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Desert Ecosystem – Definition, Types, Importance

Desert Ecosystem Definition

  • Deserts are arid regions characterised by high or low temperatures, low precipitation, and little or no vegetation.
  • Deserts are instances of the worldwide occurrence of terrestrial ecosystems.
  • Not every desert is flat, and not every desert has cacti or oasis.
  • These places have a brief wet season.
  • In the desert, it is extremely hot during the day and freezing at night.
  • As the driest terrestrial ecosystem on Earth, it has fewer biodiversity.
  • In nature, plants in this desert habitat have a short lifespan. They develop, germinate, and die within a few days.
  • Because their stems are green, succulent, and waxy, desert plants are capable of photosynthesis.
  • In mid-latitudes, the lack of precipitation is commonly linked to stable high-pressure zones; in temperate climes, deserts typically exist in “rain shadows,” or locations where tall mountains block rainfall from the oceans.

Characteristics of Desert Ecosystem

  • Less Rainfall or Precipitation: Less precipitation is a key desert characteristic and the primary cause of its dryness. Deserts receive seasonal precipitation that lasts only briefly (just around 25 to 30 centimeters).
  • Aridity: Aridity is characterised by a lack of dry moisture. As it receives less precipitation, it becomes arid.
  • Wind Velocity: The wind velocity in this ecosystem is high. This is why deserts endure more intense dust storms and sandstorms, which generate sand dunes.
  • Tremendous temperature: This sort of habitat suffers extreme nighttime and daytime temperatures! The days are extremely warm, and the nights are extremely cold.
  • Humidity: During the day, the humidity level is modest, however at night, it rises to high levels.
  • Population Density: The deserts have a low population density. Additionally, there is a lack of food and water, and the climate is harsh, neither of which are conducive to life.
  • Scarcity of water: There is a water shortage due to the insignificant rainfall. This lack of water causes more than six months of drought in deserts!
  • Biodiversity: It is difficult to survive in a desert setting without biodiversity. Despite this, deserts are home to a variety of creatures and flora. They have developed the survival abilities necessary to survive in such extreme and harsh desert circumstances.
  • Soil Quality: Desert soils are rocky, arid, sandy, and thin. Thus, it has a limited rate of plant growth. The soil has no organic components, such as phosphate and nitrogen, and is grey in appearance.

Component of a desert ecosystem

Due to minimal precipitation, the desert ecosystem contains fewer plants. These places have fewer than 255 millimetres of precipitation and high or low temperatures. This ecosystem’s evaporation rate is extremely high. Depending on the availability of water, dates, cotton, millet, etc. are cultivated in various regions. Similar to other ecosystems, desert ecosystems contain both biotic and abiotic components.

Abiotic components

Desert ecosystems are composed of soil, high temperature, low precipitation, and a dry climate. These have a devastating impact on the desert ecology.

1. High temperature or low temperature

  • Typically, desert environments have either high or low temperatures. In addition, there is a temperature variation between day and night in scorching deserts.
  • Due to the sun’s heat, the temperature reaches its peak during the day. And extremely frigid conditions prevail at night. Temperatures fall below 0 degrees Celsius.
  • Desert organisms that cannot adjust to these temperatures have a difficult time surviving. This environment has a wide temperature range.

2. Soil

  • In all ecosystems, the nature of the vegetation in that location relies on the kind of soil. According to the type of soil, plants develop.
  • The critical nutrients for plant growth, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, etc., are absent from desert soils.
  • The soil in the desert habitat is dry, rocky, and sandy. Since the soil is not conducive to plant growth, there are no large trees.
  • Cactus is the most prevalent plant in the ecosystem of a desert. Additionally, dates, cotton, and millet are cultivated in select regions.

3. Low rainfall

  • Low precipitation is a major characteristic of desert habitats.
  • Typically, annual rainfall is less than 500 millimetres.
  • The flora and fauna of this desert ecosystem must be able to thrive with minimal water.
  • During the rainy season, cacti store water in their stems in order to grow.

4. Sunlight

  • Sunlight is an essential component of the ecosystem of a desert.
  • This has a significant impact on the flora and animals of the ecosystem.

Facts about the desert ecosystem

  • There are several characteristics of the desert ecology. These are listed below:
  • The temperature difference between day and night in a desert ecosystem is considerable. It is extremely warm during the day and freezing at night.
  • Low precipitation is one of the most prominent characteristics of desert ecosystems. The annual precipitation here is only 25 to 30 centimetres. Therefore, the desert ecology is naturally dry.
  • Cacti are abundant in this ecosystem because they are able to thrive in it.
  • This habitat has an extremely low population density due to the absence of water.
  • The soil in a desert setting is not optimal for plant growth. Thus, there are very few plants growing here. This area’s soil is arid, rocky, and sandy. These soils lack organic materials such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
  • In the desert habitat, humidity is low during the day and quite high at night.
  • The water issue is caused by insufficient precipitation in the desert ecosystem; thus, there is a drought for half the year.
  • This environment is characterised by huge and small mounds, resulting in intense sandstorms and dust storms.

Biotic components

Desert ecosystems are producers, consumers, and decomposers.

1. Producers

  • Desert ecosystem producers include grasses, thorny bushes, and a few types of trees such as zizyphus, acacia, etc.
  • And many succulent species, such as euphorbia, agave, asparagus, etc., also thrive in this xerophytes habitat. These plants can all adapt to minimal precipitation and high temperatures.

2. Consumers

  • Rats, goats, rabbits, camels, and numerous kinds of birds are the principal desert ecosystem consumers.
  • Numerous species of reptiles, insects, owls, etc. represent the desert ecosystem’s secondary consumers. And other prey species are tertiary desert ecosystem consumers.
  • The major consumers subsist by consuming the products of producers. In order to survive, the secondary consumer must consume the primary consumer.
  • The tertiary consumer consumes the food of the primary and secondary consumers. In this manner, the food chain in the desert ecosystem is maintained.

3. Decomposers

  • In desert habitats, the number of decomposers is quite low. Some fungus, bacteria, etc. are the ecosystem’s decomposers.
  • In desert habitats, they convert decomposing plants and animals into basic compounds.

Biogeographic Domains of Desert Ecosystem

1. The Australian Deserts

  • The Australian deserts are a group of arid ecoregions in the interior of Australia.
  • With an average population density of less than one person per square kilometre, they are sparsely populated.
  • The population density of Australian deserts is the lowest of any desert on the planet.

2. The Afrotropic Deserts

  • These desert biomes are widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • It also includes the southern regions of the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Humans impose considerable pressure on the ecosystem, especially in Madagascar and the Horn of Africa.

3. The Indo-Malay Region

  • The Indo-Malay region is comprised of two hot lowlands: the Indus Valley and the Thar.
  • In terms of human imprint, these deserts are the most impacted on a global scale.
  • Additionally known as the Oriental realm.

4. The Neotropic Deserts

  • This region includes South America, Central America, the Caribbean islands, and southern North America.
  • People inhabit around 684 million square miles in South America.
  • However, just 6% of the area is protected.

5. The Nearctic Deserts

  • These deserts occupy around 1.04 million square miles in North America.
  • Due to the expansion of urban companies in the United States, Phoenix has a particularly large average population.

6. The Palearctic Domain

  • This domain contains the largest assortment of desserts in the world, spanning 9.9 million square miles.
  • This represents around 63 percent of all deserts on Earth.
  • These deserts are well-known due to their high aridity and inaccessibility.
  • The Sahara desert in Africa covers roughly 10 percent of the African continent, or over 9,900 square miles.
  • In contrast, the Central region’s deserts are characterised by folded mountains, a diverse topography, and confined basins.

Flora of Desert Ecosystem

  • Desert habitats receive extremely little precipitation and experience extreme daily temperature fluctuations, making plant life challenging.
  • Despite these limitations, an abundance of plant species thrive in this area.
  • In desert biomes, cacti, small shrubs, succulents, and grasses are among the most common vegetation.
  • Examples of desert flora include Brittle Bush, Desert Ironwood, Chain Fruit Cholla, Joshua Tree, Palo Verde, Jumping Cholla, Ocotillo, Pancake Prickly Pear Cactus, Soaptree Yucca, and Mojave Aster.

Fauna of Desert Ecosystem

  • Examples of desert animals include rabbits and wild cats.
  • Mountain lions and bobcats are two of the most prevalent wild animals in the desert.
  • In numerous desert environments, snakes such as rattlesnakes, coral snakes, and king snakes can be found.
  • Common desert inhabitants include horned lizards, banded geckos, and tree lizards.
  • Only ants and beetles are consumed by spined and horned horned lizards.
  • Common desert birds include the roadrunner, vulture, and golden eagle.
  • Inhabitants of the desert habitat include Coyotes, Javelina, Desert Tortoise, Cactus Wren, Desert Kangaroo Rat, Sonoran Desert Toad, Thorny Devil, Desert Bighorn Ship, Armadillo Lizard, and Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope.

Type of desert ecosystem

1. Hot desert/ Thar desert

  • The Sahara is the largest desert in the world, covering 8.54 million square kilometres.
  • It is simultaneously the largest and hottest desert on Earth.
  • The Sahara desert is located 1,000 metres above sea level and in tropical climates.
  • It consists of Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Mali, Chad, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan, Mauritania, Libya, and Morocco, in addition to a substantial chunk of North Africa.
  • The entire region spans approximately 4,800 kilometres east to west and between 800 and 1,200 kilometres north to south.
  • This region’s climate is extremely hot and dry, and it receives very little rainfall throughout the year.
  • In this parched desert, the days are hot. During the day, temperatures will reach 45° C to 50° C, warming the exposed sand and rocks.
  • The nights can be very cold, with temperatures occasionally falling below 0° C.

2. Cold Desert/ Temperate Desert

  • Ladakh is noted for having the coldest desert in India.
  • It is found at high elevations in temperate climates, including the Great Himalayas in eastern Jammu and Kashmir and the western Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh, North India.
  • Ladakh’s height varies from 3,000 metres near Kargil to 8,000 metres in the Karakoram.
  • Due to its high altitude, the weather is unusually cold and dry.
  • Temperatures in the summer barely exceed 0° C during the day and drop below –30° C at night.
  • Here, you may find the Gangotri glacier and several other glaciers and rivers that flow across Ladakh.

3. Semi-Arid

  • It is comparable to the previous one. This environment is characterised by solid ground, strong rocks, and modest sand dunes.
  • Temperature isn’t extreme.
  • This type of desert habitat is best represented by the Great Basin, which receives substantial precipitation.

4. Coastal

  • It is found along the coasts of huge bodies of water, such as seas and oceans, and is influenced by ocean currents.
  • In addition to winter fog, the climate is pleasant.
  • Namib in Africa and Atacama Desert in Chile are both coastal deserts.

Adaptations in Desert Ecosystem

Adaptations in Plants

  • Desert plants have developed specialised adaptations to live in this harsh environment.
  • Water storage in stems and leaves, waxy coatings on leaves, and leaf drop are all frequent mechanisms for preventing water loss.
  • Certain plants have grown lengthy taproots in order to reach groundwater.
  • Others will become dormant till the rains return.
  • The cactus plant has well adapted to the severe climatic conditions of desert biomes, reaching heights of up to 20 feet and living for more than 200 years.
  • The Mugma Tree is another plant that thrives in desert conditions.
  • It is composed of upward-growing, little leaves that operate as a funnel when it rains.
  • Leaves shaped like funnels direct precipitation to the tree’s base, where it is absorbed by shallow roots.
  • This adaption guarantees that the tree receives a sufficient amount of rainwater.

Adaptations in Animals

  • In spite of the harsh environmental conditions, several creatures inhabit the desert ecosystem.
  • These organisms have acquired particular adaptations to regulate their body temperature and conserve water.
  • Due to the water stored in its hump, a typical desert creature such as the camel may survive for days without food or water.
  • Additionally, it has dense fur and underwool to keep it warm throughout the coldest months.
  • It may close its nostrils to prevent sand from entering.
  • Camel eyes are protected from the heat and wind by two rows of eyelashes, and their huge hooves prevent them from sinking in the sand.
  • Due of their burrowing and nocturnal tendencies, foxes can survive in this area.
  • This permits them to escape the sweltering heat of the day. In addition, their large ears help disperse surplus body heat on hot days.
  • Their thick, sandy fur shelters them from the chilly evenings of the desert. In addition, it serves as a heat reflector and a cover.
  • The adaptations of desert animals include panting to reduce heat, seasonal migration, and protracted periods of dormancy that last until awakened by moisture and temperature conditions.

Importance of Desert Ecosystem

Desert environment is an important component of our world. And regardless of how arid or harsh this ecosystem may be, it serves a purpose. Each function of the desert environment listed in the bullet point contributes significantly to the planet.

  • It provides a habitat for numerous animal and plant species. These plants and animals have adapted to thrive in harsh settings.
  • This serves as a carbon sink. This indicates that bacteria in sands aid in storing CO2 or carbon dioxide to prevent it from entering the atmosphere.
  • The environment is a significant supply of natural gas, petroleum, and minerals.
  • The environment of the desert contributes to salt generation.
  • It is the ideal habitat for safeguarding Mother Nature’s historical artefacts. Therefore, deserts have a tremendous impact on archaeological discoveries.
  • They possess unique sceneries and oasis. Due to its natural formation, its visual appeal attracts visitors. Thus, deserts have become a popular tourism destination.
  • Desert sands function as carbon sinks. Scientists have discovered that Kalahari Desert microorganisms help store carbon dioxide and CO2 from the atmosphere.
  • Natural gas and other mineral resources are regularly discovered in these situations.
  • It features numerous landforms and oasis, attracting travellers and promoting the tourism business.



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