The Living World
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The Interdependency of Hot Deserts

As with all ecosystems, the hot desert ecosystem is interdependent

Interdependency means that the biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components of the ecosystem rely on each other for survival. This concept is about understanding that changing or damaging one aspect of an ecosystem can have dramatic consequences for others.

Food Web

In a typical food web of a hot desert environment, we can see how interdependency can be easily disturbed and how the balance can collapse.

All life in hot deserts is dependent on vegetation. The energy transferred across all organisms comes from vegetation, which uses energy from the sun to grow.

For the ecosystem to survive, vegetation must be carefully managed to ensure it’s available to be eaten by primary consumers such as rodents and insects.

The insect population is also crucial for the survival of birds, being the primary food source for woodpeckers and owls.

Humans use pesticides in agriculture to protect crops and therefore their profits from insects. Excessive or unregulated use of pesticides risks introducing chemicals into the natural ecosystem. If this significantly affects the ant population, then woodpeckers would lose out on part of their diet. Also, praying mantis populations would severely decline.

Maintaining ecosystems is a crucial part of humanity’s fight against climate change, and it’s no different in hot deserts.

Example of Adaptation: The Bedouin

The Bedouin are nomadic Arab tribes who have historically inhabited the desert regions in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, and the Levant, leading a lifestyle adapted to the harsh desert conditions.

They live in tents and manage large livestock herds on the outskirts of the desert. The Bedouin people have adapted to the extreme heat and dryness through the use of animals who have adapted to living there.

  • Their tents are made from camel hair and vegetable fibres
  • Food mainly comes from the animals they care for, such as cows and goats
  • The Bedouin people’s clothing is designed to protect against intense heat

The Bedouin people have lived harmoniously with the desert land, and their way of life is compatible with the ever-changing landscapes of hot deserts. With increasing modernity and border restrictions, Bedouin people are now scattered across many countries in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and the Middle East. Many Bedouins have abandoned the nomadic lifestyle in favour of permanent settlements.

To read more about the human impact on hot desert ecosystems click here.

Nutrient Cycle

The nutrient cycle of hot deserts is unique and differs greatly from that of other ecosystems in its function.

In the nutrient cycle, litter must decompose to transfer nutrients to the soil. In ecosystems like tropical rainforests, less extreme temperatures and constant moisture decompose litter easily, returning nutrients to the soil and promoting growth. In contrast, in hot deserts, litter decomposes very slowly due to the extreme temperatures and lack of rainfall.

In hot deserts, most nutrients are stored in the soil, and the transfer of nutrients is exceptionally slow, promoting slow plant growth. Despite the slow decomposition, some desert plants have adapted to efficiently use the limited nutrients available.

Although the nutrient cycle in hot deserts is slow, it is crucial to the ecosystem’s functioning. The food web illustrates how all animals depend on the availability of vegetation for primary consumers. With limited energy and nutrients, desert ecosystems cannot support large amounts of biodiversity.

Key Terms

InterdependentAbiotic and biotic components reliant on each other for survival
Food WebA diagram that shows the transfer of energy in an ecosystem
NomadicHaving no permanent home, moving constantly
Nutrient CycleThe cycle of nutrients moving from the environment into living organisms and back into the environment
LitterDead plant material
Primary ConsumersHerbivores that eat vegetation and plant life

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