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The Differences Between Tropical Rainforests & Deserts

Updated February 21, 2017

Deserts and Tropical Rainforests are two very different examples of biomes. While both contain all of the elements needed to support life (water, vegetation and warmth), they do so in different ways and to vastly different extents. Because of these differences, the life that thrives in each environment is quite different and highly specialised for survival in its respective biome.

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Presence of Liquid Water

Tropical rainforests are subject to regular precipitation all or nearly all year, and they may have many rivers and streams running through the ground beneath their canopy. In deserts, sources of water are sparse and may be hundreds of miles apart. Tundras, which are technically classed as a type of desert, may contain large amounts of snow, but liquid water is scarce.


Tropical rainforests contain more plant life than science has been able to catalogue, from tall trees whose branches form jungle canopies to fronds and fungi growing in the shadows below. Vegetation in deserts is significantly more rare than in rainforests. Some deserts can be home to several species of plant life that have adapted to the harsh and arid conditions, while others, which are less hospitable to life, can accommodate only a few varieties of plants.

Animal Life

An abundance of animal life thrives in rainforest environments, and animals can be large, small or even microscopic. Animals of the rainforest may be mammals, rodents, birds, reptiles, amphibians or fish, and they are often brightly-coloured to blend in with their environment. Large mammals are much more rare in deserts, where the limited amounts food and water are more suited to sustaining small rodents, reptiles and insects.

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About the Author

Rob Callahan lives in Minneapolis, where he covers style, culture and the arts for Vita.MN and "l'étoile Magazine." His work has earned awards in the fields of journalism, social media and the arts. Callahan graduated from Saint Cloud State University in 2001 with a Bachelor's degree in philosophy.

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