The number of species of animals and plants in Armenia is very high for a country of its size which lies wholly outside the tropics. This is largely accounted for by the great altitudinal variation and the diversity of vegetation zones. Armenia is normally described as having six distinct zones: semi-deserts, dry steppes, steppes, forest, subalpine and alpine. Semi-deserts account for about 10% of the country and occur in the Ararat Valley and adjacent mountain slopes up to altitudes of 1,200-1,300m, as well as in the Arpa Valley around Vaik, and in the Meghri region. The land has generally been cultivated for millennia except for a few patches where sand has accumulated and a semi-desert landscape has resulted. Cultivation has required extensive irrigation and these irrigated areas now account for most of the fruit, vegetable, and wine production. Dry mountainous steppes are found at higher altitudes than semi-deserts (above 1,500m) in the Ararat Valley and some other areas, but are also found at lower altitudes (above 800m) in the northeast in areas which were originally forested. A range of soils is found and in the Ararat Valley these are mostly stony. Irrigation of dry steppes has allowed some cultivation of crops and fruit. Mountain steppes are the dominant landscape for most of the country, particularly at altitudes above 1,500m. In the northeast of the country and also in the south, ridges among these highland meadow steppes often contain patches of forest. Elsewhere forests are usually found on the mid-zone of mountains though in some regions the forests were much affected by the cutting of trees for fuel during the energy shortage years in the early 1990s. The most extensive forested areas are now in the northeast. Subalpine meadows occur at higher altitudes than steppes and forests, including highland mountain ranges. Alpine meadows occur higher still and are important pasture lands even though climatic conditions are severe with long cold winters and snow cover lasting up to nine months. So-called azonal landscapes (meaning that the soil type is determined by factors other than the local climate and vegetation) cover the remaining 10% of the territory of the country and include wetlands, as well as saline and alkaline areas in the Ararat Valley where the underground waters are close to the earth's surface, resulting in water vaporisation and salt precipitation.
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