High-Altitude Flora and Vegetation of Kazakhstan and Climate Change Impacts

  • L. A. DimeyevaEmail author
  • G. T. Sitpayeva
  • B. M. Sultanova
  • K. Ussen
  • A. F. Islamgulova


Mountainous systems of Kazakhstan occupy less than 9 % of the country’s area, but they embody over 60 % of Kazakhstan’s plant species diversity. Being the centers of floristic genesis, mountainous ecosystems are characterized by a maximum diversity of rare, endemic, and economically valuable species. We investigated the current state of flora and vegetation and patterns of altitudinal zonality in three mountain systems: the Altai (the southern Altai ridges), the North Tien Shan (the Kyrghyz Alatau range), the western Tien Shan (the Talass and Ugam ridges) to reveal plant response to the climate change as well as to identify vulnerable species and predict possible ways of migration and dynamics of the mountain belts.

The space images of different years were used for the estimation of glacier area changes and for the prediction of plant cover dynamics under climate change conditions. There is a recession of glaciers and snowfields by 46 % in the Southern Altai, and by 50 % in the Kyrghyz Alatau. During past 11 years, glaciers and snowfields in Kazakhstani part of the western Tien Shan has increased by 17 %.

Colonization of highland plant groups has already commenced in the areas vacant from glaciers. A soil-adjusted vegetation index (SAVI) was used for the areas with sparse plant cover (< 30 %), typical of high mountains. The “sparse plant cover” area class has expanded by 97 km2 in the southern Altai, by 54 km2—in the Kyrghyz Alatau, and by 29 km2 in the western Tien Shan. The reason for this is the overgrowth of the open surfaces free from ice and snow as well as of aridization processes. Altitudinal limit of plant habitats has ascended by 200 m in the southern Altai and by 100 m—in the western Tien Shan on average basis. It is still early to discuss the shifts of altitudinal belts in the Kyrghyz Alatau range. All the data illustrate that the vegetation of mountain systems has undergone reconstruction. Decrease in the SAVI values is possibly connected with ecosystem aridization resulting in less abundance of some species, reduction in percentage vegetation cover and biomass. Against the background of the general xerophytization of plant cover, rare, endemic, and threatened plants seem to be particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, as well as plants and communities of a small environmental range.


Kazakhstan Southern Altai Kyrghyz Alatau Western Tien Shan Flora Vegetation Endemics Climate change 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. A. Dimeyeva
    • 1
    Email author
  • G. T. Sitpayeva
    • 1
  • B. M. Sultanova
    • 1
  • K. Ussen
    • 1
  • A. F. Islamgulova
    • 1
  1. 1.Ministry of Education and ScienceInstitute of Botany and PhytointroductionAlmatyKazakhstan

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