Red List habitat classification > RLE - Grasslands > RLE1.2b Continental dry steppe

Continental dry steppe

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLE1.2b
Threat status
Europe Near Threatened
EU Near Threatened
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)


Open or closed arid, floristically rich or poor steppes or steppe-like grasslands of sub-continental and continental areas of Central, South-Eastern and Eastern Europe from sea level to maximum 1200-1300 m alt.They are widespread in the plains, lowlands, hills and foothills, mostly on slopes or plainly but elevated terrains. The localities have mostly southern exposure and different tilt, as a result of which the underground surface waters are absent and the humidity of the soil completely depends on the rainfall. The habitat comprises plant communities which have developed in different soil and climatic conditions. The bedrock is mostly calcareous (limestones, dolomites, marls) but it can also be silicate and even sandstones. The soils are very diverse: Phaeozems, Chernozems, Luvisols, Lithosols, Rankers and Rendzhinas, but generally dry, thick or shallow, eroded and stony. The plant species that participate in the composition of this herbaceous vegetation are adapted to long periods of drought. There are two rest periods, one of which is in summer. Their distribution in various climatic conditions reflects in their floristic composition and structure. Additional factors of the environment such as altitude, soil characteristics, including soil acidity and anthropogenic pressure also have an impact on these communities.

The plant communities are dominated by high, tuft-forming grasses and other perennial herbaceous species. Inn the west, such communities (Stipo-Poion xerophilae) extend to the lower arid slopes of valleys in Eastern and Central Alps. The typical steppes (Festucion sulcatae, Stipion lessingianae) are developed mostly on deep soils in Central and Eastern Europe. They are dominated from xerophytic grasses: Stipa spp., Festuca spp., Chrysopogon gryllus, Dichanthium ischaemum, Bromus spp. They may be of primary origin, especially in most continental regions on thick loess cover or on naturally eroded terrains with basic rocks outcrops. But in the sub-continental and foothill regions they can inhabit places of former destroyed woodland. In these parts, semi-shrubs and solitary trees have remained from the primary wood vegetation. In more humid regions, or on eastern and northern slope in primary steppes, the habitat is more like a meadow, with many tall herbs, among which Salvia spp., Phlomis spp. and Filipendula vulgaris. On eroded slopes there are various petrophytic steppes (Satureion montanae) on shallow, degraded humus-carbonate soils or sandy-clayey screes. These communities are dominated by perennial herbs and aromatic semi-shrubs like Satureja spp., Thymus spp., Genista spp., Teucrium spp., Hyssopus officinalis. In the southernmost parts of the habitat’s range and on the coastal areas of the Black Sea, besides perennial grasses and semi-shrubs, also many annuals with Mediterranean origin participate in the habitat. The species composition of steppes along the Northern Black Sea is a mixture between typical steppe grasses, semi-shrubs and southern annuals (endemic alliance Pimpinello-Thymion zigoidi). Very diverse are also steppe communities on slopes, ridges and tops of loess plateaus in the Danube plain. They range from typical primary grasslands on deep chernozems on the tops, to open and poor semi-ruderal communities (Artemisio-Kochion) on the steep loess outcrops. The last ones are relic communities from the Pleistocene and dominated by large tufts of Artemisia campestris, Chamaecytisus supinus, Kochia prostrata, Agropyron cristatum and Krascheninnikovia ceratoides. The richest steppes are found however outside th EU28+, in Ukraine, South Russia and Kazakhstan, regions of ecological and climatic optimum for steppes. Many different steppe syntaxa have described there, representing a large diversity of steppe vegetation.

Through the whole range, overgrazing of steppes has caused ruderalization and degradation of the habitat, which transforms into pastures dominated by low grasses like Cynodon dactylon and Lolium perenne, with many spiny, poisonous or non-patable species for cattle. The semi-ruderal grasslands dominated by Dichanthium ischaemum are also secondary, because due the overgrazing they may replace more natural communities dominated by Chrysopogon gryllus, Stipa spp., etc. Continental steppes are very important habitat for many plant and animal species including relics and endemics. They are also very valuable resource for cattle. The most fertile soils, Chernozems, are formed by the interaction of the steppe vegetation and loess. Because it, the most steppe areas are ploughed and replaced from agricultures.

Indicators of good quality:

In good conditions these grasslands have rich species composition and dominance of steppe grasses.Mainthreat is ploughing, urbanization, industrial, agricultural and communication infrastructure, overgrazing that leads to xerophytisation, ruderalization and changes in their structure and ecological characteristics. General aridisation of the climate, fertilization of the neighbouring agricultural land, stone pits, digging activities, deposition of industrial and household waste, invasion of alien species, developing of tree and shrub vegetation are also serious threats. Complete abandoning of the grazing in foothill areas led to shrub and tree invasion as a process of restoration of former woodland.A patchy pattern of grassland and shrubs on a landscape scale is, on the other hand, of importance for many typical insects, birdsand reptilians.In such cases, especially for secondary steppes in foothill and low mountain areas, more intensive management may be needed for maintenance. The following characteristics may be considered as indicators of good quality, but these indicators differ in different regions depending by origin, geographical position and level of human disturbance:

  • High species richness
  • Presence of rare and/or threatened species mostly with relic steppe origin
  • Low cover and balance of encroaching shrubs and trees
  • Absence of invasive species
  • Sustainability of traditional human activities: mowing, grazing, gathering of medicinal plants, fungi, etc.

Characteristic species
For full habitat description, please download the habitat factsheet.

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

The habitat type is assessed as Near Threatened (NT) under criterion A1 because of a large reduction in quantity (on average -26%) in both the EU28 and EU28+ over the last 50 years. The maximum trend calculated is however higher (-31%) and meets the threshold for Vulnerable (VU). Further uncertainty about the assessment exists, because of uncertain area data from Romania, the country that covers the largest area of continental steppes in the EU28+ region. All other criteria for which data were available resulted in a Least Concern category.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Near Threatened A1
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Near Threatened A1

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Modification of cultivation practices
    • Agricultural intensification
    • Grassland removal for arable land
    • Grazing
    • Intensive grazing
    • Abandonment of pastoral systems, lack of grazing
    • Fertilisation
  • Sylviculture, forestry
    • Forest planting on open ground
  • Urbanisation, residential and commercial development
    • Urbanised areas, human habitation
  • Natural biotic and abiotic processes (without catastrophes)
    • Biocenotic evolution, succession
    • Species composition change (succession)

Habitat restoration potential

The habitat has a capacity to recover naturally but the process is slow and difficult. It could be restored in many areas on the former arable lands with a low productivity. In the past it was dependent on wild herbivores, now practically extinct in most areas. Domestic animals could play an analogical role, but their grazing has to be regulated so that it will not cause any overgrazing and loss of biodiversity.

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

The most important is a legal protection of the steppic grassland and stopping of their transformation into arable lands. Restoration of some steppe areas and their management (like extensive grazing) are also important conservation activities.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to agriculture and open habitats
    • Maintaining grasslands and other open habitats
  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Establish protected areas/sites
    • Legal protection of habitats and species


For each habitat a distribution map was produced from a wide variety of sources indicating known and potential occurrences of the habitat in 10x10 km grids within Europe. Occurrences in grid cells were given in two classes: actual distribution from relatively reliable sources (surveys, expert knowledge), and potential distribution based on models or less reliable indicators. Please download the fact sheet to see the map.

Geographic occurrence and trends

EU28 Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Austria Present 7.6 Decreasing Decreasing
Bulgaria Present 988 Decreasing Decreasing
Czech Republic Present 22 Decreasing Decreasing
France mainland Present 100 Decreasing Decreasing
Germany Present 130 Decreasing Decreasing
Hungary Present 407 Decreasing Decreasing
Italy mainland Present 25 Decreasing Decreasing
Poland Present 2 Decreasing Decreasing
Romania Present 1700 Decreasing Decreasing
Slovakia Present 15 Decreasing Decreasing
Croatia Present 1.3 Decreasing Decreasing
Slovenia Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
EU28 + Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Bosnia and Herzegovina Present 20 Decreasing Decreasing
Montenegro Present unknown - Unknown
Serbia Present - -
Switzerland Present 60 Decreasing Stable
Albania Uncertain - -
Kaliningrad Uncertain - -
Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Uncertain - -

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 1683200 1596 3400
EU28+ 1636 3500
AOO = the area occupied by a habitat measured in number of 10x10 km grid cells.
EOO = the area (km2) of the envelope around all occurrences of a habitat (calculated by a minimum convex polygon).

Characteristic species

Not available

Vegetation types

Relation to vegetation types (syntaxa)

Not available

Other classifications

Not available
European Environment Agency (EEA)
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1050 Copenhagen K
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