Grassland and Desert

Two of the eight major biomes


Savanna is grassland with scattered individual trees. Savannas of one sort or another cover almost half the surface of Africa (about five million square miles, generally central Africa) and large areas of Australia, South America, and India. Climate is the most important factor in creating a savanna. Savannas are always found in warm or hot climates where the annual rainfall is from about 50.8 to 127 cm (20-50 inches) per year. It is crucial that the rainfall is concentrated in six or eight months of the year, followed by a long period of drought when fires can occur. If the rain were well distributed throughout the year, many such areas would become tropical forest. Savannas which result from climatic conditions are called climatic savannas. Savannas that are caused by soil conditions and that are not entirely maintained by fire are called edaphic savannas. These can occur on hills or ridges where the soil is shallow, or in valleys where clay soils become waterlogged in wet weather. A third type of savanna, known as derived savanna, is the result of people clearing forest land for cultivation. Farmers fell a tract of forest, burn the dead trees, and plant crops in the ashes for as long as the soil remains fertile. Then, the field is abandoned and, although forest trees may recolonize, grass takes over on the bare ground (succession), becoming luxuriant enough to burn within a year or so. In Africa, a heavy concentration of elephants in protected parkland have created a savanna by eating leaves and twigs and breaking off the branches, smashing the trunks and stripping the bark of trees. Elephants can convert a dense woodland into an open grassland in a short period of time. Annual fires then maintain the area as a savanna.Savanna in the Samburu Game Preserve, Kenya.
The Grasslands


Far from being barren wastelands, deserts are biologically rich habitats with a vast array of animals and plants that have adapted to the harsh conditions there. Some deserts are among the planet's last remaining areas of total wilderness. Yet more than one billion people, one-sixth of the Earth's population, actually live in desert regions.Deserts cover more than one fifth of the Earth's land, and they are found on every continent. A place that receives less than 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain per year is considered a desert. Deserts are part of a wider classification of regions called "drylands." These areas exist under a moisture deficit, which means they can frequently lose more moisture through evaporation than they receive from annual precipitation.And despite the common conceptions of deserts as dry and hot, there are cold deserts as well. The largest hot desert in the world, northern Africa's Sahara, reaches temperatures of up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) during the day. But some deserts are always cold, like the Gobi desert in Asia and the desert on the continent of Antarctica. Others are mountainous. Only about 10 percent of deserts are covered by sand dunes. The driest deserts get less than half an inch (one centimeter) of precipitation each year, and that is from condensed fog not rain.