Facts about desert ecosystems

Updated February 21, 2017

Like all biomes, deserts function through an intricate ecosystem. All parts of the desert, from its plants to its weather, play important roles in keeping it a living and functional place.


A desert ecosystem relies on an area that receives little to no precipitation and the temperature is very hot, according to One small change can affect everything that lives there.


Desert plants have adapted to retain moisture for long periods of time. A cactus, for example, has less stomata than other plants, which allows it to breathe without losing a lot of moisture, according to Cacti have also adopted cylindrical shapes to help retain and store water.


Many of these plants use the moisture they retain to produce fruit, but are covered with thorns and spines that prevent all but the smallest of animals from eating it. But when animals like the kangaroo rat do eat the fruit, there is a transfer of the moisture from the plant to the animal. Larger animals like coyotes and owls in the desert subsist on eating these smaller herbivores and thus also benefit from the water transfer.


According to the University of Arizona, deserts are full of burrowing animals. While they are escaping heat that way, they help aerate the soil of the desert with their tunnels and assist in cooling the soil climate.

Fun Fact

Many animals that live in the desert have adapted so their light fur helps keep out the powerful heat of the sun. Others like reptiles survive by regulating their body temperatures to store heat from the day to warm them during cold nights.

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About the Author

David Harris is a writer living in Portland, Ore. He currently is the editor-in-chief of the online magazine Spectrum Culture. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College.