Deserts and xeric shrublands

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Extent of deserts and xeric shrublands

Deserts and xeric shrublands are a habitat type defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature.[1]. Deserts and xeric shrublands form the second-largest terrestrial biome (after Taiga), covering 19% of Earth's land surface area.[2]

Ecoregions in this habitat type vary greatly in the amount of annual rainfall they receive, usually less than 250 millimetres (10 in) annually. Generally evaporation exceeds rainfall in these ecoregions. Temperature variability is also extremely diverse in these remarkable lands. Many deserts, such as the Sahara, are hot year-round but others, such as Asia's Gobi, become quite cold in winter.[1]

Temperature extremes are a characteristic of most deserts. Searing daytime heat gives way to cold nights because there is no insulation provided by humidity and cloud cover. The diversity of climatic conditions,though quite harsh, supports a rich array of habitats. Many of these habitats are ephemeral in nature, reflecting the paucity and seasonality of available water.[1]

Woody-stemmed shrubs and plants characterize vegetation in these regions. Above all, these plants have evolved to minimize water loss. Animal biodiversity is equally well adapted and quite diverse.[1]


The conversion of productive drylands to desert conditions, known as desertification, can occur from a variety of causes. One is human intervention, including intensive agricultural tillage or overgrazing[3] in areas that cannot support such exploitation. Climatic shifts such as global warming or the Milankovitch cycle (which drives glacials and interglacials) also affect the pattern of deserts on Earth.


The World Wide Fund for Nature highlights a number of desert ecoregions that have a high degree of biodiversity and endemism:[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g  This article incorporates text available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license. World Wide Fund for Nature. "Deserts and Xeric Shrubland Ecoregions". Archived from the original on 2012-04-25.
  2. ^ Lockwood, M. Managing Protected Areas: A Global Guide. p. 199.
  3. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2009. "Overgrazing". Encyclopedia of Earth. Sidney Draggan, topic ed.; Cutler J. Cleveland, ed., National council for Science and the Environment, Washington, D.C.
  4. ^ Cowling, RM; Hilton-Taylor, C (1994). "Patterns of plant diversity and endemism in southern Africa: An overview". In Huntley, BJ. Botanical diversity in southern Africa. Pretoria, South Africa: National Botanical Institute. pp. 31–52.
  5. ^ Hernandez, HM; Barcenas, RT (1995). "Endangered cacti in the Chihuahuan Desert: I. Distribution patterns". Conservation Biology. 9: 1176–1188.

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