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Desert Diary


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A recent magazine article noted that an animal is actually an aggregate of individuals—that, in a manner of speaking, each of us is an ecosystem. We live—intimately—with scores or hundreds of kinds of other organisms.

Some are parasites, stealing sustenance from us. Although most of us now are mercifully free from the hookworms and roundworms that have plagued humans throughout history, pinworms and lice frequently make their appearances among the younger set, as does the fungal infection known as ringworm.

Other companions in life are so called commensals—neither helping nor harming us. Immense herds of bacteria inhabit our digestive tract—presumably some are, from our point of view, harmless. Yet others are mutualistic—they help us and we help them. Some of our friendly, bacteria work by leaving no room for disease germs, and others produce substances that we need but cannot manufacture ourselves.

What does this have to do with our desert? Just this—each animal in our region is, like humans, a miniature ecosystem that helps to characterize the greater ecosystem of the Chihuahuan Desert.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



Purves, W. K., G. H. Orians, H. C. Heller, and D. Sadava. 1998. Life. The science of biology. Third Ed. Sinaurer Associates, Inc., Sunderland, MA, 1243 pp.

Web Resources

Normal Body Flora.