The Sahara Desert is the world’s largest hot desert, covering much of North Africa. The adaptations of the wildlife and plants to the treacherous environment are fascinating, and the cultural history of this geographic crossroads complex and involved. Approximately a third of the Earth’s land surface is made up of some kind of desert with very little rainfall and vegetation. Desert are very dry and hot, but at some points experience a cold front. Deserts vary in several different ways. Some contain vast areas of sand, rocks or gravel with few plants. Severe winds blow in and out of the deserts transporting valuable mineral deposits, thus leaving behind preserved fossils.
Sand dunes are very prominent in deserts and there are several different types depending on the wind patterns. Plant life varies as well. Winds play a big role in the desert atmosphere. They may be seasonal, sporadic or even daily. They range from gentle breezes to violent gusts at speeds as high as 300 k/hr. Desert are formed by global circulation patterns. They are usually found close to the north and south poles and the equator. There are deserts not only on the Earth, but also on other planets including mars with a surface of a desert all around. The Sahara’s environment requires that the wildlife adapt to hyper-arid conditions, fierce winds, intense heat and wide temperature swings. In the heart of the Sahara, for instance, most mammals are relatively small, which helps to minimize water loss. They often meet their water needs from their diets.
They take refuge in burrows during the day, hunting and foraging primarily at night, when temperatures are lower. They have developed anatomical adaptations such as the fennec fox’s large ears, which help dissipate heat, and its hairy soles, which protect its feet. Like all deserts, the Sahara harbors a relatively sparse community of wild plants, with the highest concentrations occurring along the northern and southern margins and near the oases and drainages. It has imposed adaptations on the plants.
For instance, near wadis and oases, plants such as date palms, tamarisks and acacia put down long roots to reach life-sustaining water. In the more arid areas, the seeds of flowering plants sprout quickly after a rain, putting down shallow roots, and completing their growing cycle and producing seeds in a matter of days, before the soil dries out. The new seeds may lie dormant in the dry soil for years, awaiting the next rainfall to repeat the cycle.
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