Deserts: biodiversity in a forbidding landscape | Global Ideas | DW | 08.12.2014
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Global Ideas

Deserts: biodiversity in a forbidding landscape

They're hot, dry and sandy but they can also be icy, rugged or salty. One thing deserts have in common is that they constitute extreme, harsh habitats. Still, they are home to a variety of organisms from small lizards to donkeys, trees and humans. Check out this extraordinary paradise in our interactive feature.

What exactly is a desert? What images do we usually associate the arid landscapes with? Well, endless, baking sand dunes for one. But even ice, rocks, gravel or salt? We probably do think of drought, wasteland, barrenness, dry scrubland and extreme heat. In short, a place in the world where humans face huge odds in putting down roots and yet it's a place that has been inhabited and traveled to since the beginning of time.

But, deserts are also much more than what is generally known about them. They aren't just dry and searing hot. They can also be equally ice cold. They can be made of fine sand as well as of stony particles, craggy rocks or crusty salt. By definition, every landscape covered by less than five percent of vegetation is considered a desert. That applies as much to the Sahara as to the Antarctic or the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, the world's largest salt desert.

Though deserts may appear to have little life in them, in reality they are home to high biodiversity. Some 30 million square kilometers of the earth are made up of deserts where small and big animals live and thrive. Some deserts even have trees while in others, humans have erected homes and entire townships.

In our interactive special, we take you on a trip to some of the world's most forbidding regions that hold plenty of surprises. We meet lizards, fish, donkeys and humans who live in and off deserts. For them, the desert isn't a harsh habitat; it's their home.