The transition from a command to a market economy resulted in widespread cropland abandonment across the former Soviet Union during the 1990s. Spatial patterns and determinants of abandonment are comparatively well understood for European Russia, but have not yet been assessed for the vast grain belt of Western Siberia, situated in the Eurasian forest steppe. This is unfortunate, as land-use change in Western Siberia is of global significance: Fertile black earth soils and vast mires store large amounts of organic carbon, and both undisturbed and traditional cultural landscapes harbor threatened biodiversity. We compared Landsat images from ca. 1990 (before the break-up of the Soviet Union) and ca. 2015 (current situation) with a supervised classification to estimate the extent and spatial distribution of abandoned cropland. We used logistic regression models to reveal important determinants of cropland abandonment. Ca. 135,000 ha classified as cropland around 1990 were classified as grassland around 2015. This suggests that ca. 20% of all cropland remain abandoned ca. 25 years after the end of the Soviet Union. Abandonment occurred mostly at poorly drained sites. The likelihood of cropland abandonment increased with decreasing soil quality, and increasing distance to medium-sized settlements, roads and railroads. We conclude that soil suitability, access to transport infrastructure and availability of workforce are key determinants of cropland abandonment in Western Siberia.
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