Desert Biome - Encyclopedia of Earth
Content Partner: University of California Museum of Paleontology (other articles)
Article Topics: Ecology and Biodiversity
This article has been reviewed and approved by the following Topic Editor: Mark McGinley (other articles)
Last Updated: April 3, 2007
Deserts cover about one fifth of the Earth's surface and occur where rainfall is less than 50 centimeters (cm) per year. Although most deserts, such as the Sahara of North Africa and the deserts of the southwestern U.S., Mexico, and Australia, occur at low latitudes, another kind of desert, cold deserts, occur in the basin and range area of Utah and Nevada and in parts of western Asia. Most deserts have a considerable amount of specialized vegetation, as well as specialized vertebrate and invertebrate animals. Soils often have abundant nutrients because they need only water to become very productive and have little or no organic matter. Disturbances are common in the form of occasional fires or cold weather, and sudden, infrequent, but intense rains that cause flooding.
There are relatively few large mammals in deserts because most are not capable of storing sufficient water and withstanding the heat. Deserts often provide little shelter from the sun for large animals. The dominant animals of warm deserts are non-mammalian vertebrates, such as reptiles. Mammals are usually small, like the kangaroo mice of North American deserts.
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