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BIO 101 Ecosystem of the Mojave Desert






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Ecosystem of the Mojave Desert
Ecosystem of the Mojave Desert
The Mojave Desert is 54,000 square miles of its own special brand of
diversity; it is one desert - rather than a series of separate entities. By
becoming aware of the combined identity, appreciation and better
understanding of the issues that affect the Mojave Desert can occur on a
holistic level. Generally, at the edges of the Mojave are areas where
dominant plant and animal species change from one to another and
both, to various degrees may be possibly found on the fringes of the
other. The Mojave Desert ecosystem evolves from plants and animals
which are resources within each other. Adaption to the rough
temperatures and little water, these ecosystems finds many ways to
This ecosystem plays host to a wide variety of plants and animals living
in an environment that humans may think are harsh conditions. Many
animals get their energy by eating plants, but desert plants give up the
fruit of their production very reluctantly. Sharp spines, such as a cactus,
discourage plant-eaters. The Mule deer avoids these obstacles by eating
seeds, although safe to eat, they can be hard to find. Many are small
and look like grains of sand. The plant's solar energy flows through the
ecosystem as Mule deer, and other herbivores like jackrabbits, fall prey
to carnivores like great horned owls, coyotes, bobcats, or snakes
(Townsend, Harper & Begon, 2000).

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Survival in the desert cannot occur without animals and
plantsdependency on each other. Interdependence is the relationship
between plants and animals. Animals look for food and shelter from
desert plants and plants also need animals to help them pollinate and
grow flowers. According to Desert USA, animals are instrumental in both
fertilizing and spreading plant seed throughout the desert (1996-2012).
These animals help to maintain diverse plant life within the desert.
Desert animals have survived with the need of small amounts of water to
survive. Many animals depend on forms of desert plants that provide
them with water. There are plants consumed for their sap and nectar.
Some rodentspecies are capable to receive water from dry plant seeds.
They can manufacture the water metabolically due to their small bodies.
Rodents will not drink water even in captivity (Digital Desert, 2010).
Organisms need energy; they also need sources of nutrients like
nitrogen and phosphorus. Energy flows one way through an ecosystem,
whereas nutrients are recycled. Animals, plants, and bacteria all play
different roles in these two basic patterns; often they depend on each
other to ensure a supply of nutrients or of energy (Digital Desert, 2010)
There are many organisms that exist in the Mojave. From plants and
trees to birds and mammals, each animal serves a function in the
ecosystem. Each organism, too, must adapt to the harsh environment
that surrounds it. The arid, hot climate and cold nights require
adaptations of all organisms that inhabit the Mojave Desert and other
deserts like it (Digital Desert, 2010).
Plants and trees that exist in the Mojave Desert include: the Joshua tree,
California juniper, bitterbrush, sweet bush, sagebrush, the prickly poppy,
the fan palm oases, and the pinyon pine. In addition to plants, the
Mojave is alive with insect and spiders such as the Aztec pygmy
grasshopper, blister beetle, Carolina wolf spider, desert tarantula,
inconspicuous crab spider, Jerusalem cricket, little black ant, Mormon
cricket, and the red velvet ant (2010). This list is only an abbreviated list
of the plant and insect inhabitants of the Mojave; many more inhabit this
arid terrain.
Reptiles, mammals, and birds are other organisms that make the Mojave
home. Included are the fringe-toed lizard, western diamondback and

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Mojave rattlesnakes, desert iguana, horned lizard, zebra-tailed lizard,
sidewinder snake, rosy boa, and the common kingsnake. Birds that
make the Mojave their home include the different kind of quail (mountain
quail, Gambel’s quail, and the California quail), turkey vulture, cooper’s
hawk, red-tailed hawk, golden eagle, and the prairie falcon. Additionally,
there are families of rails, pigeons and doves, cuckoos, owls,
goatsuckers, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, flycatchers, wrens, and jays
and crows. With an environment so harsh, one would think it difficult for
mammals to inhabit such an ecosystem; however, there are many
mammals that have adapted to the harsh environment. These would
include the American badger, big free-tailed bat, cactus mouse, brush
mouse, coyote, desert shrew, gray fox, long-tailed pocket mouse,
mountain lion, mule deer, kangaroo mouse, porcupine, raccoon, kit fox,
rock squirrel, spotted bat, striped skunk, wild horse, black-tailed
jackrabbit, and the bobcat (2010). Many plants and animals have
adapted physiologically to support life on the dessert.
Physiological and Structural Adaptations:
The Cholla Cactus: In desert conditions, a plant’s survival can be based
on whether or not they absorb water and maintain through the dry spells.
The Cholla Cactus is set up to do just that with three of their main organs
that are their roots, stems, and areoles. Theses cactus have an
extensive root system that lay shallow in the ground ("Desert Ecology
Cacti and Other Succulents," n.d.). This is beneficial for absorbing even
the slightest bit of rain water that will fall in the Mojave Desert. Once this
water is absorbed, it is transferred to the stems of the cactus. These
stems appear swollen, in contrast to other plants because they contain
water-storage tissues, and a thick epidermis ("Desert Ecology Cacti and
Other Succulents," n.d.). The stem is coated with wax from the thick
epidermisand is their main prevention for water loss. Along the stems on
the surface of the epidermis are rows of areoles. These are pits that
grow long spines all over the cactus. These spines offer protection of the
stems from herbivores, and to shade the stems from the scorching
sunlight that the Mojave Desert receives. In short, the Cholla Cactus has
evolved well to absorb and retain its water for survival.
Mojave Desert Tortoise: The Mojave Desert Tortoise has adapted to life
in the desert by simply hiding. It will spend 95% of its life underground
(Digital Desert, 2010). To aid in this tactic for survival the tortoise has
developed organs such as flattened clawed front legs, a domed shell,

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