Red List habitat classification > RLE - Grasslands > RLE6.2 Continental inland salt steppe

Continental inland salt steppe

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLE6.2
Threat status
Europe Vulnerable
EU Vulnerable
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)


Salt steppes (also called alkali steppes) occur on plains in the Eurasian steppe and forest-steppe zones from the Great Hungarian Plain and adjacent areas through the Danube Lowland in Romania and Bulgaria to Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. The matrix of the salt steppe is formed of steppe grassland dominated by Festuca pseudovina and Artemisia santonicum and grassland of Puccinellia distans agg. at muddy sites that are wet or shallowly flooded in spring but dry out for long periods in summer. Often these grasslands are open and species-poor. On less saline soils, generalist halo-tolerant species are common, including Bromus hordeaceus, Elymus repens, Inula britannica, Plantago lanceolata and Poa bulbosa. With increasing salt concentration, these species become rarer while obligate or facultative halophytes increase in frequency, for example Cerastium dubium, Plantago maritima, Scorzonera cana and Tripolium pannonicum.

Within this saline grassland matrix, patches of one to few square metres with different saline vegetation occur, reflecting small differences in microtopographic position and salt concentration: (1) species-poor to single-species stands of the annual chenopod Camphorosma annua are found in small depressions with very high salt concentration and nearly bare soil in Hungary and adjacent countries; (2) stands of perennial Camphorosma monspeliaca are found in similar habitats in Macedonia and Bulgaria, however, this vegetation can also be found on steep slopes and slope bases; (3) patches of open vegetation with Pholiurus pannonicus and Plantago tenuiflora are found in erosion troughs that are flooded in spring, but dry out for a long period in summer. Finally, species-poor stands of annual grasses Crypsis aculeata and Heleochloa schoenoides occur on bottoms of shallow saline lakes that are subject to slow draining in late spring and summer, but such communities are considered under habitat C3.5c.

This habitat occurs on Solonetz soils, which are characterized by high concentration of easily soluble salts, especially sodium and potassium carbonates. These soils are wet in spring and can be locally shallowly flooded, however they are dry in summer when polygonal cracks often appear on the surface. The columnar structure of the Solonetz soils and erosion by floods causes the development of complex microtopography of the salt steppe.

Salt steppes have traditionally been used as livestock pastures and this management continues in many areas until the present. They are less sensitive to overgrazing or abandonment than other types of lowland grasslands, because on the one hand they are well-adapted to disturbance and have a high resilience, and on the other hand competitive species have reduced ability to spread in saline habitats.

Large areas of salt steppe were destroyed or strongly altered by attempts of their agricultural improvement such as ploughing, fertilizing or drainage. On drained habitats salt concentration decreases and competitive non-halophytic grasses and dicots can spread. If this is combined with cessation of grazing, the salt steppe can change into closed grasslands composed of generalist non-halophytic species. On the other hand, some floodplain meadows changed into salt steppe after artificial drainage. These secondary salt steppes lack the microtopography typical of primary salt steppes and contain some species of floodplain meadows.

Indicators of good quality:

  • Presence of obligate halophytic species
  • Presence of typical microtopography of the salt steppe
  • Existence in the grassland matrix of small patches with extreme ecology (spring flooding or very high salt concentration) and occurrence of specialist species
  • Moisture regime with wet soils in spring that dry out in summer
  • No spread of ruderal or competitive generalist herb species
  • Absence of the species of floodplain meadows
  • Absence of strong overgrazing
  • Large continuous area of this habitat

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

The habitat is assessed to be Vulnerable (VU) because of a decline of more than 30% of the area over the last 50 years (criterion A1), both in the EU28 and EU28+. The long-term historical estimated decline is even larger, more than 50%, which leads to the same category for criterion A3. Over the last 50 years also a decline in quality took place, but not large enough to meet any of the Red List category thresholds.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A1, A3
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A1, A3

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Grassland removal for arable land
    • Abandonment of pastoral systems, lack of grazing
  • Natural System modifications
    • Canalisation & water deviation
    • Modification of hydrographic functioning, general
    • Water abstractions from groundwater

Habitat restoration potential

The habitat has some capacity to recover naturally, but it is dependent on soil quality (the soil should be salty enough). It could be restored in some areas where local propagule sources are present and soils are suitable.

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 to improve hydrological conditions (abolish drainage canals), maintain a proper management by grazing (or mowing in some cases), and to prevent conversion to other land-uses. In Romania and Serbia more effective site conservation may be needed.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to agriculture and open habitats
    • Maintaining grasslands and other open habitats
  • Measures related to wetland, freshwater and coastal habitats
    • Restoring/Improving the hydrological regime
  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Establish protected areas/sites


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 38 Decreasing Decreasing
Bulgaria Present 132 Decreasing Decreasing
Croatia Uncertain - -
Czech Republic Present 0.1 Decreasing Decreasing
Greece (mainland and other islands) Uncertain - -
Hungary Present 2250 Decreasing Decreasing
Romania Present 1000 Decreasing Decreasing
Slovakia Present 0.3 Decreasing Decreasing
Germany Present - -
EU28 + Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Present 60 Decreasing Decreasing
Serbia Present 600 Decreasing Decreasing

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 409650 494 3419
EU28+ 505 3419
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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