Desert Biomes in Ecology Definition, Plants and Animals

Definition of desert biome

The desert biome is an extremely hot and dry ecosystem form as a result of the low rainfall it receives yearly; this desert covers about 1/5 of the planet earth and it is further categorized into four groups in ecology which are- hot, dry, semi-arid or steppe, coastal and cold desert biomes.

The desert usually receives low rainfall each year and for this reason, many animals and plants have developed some unique features to adapt to the weather condition of the deserts. The temperature of the desert biomes is extremely hot during the day but gets cold at night, however, the desert animals are nocturnal in nature (sleeping during the day and coming out at night when the temperatures are more tolerable).

Desert biomes location

The desert biomes are located at the lower latitudes, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, since they are subdivided into 4 major types it will be wise to know their location based on the type.

  1. Hot deserts are located at the Sahara, Arabian, Australian, Arabian, Peninsula, Mexico/ S.W. USA, S.W. Africa, and S.W USA deserts. Others include Argentina, South America, North Africa, India, Pakistan, and Kalahari deserts.
  2. Coastal deserts are found in Peru and Chile
  3. Cold deserts are located in China, Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan, S.W Africa, W. China, Argentina, South America, Middle East, Antarctica, and the USA.
  4. Semi-arid deserts/Steppes or moderately drylands are located in the USA, Canada, Ukraine, and China.

Desert biomes Climate (temperature)

The desert biome has two extremes that characterized it- it is generally dry and hot.
The desert biome has two extremes that characterized it- it is generally dry and hot.

Deserts are characterized by low moisture levels and precipitation, which is both infrequent and unpredictable from year to year, with little moisture to absorb and store heat. Daily seasonal temperatures can fluctuate widely. Deserts that have less than 2.5cm (inches) of measurable precipitation support almost no vegetation, however, deserts with 2.5- 5cm (1-2 inches) annual precipitation have sparse vegetation (less than10 percent of the ground is covered), and plants ( mostly xerophytes) in this harsh climate needs a variety of specializations to conserve water and protect tissues.

The desert plants have fleshly stems and swollen leaves, they absorb large amounts of water during the infrequent period of rain, thereby swelling up the stems only to contract later as moisture is slowly lost through transpiration. Transpiration takes place through the stems, but it is reduced by the stomata closing during the day and then opening nocturnally. The stems also have a thick and waxy cuticle.

Warm, dry, descending air creates broad desert bands in continental interiors at about 300 North in the American southwest, North and South Africa, China, and Australia.

These descending air currents also help create desert stripes along the west coast of South America and Africa that are among the driest regions in the world. Although we think of deserts as hot, barren, and filled with sand dunes, those at high altitudes or high elevations are often cool or even cold and sand dunes are actually rather far away from coastal areas.

Most deserts around the world are gravelly or rocky scrublands where 5 to 10cm (2 to 4 inches) of annual precipitation supports a sparse, but often rich community dominated by shrubs or small trees. In rare years when winter rains are adequate, a breath-taking profusion of spring ephemerals (plants with very short life cycle: normally two or three weeks) can carpet the desert with flowers.

Desert biomes plants

The desert biome plants are not usually tall because of limited rainfall experience in this biome, the dominant plants are shrubs and cactus
The desert biome plants are not usually tall because of limited rainfall experienced in this biome, the dominant plants are shrubs and cactus

Dry deserts vegetation is made up of dwarf trees, Shrubs, Camelthorn trees, Saguaro, prickly pear, and various types of cactus (these are drought resistance plants). In some deserts, plants of such are gravelly and sandy virtually no plants exist. Extremely high temperatures, low humidity, high pressure, and very little rainfall characterize the climate of the deserts.

The rainfall type is convectional but sporadic. In dry climates, the wind is a powerful agent of erosion and deposition. Limited vegetation in dry areas leave exposed particles of sand, clay, and silt subject to movement by wind, thus, many of the sculptured features found in dry areas result from mechanical weathering; that is from the abrasive action of sand and dust particles as they are blown against rock surfaces.

Sand and dust storms occurring in a drought-stricken farm area may make it unsuitable for agriculture. Types of landforms produced by wind-driven sands are dunes e.g. barchans (crescent-shaped), loess (pale yellow or buff-colored, and silty in texture).

Desert biome animals

Another medium animals in the desert biome are the Jack rabbits, they are nocturnal (feeding mainly from sun-set to sunrise)
Another medium animals in the desert biome are the Jackrabbits, they are nocturnal (feeding mainly from sunset to sunrise)

Animals of the desert have both structural and behavioral adaptations to meet their three most critical needs: food, water, and heat survival.

Many desert animals escape the main onslaught of daytime heat by hiding in burrows or rocky shelters from which they emerge only at night. Pocket mice and kangaroo rats (and their old-world counterparts, gerbils) get most of the moisture they need from the seeds and grains they eat.

Reptiles are the dominant desert animals; they have many adaptations to conserve water such as producing highly concentrated urine and nearly dry feces that allow them to eliminate body waste without losing precious moisture.

Reptiles are the dominant animals of the desert biomes, since there are no tall trees and grasses for mammals and other bigger animals too feed on

Since the desert vegetation are very short and few due to limited amounts of rainfall, the desert biomes only accommodate a few animals with unique characteristics to survive the harsh Sun by hiding under small scrubs or hiding in burrows.

Example of animals found in various desert biomes of the world is Quokka, rabbit-eared bandicoot, bilberry, dingo, kangaroo, dromedary, dung beetle.

Others include-Arabian horse, hyena, ibex, Jackal, Jerboa, lizard, locusts, Oryx, peregrine falcon, porcupine, sand cobra, scorpion, veil chameleon, monitor lizards, gazelle, fan-tailed raven, mouse, and fox.

Photo of Desert Biomes:Desert Biome facts, Location, Plants and Animals
Reptiles are the dominant animals of the desert biomes since there are no tall trees and grasses for mammals and other bigger animals to feed on.  

Deserts may seem formidable, but they are more vulnerable than you might imagine desert soils are unproductive mainly because of lack of moisture and humus, but potentially, they are not particularly infertile for plant growth.

Areas under irrigation are capable of producing high-quality crops. Deserts soils are constantly disturbed by human activities and are slow to recover because the harsh desert climate severally reduces the ability of the desert community to recover from damages.

Mainly domestic livestock has overgrazed many dry areas of the desert, while other areas have been converted into agricultural land despite the uncertain future availability of water to sustain crops. Oftentimes, after humans have degraded and abandoned desert areas, they remain wastelands for a very long time, unsuitable for native vegetation or wildlife.

Examples of deserts are Sahara, Gobi, and Western US, Kalahari, great Victoria basin, Chihuahua, Mojave, Monte, Namib, Antarctic, great basins, Iranian deserts.