservation research priorities. We conducted a horizon-scanning exercise among conservationists from academia and practice. We first compiled a list of 45 potential threats. These were then ranked by the survey participants according to their perceived severity, the need for research on them, and their novelty. The highest-ranked threats were related to changes in land use (leading to habitat loss and deterioration), direct persecution of wildlife, and rapid infrastructure development due to economic and population growth. Research needs were identified largely in the same areas, and the mean scores of threat severity and research need were highly correlated. Novel threats comprised habitat loss by photovoltaic and wind power stations, climate change and changes in agriculture such as the introduction of biofuels. However, novelty was not correlated with threat severity or research priority, suggesting that the most severe threats are the established ones. Important goals towards more effective steppe and semi-desert conservation in Kazakhstan include more cross-sector collaboration (e.g. by involving stakeholders in conservation and agriculture), greater allocation of funds to under-staffed areas (e.g. protected area management), better representativeness and complementarity in the protected area system and enhanced data collection for wildlife monitoring and threat assessments (including the use of citizen-science databases).