Deserts cover about one fifth of our planet, and are caused by extremely low rainfall over an area.  Theses biomes are nonetheless home to many plants and animals which have through the course of their evolution adapted to this dry environment.

Map of World Biomes
Images of Desert Biomes


Arid, and Semi-Arid Desert

Arid deserts generally occur at low latitudes, and can be found in North-America, South-America, Africa, and Southern Asia. 

Seasons in the arid desert are generally dry and hot, with few occurrences of rain during the winter. The heat peaks to extremes during the daytime because there are no clouds to shield the earth from the sun's rays. 

When it does rain, it is not uncommon for the rain to evaporate before hitting the ground. The soil is usually either sand or coarse, and rocky.  Vegetation consists mainly of shrubs and small trees of which the leaves have evolved to retain water.  Most desert life forms have followed this train of evolution, with animals species being mostly active at night.  

Semi-arid deserts are found in North-America, Europe, Russia, and Northern Asia. 

Seasons are generally more defined than in the Arid desert, with low rainfalls during the winter. Even if the rainfall is kept at a bare minimum, several species of animals and plants thrive in this climate, the animals, while nocturnal, can still be found during the day, mostly in the shade of the various trees and plants.

Coastal and Cold Deserts

Coastal deserts are found in areas that are moderately warm to cool, such as the Neotropic and Nearctic realm. The winters are usually cool and short, while the summers are long and warm  The soil is mostly sandy with a high alkaline content, it is also very porous, so rain seeps quite rapidly into the ground.  Most of the flora in the coastal desert features thick foliage, with  good water retention, and their roots are close to the surface of the ground in order to get enough water before it drains into the soil.

Animals of the coastal desert include rough skinned amphibians, birds of prey, scavenger mammals reptiles and insects; most have adapted quite well to the climate, and again, they are largely nocturnal during the warmer months.

Perhaps the strangest of all desert biomes is the cold desert, as our perception of the desert is usually associated with the heat of the sun.  But even if there is a moderately high amount of snow and rainfall during the wintertime, the soil is too heavy and alkaline.  Alluvial fans pull some of the salt through the porous soil, so plant life can survive, but then again, as with its arid counterparts, the cold desert offers less than ideal conditions for sustaining delicate plants and animals.

Most of the animals in the cold desert are burrowers, even the carnivores and reptiles which even though cold-blooded, have made their homes in the cold desert.

Deer and other larger herbivores are only found during the winter, as the supply of grass is more abundant during that period.

Desert Research Institute
Principal deserts of the world
The Mojave Desert
The Desert Biome
Cold Desert
Desert (Biomes of the World)
by Edward R. Ricciuti (Library Binding - December 1996)

Deserts : Biomes of Nature Series
by Peter Murray (School & Library Binding - July 1996)

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