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Altai-Sayan Ecoregion

Contact Information

  • Programme Leader for Altai-Sayan
    WWF Russian Programme Office
    Nikoloyamskaya 19/3
    Moscow, Russia
    Tel: 7-095-7270939
    Fax: 7-095-7270938

Lead Institution

World Wide Fund for Nature Russian Programme

Technical team

  • Chimed-Ochir Bazarsad
  • Alexander Bondarev
  • Anatoliy Mandych
  • Yuri Plusnin
  • Veniamin Semenov
  • Alexander Shestakov
  • Vladimir Sokolov
  • Svetlana Surazakova.



Intended Audience

local, national and regional decision-makers.



Project Summary

The Altai-Sayan ecoregion is located in the territories of Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and China. It encompasses mountain pristine forest ecosystems, surrounded by steppes in the north and east, and by deserts and semi-deserts in the south and west. The region includes the Altai and Sayan mountain systems and vast intermountain depressions. This region is one of the world centers of plant diversity. Its biological, landscape, historical, cultural and religious diversity is unique. There are many species of mammal, bird, amphibian, fish and at least 213 species of rare and endemic plants. The area is also culturally diverse, with four language groups (Russian, Mongolian, Chinese and Turkic) and more than 20 indigenous ethnic groups practicing traditional land use systems. There are also a variety of religions including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Shamanism.


The high value of ecosystems and biodiversity of the Altai-Sayan ecoregion is fundamental in considering it one of the key Global 200 Ecoregions identified by the WWF and recognized by the United Nations and World Bank (3,726 species of vascular plants are registered in the region including 700 threatened or rare species, 317 of which are endemic; fauna consists of 680 species, 6% of which are endemic). The ecoregion is the northern range of the natural habitat of the snow leopard ( Uncia uncia ) and Altai mountain sheep argali ( Ovis ammon ammon ). Poverty, widespread unemployment, and a lack of alternative economic activities are serious socioeconomic drivers that could negatively impact the biodiversity of the Altai-Sayan. Exploitation and strain on natural resources are increasing rapidly in the ecoregion. Protection of biodiversity in the region also depends on the ability of the local communities to maintain traditional land use patterns and practices.

Natural forests

The present-day condition of the main provisioning services—timber and firewood—of forest ecosystems in the Altai-Sayan ecoregion overall is estimated to be good. However, the condition is reduced to fair or even poor in some localities that are under human pressure or where unsustainable use, including illegal logging, is practised. In the foreseeable future, forest ecosystems of the region will continue to provide people with the resources they demand, while also continuing to provide other supporting and regulating services. However, this will be sustainable in the long-term only if the state controls the use of forest ecosystem services at current levels. The existing data and modeling outputs are not sufficient to address questions about the impact of climate change on forest ecosystems and related consequences for human well-being. New studies on the impact of climate change on forest ecosystems of the Altai-Sayan ecoregion are urgently required. In the recent decades, the leading drivers of change in the region’s forest ecosystems have been commercial logging and fire. Fire impacts will increase in the future, owing to human activity, economic change, climate change, and pests.

Grazing lands of Western Mongolia

Overgrazing and overharvesting of biological resources (timber, wildlife) in western Mongolia is a result of the impoverishment of the country’s population, who have few livelihood options and who depend almost entirely on natural resources. Mongolia’s transition to a market economy caused some adverse effects on the state of the environment and grazing ecosystems. One of the effects related to changes in grazing lands was caused by the cessation of seasonal grazing, which has been practiced by Mongolian nomads for millennia. Seasonal herding led to a distributed impact on all grazing lands of the region. The abandonment of traditional herding practices was accompanied by an increase of livestock concentrated close to settlements and water sources. This caused overgrazing and even complete degradation of grazing lands in some places. Based on the assessment of the current state and trends of grazing ecosystems, it is possible to define priorities for social responses to the current situation and future developments, including elements of a social strategy related to the use of natural resources and sustainable resource management.

Regional waters and climate change

Pronounced climate warming has been observed in the region in recent decades, and has resulted in the Altai glaciers receding and shrinking. In the case of the Katun River, which drains the northern slope of the Altai high mountains, there was no increasing trend in the river’s runoff from 1950 to 2000. However, there was a noticeable trend of decreasing differences between seasonal runoff in the high and low mountains of the Katun basin. This is explained by the different responses of the rivers, with runoff forming in different elevation zones according to seasonal changes in precipitation. Currently the population and the economy have a much more significant impact on the water quality of rivers and lakes than does climate change. An increase in population and growth of the economy will likely cause rapid changes in the condition of regional waters, especially through surface water pollution.

Environmental consciousness of rural populations

The rural population in Altai-Sayan is slowly moving from the utilitarian and negative environmental paradigm of ‘‘extraction and utilization’’ towards new ethical principles regarding the environment. People have become aware of the need for environment protection and conservation. This is reflected in public behavior (environmental protests, establishment of new environmental NGOs), although it is still rare. It has also been observed in new economic behavior and in the establishment of environmentally friendly businesses, related to the sustainable use and regeneration of local resources. This has taken place without the assistance and initiative of central authorities or the mass media.

© 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment