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Desert Diary


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We're possibly a little too sheltered from outdoor conditions to really appreciate how much they affect our desert life. Oh sure, we know that our local plants and animals are adapted for survival under dry, hot desert conditions, but we seldom fully realize the effects of extreme events within our overall climatic regime.

Many animals or their eggs spend the cold season buried underground for protection. Just one exceptionally cold spell may decimate populations that, in usual years, would have easily survived. We'll never know how many animals died the winter that we hit 6° below zero in El Paso. A rare hot day may pick off plants already near their limits, and we've gone as high as 114° locally. Even an exceptionally wet year may take its toll, as extra moisture allows an explosion of fungi and bacteria usually held in check by aridity. Our flora and fauna are shaped not only by the desert's generally hot and dry climate, but also by those extraordinary events that may occur only decades or even centuries apart.
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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.