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Cultural monuments and nature conservation: a review of the role of kurgans in the conservation and restoration of steppe vegetation

Deák, Balázs, Tóthmérész, Béla, Valkó, Orsolya, Sudnik-Wójcikowska, Barbara, Moysiyenko, Ivan I., Bragina, Tatyana M., Apostolova, Iva, Dembicz, Iwona, Bykov, Nikolay I., Török, Péter
Biodiversity and conservation 2016 v.25 no.12 pp. 2473-2490
afforestation, anthropogenic activities, cropland, ecosystems, fauna, flora, highlands, lowlands, natural resources conservation, plowing, species diversity, steppes, Eastern European region
Steppe is among the most endangered biomes of the world, especially in Eastern Europe, where more than 90 % of original steppes have been destroyed due to conversion into croplands, afforestation and other human activities. Currently, steppe vegetation is often restricted to places unsuitable for ploughing, such as ancient burial mounds called kurgans. The aim of our study was to collect and synthesise existing knowledge on kurgans by a review of research papers and grey literature. The proportion of kurgans covered by steppe vegetation increases from west to east and from lowlands to uplands. Despite their small size, kurgans act as biodiversity hotspots and harbour many red-listed species. High overall species richness and a high proportion of grassland specialists are maintained by a pronounced fine-scale environmental heterogeneity. The main factors threatening the biodiversity of kurgans are intensified agriculture and construction works. We conclude that kurgans can play a crucial role in preserving steppe vegetation, especially in intensively used agricultural landscapes in the western part of the steppe zone. Despite the vital role of kurgans in sustaining steppe vegetation, we identified serious knowledge gaps on their distribution, vegetation, flora and fauna and their potential role in steppe restoration.