Desert food web with decomposers: Beyond the Dunes – Exploring the Intricate Web of Life

The Food web in the desert



Cactus are desert plants, they grow in dry places. They have the ability to store water, which keeps them alive. It is protected by sharp spines or needles. As soon as the sun rises, this plant starts making sugars.

These plants have succulent tissue, waxy skin and specialized roots to tackle the harsh ecosystems of deserts.

A number of animals consume cacti such as camels, beetles, jackrabbits, woodrats etc. The animals that consume cacti, developed some body mechanism to ensure they don’t get hurt from the toxicity or from its thorns.

cactus - producer in desert
Cactus – Producer in Desert By Rebutia_flavistylus_2.jpg: Otakar Sidaderivative work: Peter coxhead (talk) – This file was derived from: Rebutia flavistylus 2.jpg:, CC BY 3.0,

Gourd Plants

Gourd Plants belong to the family Cucurbitaceae. Examples: Wild desert gourd or colocynth also called Bitter Apple, Egusi, Bitter cucumber etc. Although the fruit is not edible its flower is consumed by some animals.

Gourd plants in deserts
Gourd plants in deserts By Ji-Elle – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


In deserts, the common shrub communities are mesquite, and creosote bushes. Also, Agave survives in deserts. The Larrea tridentata or creosote bush is found in the Mojave and Chihuahuan deserts.

Creosote bush in the Mojave Desert By Klokeid – Own work, Public Domain,

  • Cactus, gourd plants, shrubs, date palms and also grasses.

Primary Consumer

  • Butterfly, camels, gazelles etc.

Secondary Consumer

  • Lizard

Tertiary Consumer

  • Snake

Decomposers in the desert

Decomposers in the desert include:

  • The dung beetle is an insect that feeds on animal faeces.
  • Fly that feeds over decaying matter and animal remains.
  • Millipede feeds on decaying plants.
  • Saharan silver ants feed on the animal remains.

Decomposers play a crucial role in ecosystems, including desert environments, by breaking down dead organic matter and recycling nutrients. While desert ecosystems may not be as biologically diverse as other ecosystems, they still have decomposers that contribute to nutrient cycling. Some common decomposers found in desert environments include:

  1. Bacteria: Bacteria are microscopic organisms that can break down organic matter, such as dead plants and animals, into simpler compounds. In desert soils, bacteria are essential for decomposing organic material and releasing nutrients.
  2. Fungi: Fungi, including molds and yeasts, are another group of decomposers found in deserts. They help break down organic matter by secreting enzymes that break down complex organic compounds.
  3. Arthropods: Desert ecosystems are home to various arthropods like beetles, ants, and termites, which contribute to decomposition. For example, desert beetles are known to scavenge on dead animals, while ants and termites can break down dead plant material.
  4. Vultures and Scavenging Birds: Although not microorganisms, scavenging birds like vultures play an important role in desert ecosystems by feeding on carrion (dead animals). They help clean up the desert landscape and accelerate the decomposition process.
  5. Dung Beetles: In some desert regions, dung beetles are essential decomposers. They feed on and bury the dung of herbivorous animals, helping to break it down and improve soil fertility.
  6. Detritivores: These are organisms that feed on detritus, which includes dead plant material, fallen leaves, and other organic debris. Desert detritivores include certain insects and arachnids that help recycle nutrients in the ecosystem.

In desert ecosystems, decomposers face unique challenges due to extreme conditions such as high temperatures, low moisture levels, and limited organic matter. Despite these challenges, they are adapted to their environment and contribute to the overall functioning and sustainability of the desert ecosystem by recycling nutrients and facilitating nutrient availability for plants and other organisms.

Nature of Desert Region

Deserts are usually found on the western margin of the continent between 20° and 30° N and S latitudes.

The annual rainfall is less than 25 cm.

Due to a lack of rainfall and arid conditions, these areas do not possess any vegetation but have a special vegetation type called Xerophytes.

The soil is sandy and saline, the deserts are agriculturally not fit. Drought-resistant thorny shrubs and bushes, palms are found in deserts.

Tribal people gather food and practice hunting. They move frequently in search of pastures and their temporary settlements.

Transportation is done by camels. Reptiles like snakes, lizards, and scorpions are commonly found.

Oasis is fertile fresh water, found in deserts and semi-arid regions. These are fed by springs.

Dates, figs, palms, citrus fruits, maize etc are cultivated near oases.


* * All the Notes in this blog, are referred from Tamil Nadu State Board Books and Samacheer Kalvi Books. Kindly check with the original Tamil Nadu state board books and Ncert Books.