General Diversity

The casual observer often assumes that deserts support only low species richness and diversity because of the harsh environmental conditions prevalent in arid areas, but among plants and animals almost all taxa are represented (even aquatic groups like fishes and amphibians) here, and their species richness may be comparable to that of more mesic environments. Even though detailed comparative data are lacking, it has been argued that the diversity in North American deserts is comparable to some grasslands and even temperate forests. In general, however, evidence based on correlations along climate gradients indicates a decrease of species richness in plants and animals with increasing aridity. Regardless of this, specific taxa can be more species rich in deserts than in bordering less arid systems and regionally show negative relationship of richness with increasing precipitation. Examples for these are reptiles and birds in North America, and ants in Australia. Taxonomic groups that are generally species rich in deserts are rodents, reptiles, some insect groups (e.g., ants and termites), solpugids (camel spiders), and scorpions. In the following, an overview of typical desert taxa is given, and some emphasis is given on the ecological role of these groups in deserts. More specific treatment of ecophysiological adaptations follows in the next section.

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