Central Asia is a biodiversity hotspot, where continents meet with a melting pot of human genes and cultures in a backdrop of strong elevational gradients. It is a land of great mountain ranges, the Tien Shan, the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and the Altai, a land that holds the world's last stronghold of intact grassland (steppe) ecosystems and a land that supports some of the world's foremost arid areas, the Gobi, the Kyzul-kum and the Kara-kum. Central Asia is also a geopolitical hotspot. Historically Russia and Great Britain squared off here fighting their “great game” of imperial conquest; more recently it has been a launch pad of global terrorism and the epicenter of the US government's “war on terror.” Because the region is so important for so many reasons, and because, during Soviet times, it was largely inaccessible to westerners, there is a...

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