The Food Web of the Mojave Desert

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

This lesson describes the food web of the Mojave Desert in the southwest United States. Read on to learn more about what a food web is and to explore the relationships that are part of the Mojave Desert food web.

What Is the Mojave Desert?

Imagine you're driving across the country in a convertible, top down, the wind blowing on your face. So far, you've made it through the Great Plains, Yellowstone National Park, and you've just entered desert country. As you speed through Arizona, you end up on Route 66, the famous American desert highway. The country becomes intensely hot and dry, with temperatures well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the heat, you see signs of life: cacti, small trees, and rodents dot the land. Welcome to the Mojave Desert, an area of extremely dry land spanning Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California.

The Mojave Desert spans California, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona.
Mojave Desert location

A desert is defined by the amount of rain it receives, and the Mojave Desert averages fewer than five inches of rain per year! The plants and animals that live here are specifically adapted to survive in hot, dry conditions. They are part of the unique desert ecosystem and they are all related through a food web.

A road runs through a large stretch of the Mojave Desert.
Mojave Desert

What Is a Food Web?

A food web is a diagram that shows the flow of energy in the form of food through an ecosystem. There are four levels to a food web, called trophic levels. The most basic level of the food web is made of producers, organisms that make their own energy. Producers are usually plants. One step up from producers are primary consumers, or animals and insects that eat plants. The next level up is made of secondary consumers, carnivores that eat primary consumers. And at the top of the food web, you find top predators, which consume both primary and secondary consumers and keep the food web in balance. Below is a diagram of how each trophic level relates to the others.

Producers form the base for the food web.
food chain

Food Web of the Mojave Desert

In the Mojave Desert, producers must be adapted to extremely hot and dry conditions. For instance, cacti have large barrels that allow them to collect and store water during rainfall. Trees, including the Joshua tree, which is common in the Mojave Desert, have also developed strategies to conserve water.

Joshua trees are the producers native to the Mojave Desert.
Joshua Tree

The Mojave's primary consumers are mostly small mammals, such as rodents, hares, and rabbits. The kangaroo rat is a primary consumer that feeds mostly on seeds. It can extract water from seeds and live its life rarely, if ever, consuming liquid water.

Kangaroo rats eat only seeds, making them a primary consumer.
Kangaroo rat

Secondary consumers are carnivores that prey on primary consumers. Examples of secondary consumers in the Mojave Desert are scorpions, tarantulas, rattlesnakes, and small lizards. Scorpions have a long tail with a stinger at the end filled with poison. They hunt for smaller insects, spiders, and even other scorpions to eat.

Scorpions are secondary consumers in the Mojave Desert.

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