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Biomes and Regions of Northern Eurasia

Mixed and Deciduous Forests

<<< Boreal Forests: Conclusions | Biomes & Regions Index | Mixed and Deciduous Forests of the East European Plain >>>


Mixed (coniferous-deciduous) and deciduous forests occupy the middle part of the East European plain and extend as a wedge-shaped belt from the Gulf of Finland and the Carpathian foothills to the southern Urals (Figure 10.1). Mixed forests dominate on watersheds in the northern and central parts of this belt. Deciduous forests extend further south and gradually give way to forest-steppes.

Natural zones of the middle belt of Northern Eurasia

Fig. 10.1 Natural zones of the middle belt of Northern Eurasia

The main stand species in mixed forests are spruce (Picea), pine (Pinus), oak (Quercus), lime (Tilia), beech (Fagus), and birch (Betula). A relatively high proportion of conifers is characteristic of the region. The biomes of mixed and deciduous forests have a relatively mild climate and fertile soils. Four great ancient cities (Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod, and Moscow) are located here. Both crafts and agriculture began developing in the earliest days of Russia's history and primary forests were therefore heavily cleared and tilled. Mixed and deciduous forests also widely occur in the southern Far East. In other regions of Northern Eurasia, the occurrence of deciduous and mixed forests is mainly linked to altitudinal zonation. Deciduous forests usually develop in intermountain depressions, while mixed forests occupy foothills and the lower and middle sections of mountain slopes. This distribution is clearly expressed in the mountainous regions of the Caucasus, Carpathians, and Crimea.

Controversial assessments have appeared concerning the origin of small-leaved forests in the southern part of the West Siberian plain. The formation of Betula pendula, B. krylovii, and Populus tremula stands, which dominate the area, has been traditionally attributed to such human impacts as fires and felling. However, pollen analysis has shown that these forests existed at least throughout the Holocene (Neistadt, 1976). According to these data, the small-leaved forests of Western Siberia are original forests which form an ecotone between taiga and forest-steppe. Pure deciduous forests are absent in Western Siberia. Among deciduous species only Tilia cordata occurs locally in a subordinate forest tier in the south-west of the Transurals region, extending to Tobolsk (58∞15'N; 68∞12'E) in the north, and in some isolated habitats in the Kuznetsky Alatau. The extremely severe winters and lack of moisture prevent mixed and deciduous forests from developing in Eastern Siberia, where taiga borders directly with the forest-steppe biome.

Traditionally, mixed and deciduous forests have been treated as two separate zones (Lavrenko and Sochava, 1956). However, because in many areas coniferous species penetrate far south and deciduous forests do not form a continuous belt, it was suggested by some physical geographers (Milkov and Gvozdetsky, 1976) that only one biome of mixed forests should be recognized. It was also proposed that deciduous forests, together with meadow steppes, should be viewed as a part of the forest-steppe zone (Milkov, 1986). It is necessary to recognize, however, that the belt of deciduous forests is distinctly marked in the middle part of the East European plain where deciduous species are dominants and edificators. This fact supports the original and independent ordinance of the deciduous forest zone and in this chapter I will approach mixed and deciduous forests of the European territory as two different biomes. However, it should be acknowledged that composition of tree species in the East European forests changes gradually in a sub-meridional direction, from the north-north-west (where mixed forests dominate) to south-south-east (where deciduous forests gradually give way to forest-steppes). Vegetation distribution is complex, with transitional areas, and was best defined by Agakhanyants (1986) as a mosaic. It is, therefore, difficult to draw precise boundaries between the mixed and deciduous forest zones.

In this chapter, I will focus on the woodlands of plains and lower mountains. Although primary forests still occupy vast areas, much of the woodlands have been degraded by human impact throughout their history. Many areas, heavily forested in the past, have been transformed. Here, I will concentrate on those areas where natural forests survived and address the issue of the changing nature of forests in the concluding sections of the chapter.

In the history of Northern Eurasia, forests have always played a very special role. They provided food and shelter to its dwellers for centuries, from the times of the nomad invasions to the Second World War. Hunting still is one of the main occupations for many indigenous people and later settlers in the Far East. I will discuss the role of forests in human history (concentrating on the European territory) and human impact on forests.

A comprehensive survey of mixed and deciduous forests was published by Kurnaev (1968) and Agakhanyants (1986). Forests of the European territory are reviewed by Gribova et. al. (1980). Walter (1974) provides a review in German and Jahn (1991) may be helpful to English-speaking readers.

<<< Boreal Forests: Conclusions | Biomes & Regions Index | Mixed and Deciduous Forests of the East European Plain >>>



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