Desert is a habitat for a wide array of living organisms including animals and plants. Over one-fifth of the earth’s surface is covered by desert. It accommodates about one billion population (1/6th) of earth’s total population. Deserts are usually found in the northern and southern hemispheres (Tropic of Cancer or Tropic of Capricorn) of the equator. They are known for their harsh, hot and arid atmosphere. Not all deserts are hot, there are few cold deserts. The annual rainfall in deserts is less than 25 centimeters (10 inches). Inhabitants are adapted to these conditions for their survival.
Deserts consist of vast uncultivated areas. They are not suitable for vegetation and have contrasting climatic conditions. Weather in deserts ranges from hottest Sahara Desert in Africa (50˚C) to coldest Gobi Desert which is in Asia. Deserts consist of mountains and sand dunes. The arid atmosphere is mainly due to the less rate of rainfall that occurs mainly during the winter season and varies from 1 inch to 10 inches. Coastal deserts have cool-warm lands.
Recently, desertification has captured the attention of environmentalists. Many semi-arid lands are converted into deserts due to human activities. Humans exploit such land for cultivation, grazing, mining and so on which results in land degradation, soil infertility, erosion, etc.
All forms of life in the desert have evolved themselves according to these harsh conditions. They have physiological and behavioral adaptations like water storing capacity, protective barriers against scorching heat and their predators.
Adaptation of Plants
Desert plants are known as xerophytes e.g. creosote bush, sagebrush. The dry environment of deserts may leave these plants to live without water for years. These helped them to store and find water from the depth. They developed long roots to penetrate deep into the soil. Plants like cacti have modified leaves in the form of spine and prickles. They store water in these spines which also protect them from predators. Another form of adaptation is dormancy, few seeds remain dormant until they get water for growth.
Adaptation of Animals
Camel, lizards, jackrabbits, foxes, snakes, insects are some xerocoles or desert animals which have dessert as their habitat. Few of them have specialized skins which help to absorb and conserve water. They reduce water loss by reducing their surface area exposed to heat. Some become nocturnal to avoid exposure to sunlight. Some preserve their food in different parts for later consumption. Poison, camouflage, and spines on the body are some protective adaptations against predators.
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