It’s that time of semester again for another Civic Issues Blog! I actually really enjoyed writing about tropical rainforests last week and I hope you all did as well! Sooooo I guess I’ll continue with my ecosystem/biomes theme. This week I’ll be describing the well-known yet very mysterious deserts.
I bet most people wouldn’t know that deserts cover more than one fifth of the Earth’s land surface! Who knew that most of the land at 30 degrees latitude north or south of the equator were covered in deserts? Or that every continent on Earth has at least a small portion of a desert on it.
We all know of the hot and dry deserts (subtropical) that are 43-49 degrees Celcius and covered with either sand dunes or dry lands. However, many people don’t know that cold deserts (temperate) around the Arctic parts of the world exist as well. These desert temperatures range from -2 to 4 degrees C in the winter to 21 to 26 degrees in the summer. These ecosystems actually get snow in their summers and rain in their springs averaging out to about 15-26 cm a year (which is actually high for deserts surprisingly). Another shocking fact is that the well-known sandy dune deserts we see in magazines and in movies only make up about 10% of the deserts on Earth. There are even drier deserts that receive less than half an inch of rain EACH YEAR!
With that little rain, who knew anything could survive within this ecosystem! But miraculously, nature can do incredible things and create sustainable life within this barren environment. The greatest factor in the survival of plant life within a desert is adaptation. All plants who have learned to grow in desert lands have had to develop many interesting and unique adaptations about appearance, structure inside and out, and many other aspects of their existence. One of these adaptations is reducing the size of their leaves from the typical leaves we know to spines, which also work for protection. With a loss of leaves, these plants have to move the photosynthesis process to their stems as well as their water storage. This sounds very familiar as we have all heard of cactus plants who are known to have liquid stored inside of these plants. These spines mentioned above are also known from their defensive structures as well. And lastly, these plants can have the most extensive underground root systems that even travel to groundwater.
As well as plants, animal life within the deserts have had to develop very strange strategies to survive. Although it may not seem like it, there is a very large variety of species that live in these high temperature environments. Most of these animals must live a nocturnal lifestyle, keeping them out of the sun and heat during the day and humans as well. Species are burrow diggers, unlike the tree living animals I described in the tropical rain forests. Most have small, slender bodies with long limbs which make it easier with the heat. Because of the harsh sunlight, animals have developed to have long eyelashes that protect from the sun and reduce evaporation from their eyes. Some examples of these desert creatures are lizards, the well-known camel, hyrax, and many other hidden animals you didn’t know would live there.
As with every beautiful ecosystem on our planet that I am going to describe, us humans have been finding ways to destroy each one of them. Many people wouldn’t think or want to live in deserts but a large population already currently does while development is creeping up. The deserts air is actually a great place to live for people with harsh allergies to airborne pollens. Some of the worlds largest and well known cities are found built on top of deserts including Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego, and more. Mining is another common threat to deserts because even though water is irrigated, if water cannot be supplied, than minerals within the land such as salts will build up leading to a process called salinization of the soil. Global Warming has a large potential threat against deserts. Even the smallest change in temperature will make enormous impacts on these communities I described above. Desertification, the process of converting grasslands into deserts, has been a problem due to global warming.
We as humans are again moving into ecosystem where we don’t belong and messing with our environment to destroy the only home we have. Most people don’t realize the harm we are causing to the Earth, but maybe once they learn of the many beautiful places we hold in our world, we’ll take care of it a little better.