Central Asian Deserts | WWF

Central Asian Deserts

About the Area

This Global ecoregion is made up of these terrestrial ecoregions: Central Asian riparian woodlands; Central Asian northern desert; Central Asian southern desert.
The Central Asian deserts, a mosaic of clay, stone, salt and sandy deserts, support the highest level of biological richness of all the Eurasian deserts. The Karakum ("Black Sands") and the Kyzylkum ("Red Sands") are two local deserts that are particularly rich in species diversity.

Plants and animals in the region have developed certain physiological mechanisms to help them survive the combination of extremely cold winter temperatures and blistering hot summers.

These specialised adaptations contribute to the unusually high level of endemism for which the area is well known. Forest galleries along the floodplains of major rivers such as Amur Darya, Syr Darya, provide a moister habitat for many local species.

Local Species
Sand acacias (Eremospartan) form localised endemic plant communities and the Saksaul (Arthrophytum) creates "keystone" ecosystems in these deserts. The area is rich in reptile life, with an impressive variety of agama, gekko, lizard and snake species.

This includes the Gray monitor (Varanus griseus) - the largest reptile in Europe. Rare and endangered mammal species include the Honey badger (Mellivora capsensis), Sand lynx (Felis caracal), Desert cat (Felis margarita), Onager (Equus hemionus), and Gotred gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa).

Diversion of water for the irrigation of cotton and other crops represents the most serious threat to the region. Localised population growth and associated resource use is also of concern.


1,318,000 sq. km (509,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Deserts and Xeric Shrublands

Geographic Location:
Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan

Conservation Status:

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