Additional NBII Resources on Deserts

The NBII's Southwest Information Node provides access to resources and services that include the desert habitats of the American Southwest (Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah). Specific projects include fire and water data, active science research activities, and threatened and endangered species in the region.

A special focus for SWIN is the Great Basin Information Project, an area which includes shrub-steppe regions of eastern Washington and Oregon, southern Idaho, northern Nevada and Utah, and portions of northeastern California.


Utah desert copyright EyeWire

According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN), "desert consists of arid landscapes with a sparse plant cover, except in depressions where water accumulates. The sandy, stony or rocky substrate contributes more to the appearance of the landscape than does the vegetation."

Approximately 20% of the Earth is classified as desert habitat. While hot, dry, and sandy places immediately spring to mind when one thinks of a desert, there are actually several different types of deserts:

Cold Deserts
Temperate Deserts
Hot and Dry Deserts

While these various desert types occur in different places on the Earth, they share a common characteristic in their low levels of precipitation (typically less than 20 inches per year).

Deserts are often mistakenly thought of as wastelands, bereft of life. On the contrary, deserts are very special places biologically, hosting specialized plants and animals that can tolerate low levels of moisture and extreme temperatures. Desert soils often are highly adapted to provide nutrients and substrate while requiring very low levels of water. When water does come to the desert, it often falls in short, sudden, and severe bursts that can cause flash flooding. Another occasional disturbance is fire.


The NBII Program is administered by the Biological Informatics Program of the U.S. Geological Survey
About NBII | Accessibility Statement | NBII Disclaimer, Attribution & Privacy Statement | FOIA Logo       USGS Logo       USAgov Logo