12.9: Dry Climates
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How do plants that evolved in different places end up being so similar?
Organisms evolve to fit the conditions they are in. There are only so many ways to minimize the use of water. Plants in arid climates evolve very similar structures to lessen water use. They also have structures to protect themselves from the Sun. The cactus on the right is from South America. The cactus on the left is from North America. These plants are just one of many examples of organisms evolving under very similar conditions and turning out to be very similar.
Dry climates receive very little rainfall. They also have high rates of evaporation. This makes them even drier.
The driest climates are deserts. Most occur between about 15° and 30° latitude. This is where dry air sinks to the surface in the global circulation cells. Deserts receive less than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of rain per year. They may be covered with sand dunes or be home to sparse but hardy plants. With few clouds, many deserts have hot days and cool nights.
Some deserts receive a small amount of rain during the winter and again during the summer. This is enough to keep plants alive as in the left photo. Some deserts receive very little rain or rain only one season a year. These deserts have few plants as in the right photo.
Other dry climates get a little more precipitation. They are called steppes. These regions have short grasses and low bushes (Figure below). Steppes occur at higher latitudes than deserts. They are dry because they are in continental interiors or rain shadows.
A steppe in Mongolia.
Science Friday: Superbloom: How Death Valley Springs to Life
A massive seed bank of desert wildflowers lies beneath Death Valley. This video by Science Friday shows that when heavy winter rains soak deep into the soil, these hidden wonders spring to life, in an event called a “superbloom”.
- Deserts receive very little rainfall. They are often home to very unusual and well adapted plants.
- Steppes receive more rain than deserts. They are higher and have grasses and scrub.
- Plants adapt to local conditions. If conditions are the same but the plants are far apart, they may still be very similar.
- What is the reason that an arid desert has so little rainfall?
- What is the reason that a steppe has so little rainfall?
- What is the difference between a desert and a steppe in vegetation?
- What adaptations do arid climate zone plants have to the dry conditions?