Interesting facts about steppes

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A steppe is an ecoregion characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes.

It may be semi-arid or covered with grass or with shrubs or with both, depending on the season and latitude.

The word “steppe” is originally Russian, and it is in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazahstan where most steppes are found.

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A prairie usually has taller grasses than a steppe – some of the dry, short-grass prairie of North America’s Great Plains is also called a steppe.

In the Southern Hemisphere, this biome is less frequent and can be mostly found in South America.

In South America, the steppe is in Peru and Bolivia (called puna) and Argentina (called pampas).

In South Africa and Australia, the steppe is called veldt.

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Steppes are usually characterized by a semi-arid or continental climate. Extremes can be recorded in the summer of up to 45 °C (115 °F) and in winter, −55 °C (−65 °F).

There is an enormous diversity of plant life, with hundreds of species of grasses, herbs, mosses, and other plants in prairies and steppes. The grasses have strong roots, flexible stems that can store nutrients, and varying degrees of drought tolerance.

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Because of the lack of hiding places and the need to migrate, many herbivores of the steppe have grown to a huge size, have exceptionally adjusted to running and have very sharp senses. The typical herbivores of the steppe are: the European and North-American bison, the horse and the saiga antelope native to Asian steppes, the pronghorn that lives in North-American prairies, and the guanaco, relative to camels and living in the Argentine steppes.

This is an open area, and often there were long distances between places with good water. People who lived in this type of area were often nomads, often traveling by horses.

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The world’s largest steppe region, the Eurasian steppe or the Great Steppe is found in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and neighbouring countries stretching from Ukraine in the west through Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the Altai, Koppet Dag and Tian Shan ranges in China.

The Eurasian steppe 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.

Genghis Khan was a great warrior from Mongolia who lived on the steppe. [Photo below: the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue – a 131-foot (40 m) tall statue of Genghis Khan on horseback, on the bank of the Tuul River at Tsonjin Boldog (54 km (33.55 mi) east of the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar).]

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Today, families in Mongolia live in “gers” which is a large portable tent. Mongolians are also master horse riders so many families own many horses that roam the steppe.

In the United States, the cowboy herded cattle in the steppe, moving from place to place by horse. During the Dust Bowl in the 1930s in North America, farmers who had recently settled on the land and started farms suddenly found themselves without food. Many of them left. Eventually they learned to plow differently and plant crops that survived a drought better, and to plant trees in rows called windbreaks.

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