Copyright

Desert Biome: Locations, Animals & Plants

Brianna Cowling, Margaret Cunningham
  • Author
    Brianna Cowling

    Brianna graduated from Henderson State University in 2016 with a B.S. in Psychology and Biology. She has been a secondary science teacher for 5 years and has written curriculum and science lessons for other companies. She is a Certified Google Level 1 Educator and is part of the Edulastic Innovator Team and her campus Leadership Team.

  • Instructor
    Margaret Cunningham

    Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

What is a desert biome? Learn facts about desert biomes, their climate, and where they can be found. Also learn about storms and tourist attractions in the desert. Updated: 04/27/2021

Desert Biome

Desert biomes make up a considerable amount of Earth's ecosystems, covering around one-fifth of Earth's surface. The desert biome definition is an area that receives less than 50 centimeters of rain per year. Due to the lack of precipitation, desert biomes contain many distinctive plants and animals that have adapted to these dry environments. The following list contains some general desert biome characteristics:

  • Low amounts of rainfall
  • Temperatures that vary largely from day to night
  • Coarse soil that is often gravelly
  • High wind speeds
  • Sparse cloud cover

Desert Biome

Did you know that one-third of the land on Earth is so dry and harsh that only specific plants and animals can survive there? Although this statistic may seem unreal, it is true that one-third of the land on Earth is an extremely dry environment, known as the desert biome.

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Species Richness: Definition & Determining Factors

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:02 Desert Biome
  • 0:21 Location of Deserts
  • 1:38 Precipitation & Temperature
  • 2:45 Desert Plants
  • 4:28 Desert Animals
  • 6:30 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed Speed

Desert Biome Facts

While many people think of a desert as being a very hot climate, there are actually four different types of deserts, each having its own unique climate. Some deserts actually exist in very cold climates as well. Here are some other desert biome facts you may not have known:

  • Antarctica is considered a desert
  • At night, temperatures in a desert biome can drop to 25 degrees Fahrenheit
  • The original meaning of the word 'desert' is 'abandoned place' due to the scarce number of plants and animals that can survive there

Many species of plants and animals have adapted to live in the desert biome. A common desert biome food web includes organisms such as a red-tailed hawk, kit fox, rattlesnake, kangaroo rat, jackrabbit, desert tortoise, scorpion, and yucca plant. Within this desert biome food web is a desert biome food chain. At the bottom of the desert biome food chain is a producer, the yucca plant. The primary consumer is a jackrabbit and the secondary consumer is a red-tailed hawk.

Desert Biome Primary Consumer, The Jackrabbit

desert biome animal jackrabbit

Dust Storms

Because the desert floor is covered in coarse, lightweight soil, it is easily lifted by the high-speed winds that occur during a thunderstorm in the desert. When this happens, a dust storm is created. Dust storms in the desert are also known as haboobs. Dust particles in a dust storm are carried by updrafts in the wind and can be carried hundreds to thousands of kilometers away. Typically, dust storms settle whenever precipitation from the thunderstorm begins.

Atacama Desert

The driest desert in the world is named the Atacama Desert. The desert covers about 50,000 square miles in northern Chile. Here, temperatures average around 63 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and less than a millimeter of rain falls each year. In the Atacama Desert there is a region known as the nitrate belt. Until recently, scientists believed that minerals of nitrate were carried here from the sea by high-speed winds and deposited in the desert. Now, they believe the nitrate was left behind from evaporated groundwater.

The Atacama Desert

Atacama Desert

Desert Biome Climate

Dry Air

The desert biome climate is one that is very dry. Deserts are formed in areas where moisture is removed from the air before arriving in these locations. Deserts often form near mountain ranges because as air settles over a mountain range, it cools and causes precipitation. When the air moves past the mountain range into the desert, it is now extremely dry.

Temperature Changes

The dry air in the desert also plays a role in the dramatic temperature changes that occur at night. While the desert biome temperature can get very hot during the day, when the sun sets there is no moisture in the air to hold onto the heat created by the sun. In some cases this can cause a temperature change from 100 degrees Fahrenheit to only 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

Desert Biome Location

Where is the desert biome located? The Sahara Desert, which is the largest desert in the world, is located in Africa. The United States also has a large desert, the Great Basin Desert. Deserts are located on continents all over the world. The following list includes other desert biome locations:

  • Gobi Desert - Asia
  • Mojave Desert - North America
  • Antarctic Desert - Antarctica
  • Pinnacles Desert - Australia
  • Atacama Desert - South America

While each of these locations is considered a desert, they are all unique in their climates and the organisms that live there. Deserts can be categorized into four different types - hot and dry deserts, semi-arid deserts, coastal deserts, and cold deserts. The image below is a desert biome map that shows where these desert biomes are located.

Desert Biome Locations Across the World

Desert biome locations map

Hot and Dry Deserts

In a hot and dry desert biome climate, temperatures remain very warm throughout the year. Rainfall varies depending on desert location - for example, in North America hot and dry deserts receive an average of 28 centimeters per year while deserts in Africa receive less than 1.5 centimeters per year. The Sahara Desert in Africa is an example of a hot and dry desert biome location. The lack of rainfall and extreme temperatures mean very few organisms can survive in hot and dry deserts. Hot and dry desert biome plants and desert biome animals include:

Typical Desert
Desert

Location of Deserts

The location of deserts is dependent on two factors: latitude and global wind patterns. Most deserts are located between 15' and 35' latitude, both north and south of the equator. In terms of global wind patterns, most deserts are located within the Southeastern and Northeastern trade winds belt. Due to the direction of the wind movement in these regions, the land receives dry air because the moisture is removed before the air gets to the region.

Most deserts are formed because the moisture is removed from the air over the tropical rainforests before traveling to these regions. Deserts can also be created when the air they receive passes over a mountain range first. When the air rises to move over the mountain range, it cools, and the moisture in the air is lost as rain. As a result, when the air gets over the mountain range, it is very dry.

The largest desert on Earth is the Sahara Desert in Africa. This desert stretches over more than ten African countries. In the United States, the largest desert is the Great Basin Desert. The Great Basin Desert is not the type of desert you would normally picture - it's unique because it receives most of its precipitation as snow!

Precipitation & Temperature

Generally, a desert is defined as an area that receives less than 10 inches, or 25 centimeters, of precipitation a year. Although most of us think of deserts as places that do not get much rain, the precipitation received in deserts can be in the form of either rain or snow. Deserts that receive rain as their main form of precipitation are referred to as 'hot' deserts, while deserts that receive snow as their main form of precipitation are 'cold' deserts.

The temperature of a desert is also a defining and unique characteristic. Most deserts are warmer during the day than they are at night, and the difference in temperature is quite drastic. The average daytime temperature is 100°F, while at night the average temperature is 25°F. This large temperature difference is due to low amount of moisture in the desert air. Normally, moisture in the air retains heat and helps regulate temperature. Due to the fact that there is very little moisture in the air, there is nothing to retain the heat created during the day by the sun. As a result, when the sun sets, the heat escapes and the temperature drops.

Desert Plants

The limited amount of rain and the extreme daily fluctuations in temperature make life in the desert very difficult for plants. Despite the challenges plants face in this biome, there are many different types of plants that grow in deserts. Common plant types that are found include cacti, succulents, small shrubs, and grasses.

To tolerate the conditions and increase chances for survival, desert plants have developed special adaptations. Some of the most common adaptations include storing water in the leaves or stems, having few leaves or waxy coverings on the leaves to reduce water loss, and having long tap roots that can penetrate the deep water table. Some plants even go dormant for over half the year and only grow when water becomes available.

One interesting plant that grows in the desert is the giant saguaro cactus. This cactus is unique because it has adapted so well to the desert conditions that it can grow to reach over 20 feet and live for more than 200 years. These cacti are able to survive for so long because of several well-developed adaptations. Giant saguaro cacti have shallow roots, which allow them to soak up rain and dew before it evaporates, and a spongy interior, which can expand to hold more water. They also save energy by growing slowly.

Giant Saguaro Cactus
Cactus

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Video Transcript

Desert Biome

Did you know that one-third of the land on Earth is so dry and harsh that only specific plants and animals can survive there? Although this statistic may seem unreal, it is true that one-third of the land on Earth is an extremely dry environment, known as the desert biome.

Typical Desert
Desert

Location of Deserts

The location of deserts is dependent on two factors: latitude and global wind patterns. Most deserts are located between 15' and 35' latitude, both north and south of the equator. In terms of global wind patterns, most deserts are located within the Southeastern and Northeastern trade winds belt. Due to the direction of the wind movement in these regions, the land receives dry air because the moisture is removed before the air gets to the region.

Most deserts are formed because the moisture is removed from the air over the tropical rainforests before traveling to these regions. Deserts can also be created when the air they receive passes over a mountain range first. When the air rises to move over the mountain range, it cools, and the moisture in the air is lost as rain. As a result, when the air gets over the mountain range, it is very dry.

The largest desert on Earth is the Sahara Desert in Africa. This desert stretches over more than ten African countries. In the United States, the largest desert is the Great Basin Desert. The Great Basin Desert is not the type of desert you would normally picture - it's unique because it receives most of its precipitation as snow!

Precipitation & Temperature

Generally, a desert is defined as an area that receives less than 10 inches, or 25 centimeters, of precipitation a year. Although most of us think of deserts as places that do not get much rain, the precipitation received in deserts can be in the form of either rain or snow. Deserts that receive rain as their main form of precipitation are referred to as 'hot' deserts, while deserts that receive snow as their main form of precipitation are 'cold' deserts.

The temperature of a desert is also a defining and unique characteristic. Most deserts are warmer during the day than they are at night, and the difference in temperature is quite drastic. The average daytime temperature is 100°F, while at night the average temperature is 25°F. This large temperature difference is due to low amount of moisture in the desert air. Normally, moisture in the air retains heat and helps regulate temperature. Due to the fact that there is very little moisture in the air, there is nothing to retain the heat created during the day by the sun. As a result, when the sun sets, the heat escapes and the temperature drops.

Desert Plants

The limited amount of rain and the extreme daily fluctuations in temperature make life in the desert very difficult for plants. Despite the challenges plants face in this biome, there are many different types of plants that grow in deserts. Common plant types that are found include cacti, succulents, small shrubs, and grasses.

To tolerate the conditions and increase chances for survival, desert plants have developed special adaptations. Some of the most common adaptations include storing water in the leaves or stems, having few leaves or waxy coverings on the leaves to reduce water loss, and having long tap roots that can penetrate the deep water table. Some plants even go dormant for over half the year and only grow when water becomes available.

One interesting plant that grows in the desert is the giant saguaro cactus. This cactus is unique because it has adapted so well to the desert conditions that it can grow to reach over 20 feet and live for more than 200 years. These cacti are able to survive for so long because of several well-developed adaptations. Giant saguaro cacti have shallow roots, which allow them to soak up rain and dew before it evaporates, and a spongy interior, which can expand to hold more water. They also save energy by growing slowly.

Giant Saguaro Cactus
Cactus

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account