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Chersky 2013: Pleistocene Park

(Photo: Fanny Kittler) Shrubs die and disappear due to grazing of wild horses and wisent. (Photo: Fanny Kittler) Shrubs die and disappear due to grazing of wild horses and muskox. Wednesday, 17th of July 2013
During our stay we also went to the so-called Pleistocene park, a large-scale landscape manipulation project run by the Northeast Scientific Station which is situated approximately 45 km upstream of our station.
The idea behind this park is to demonstrate that the restoration of a Pleistocene steppe ecosystem is possible. The Pleistocene is the geological epoch, which lasted between 2.6 mio years to 10000 B.C..
Typical climatic conditions with continental climate (hot and dry summers as well as cold winters) are the driving factors for the development of steppe ecosystems (treeless grasslands) due to water limitations for plant growing.
(Photo: Fanny Kittler) Herd of wild horses. (Photo: Fanny Kittler) Herd of wild horses. During the Pleistocene, steppes were the dominate ecosystem over extensive parts of Eurasia. In Siberia the steppes were inhabited by large grazing mammals such as elephants and mammoth as well as huge herds of different ruminants such as goats, reindeer, muskoxen, moose and bison.
These animals preserved the steppe ecosystems in Siberia by e.g. preventing the establishment of taller plants such as shrubs or trees, destroying moss layers by hoof footsteps, and improving biomass turnover rates through grazing.
Initially, men were playing a minor role in this ecosystem. However, due to increased human migration from the African continent to the north, the large herds of graying mammals were diminished by the increasing hunting pressure, and as a consequence the natural ecosystems of the Pleistocene epoch eventually disappeared. This change in the ecosystem resulted in a release of carbon from the frozen soils.
(Photo: Martin Hertel) Olaf and Fanny with a tame baby moose of the Pleistocene Park.(Photo: Martin Hertel) Olaf and Fanny with a tame baby moose of the Pleistocene Park.The Pleistocene Park itself was founded in 1996 by Sergey Zimov. The park is supposed to restore the ecosystem conditions of the Pleistocene age, and by doing so prevent the permafrost soils from warming and reduce the release of greenhouse gases.
Today, herds of wisents, wild horses, reindeer, moose and bison are living in the park area.
Since mammoths themselves obviously cannot be reintroduced, their influence is simulated by a bulldozer and a small tank that produce additional disturbance such as tearing down trees and shrubs.
When we visited the park, the change of the vegetation over the past decades in comparison to the surrounding, undisturbed region was clearly noticeable.
Instead of the wet tussock tundra with many shrubs, which can be seen outside of the park, and flat grassland is the dominating landscape in the park.
Still the Pleistocene Park concept is not fully finalized so far. Due to the absence of predators, the animals of the park are choosing their food just by quality and not by safety.
As a result the high quality food, which could last longer during the harsh winter time, is used first and the animal need to be fed by humans throughout the wintertime.
It is very impressive what the Zimovs established there and the park illustrates in a great way how people influenced their environment in former times and how we can study this.
 Click here to view more amazing photos from Cherskiy expedition. 
Written by Fanny