Please wait a minute...
Journal of Arid Land  2021, Vol. 13 Issue (6): 629-638    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-021-0009-1
Research article     
An arthropod community beyond the dry limit of plant life
Benjamin DAVIDSON1,2,*(), Elli GRONER3,4
1Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, D.N. Eilot 88840, Israel
2Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York 12604, United States of America
3Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, Mitzpe Ramon 8060000, Israel
4Ben Gurion University, Eilat 88556, Israel
Download: HTML     PDF(1378KB)
Export: BibTeX | EndNote (RIS)      


Water availability, which enables plant growth and animal activity, regulates dryland ecosystem function. In hyper-arid ecosystems, rain cannot support vascular plant growth. Therefore, hyper-arid vegetation is restricted to the lower topography, where runoff accumulates. Typically, food resources originating from areas of dense vegetation are dispersed across the desert floor, enabling animal life in areas lacking vascular plant growth. However, certain regions, such as the hyper-arid upper topography, may be devoid of plant-derived food resources. The present study examined arthropod activity in the upper topography of a hyper-arid desert, in comparison with arthropod activity in the lower topography. Pitfall traps were utilized to compare arthropod activity along unvegetated ridges with activity in parallel, vegetated riverbeds. Surprisingly, the study revealed dense arthropod communities in the barren upper topography. Arthropods collected in the upper topography represented 26% of total arthropod abundance. In addition, the overlap between arthropod identity in the ridges and wadis (i.e., riverbeds) was low, and certain arthropods were strongly affiliated with the ridges. The upper topographic communities included high numbers of silverfish (Zygentoma: Lepismatidae), malachite beetles (Psiloderes), and predatory mites (Acari: Anystidae), and these arthropods were present at various life stages. It remains unclear how arthropod communities can persist in the unvegetated upper topography of the hyper-arid study area. These results raise the possibility that other food sources, independent from vascular plants, may play a significant role in the life history of hyper-arid arthropods.

Key wordshyper-arid area      spatial distribution      topography      silverfish      Tenebrionidae      desert     
Received: 16 December 2020      Published: 10 June 2021
Corresponding Authors:
About author: Benjamin DAVIDSON (E-mail:
Cite this article:

Benjamin DAVIDSON, Elli GRONER. An arthropod community beyond the dry limit of plant life. Journal of Arid Land, 2021, 13(6): 629-638.

URL:     OR

Fig. 1 Location and topographic features of the study sites in the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES), southern Israel
Fig. 2 Photos showing terrain in the ridges (a) and wadis (b) of the plots
Block Distance (m) Change in elevation (m) Wadis slope (°) Ridges slope (°)
A 70.7136 10.42416 17.08256 16.66176
B 84.4296 10.24128 5.65228 6.21687
C 55.7784 7.31520 22.94079 10.18023
D 95.4024 8.71728 15.08426 15.94099
E 137.7696 18.40992 8.15679 15.46925
F 173.7360 24.59736 15.75063 4.91531
Table 1 Site conditions at each block, including distance between the ridges and wadis, change in elevation between the ridges and wadis, and slope degree in the ridges and wadis
Fig. 3 Simpson diversity (a), species richness (b), arthropod activity (c) in the ridges and wadis, and Whittaker and Bray-Curtis dissimilarities (d)
t-test Ants Soil mesofauna Beetles Other arthropods
Activity (abundance/days elapsed) P=0.0104 P=0.0118 P=0.2178 P=0.6796
t=3.3294 t=3.2155 t=1.4093 t= -0.4381
Simpson diversity P=0.2792 P=0.0111 P=0.0213 P=0.0092
t=0.2134 t=3.2674 t=2.7044 t=3.4383
Species richness P=0.0021 P=0.0215 P=0.0014 P=0.0014
t=5.0000 t=2.6968 t=5.4515 t=5.5000
Whittaker dissimilarity P=0.0033 P=0.0184 P<0.0001 P<0.0001
t=4.4779 t=2.8274 t=11.3830 t=11.2330
Bray-Curtis dissimilarity P<0.0001 P=0.0003 P<0.0001 P<0.0001
t=21.8110 t=7.6950 t=34.4910 t=10.6280
Table 2 Results of t-tests (df=5) activity, Simpson diversity, species richness and Whitaker and Bray-Curtis dissimilarities for ants, soil mesofauna, beetles and other arthropods
Fig. 4 Principle component analysis (PCA) plot of the recognizable taxonomic unit (RTU). Filled circles indicate ridges and open circles indicate wadis. Numbers by each circle indicate the number of species in each sample.
Fig. 5 Redundancy detrended analysis (RDA) plot showing affiliation of recognizable taxonomic units (RUTs) with either ridges or wadis. Filled circles indicate ridges and open circles indicate wadis.
Fig. 6 Community composition in the ridges and wadis. (a), soil mesofauna; (b), predators; (c), ants; (d), detritivores. A-F are 6 blocks.
[1]   Abd El-Ghani M M, Amer W M. 2003. Soil-vegetation relationships in a coastal desert plain of southern Sinai, Egypt. Journal of Arid Environments, 55(4):607-628.
doi: 10.1016/S0140-1963(02)00318-X
[2]   Alatawi A S, Gilbert F, Reader T. 2020. Modelling terrestrial reptile species richness, distributions and habitat suitability in Saudi Arabia. Journal of Arid Environments, 178:104153.
doi: 10.1016/j.jaridenv.2020.104153
[3]   Barrow C J. 1992. World Atlas of Desertification. Kent: Land Degradation and Development, 3:249-249.
[4]   Bird T, Bouskila A, Groner E, et al. 2020. Can vegetation removal successfully restore coastal dune biodiversity across multiple taxa? Applied Sciences, 10:2310.
doi: 10.3390/app10072310
[5]   Bregović P, Zagmajster M. 2016. Understanding hotspots within a global hotspot-identifying the drivers of regional species richness patterns in terrestrial subterranean habitats. Insect Conservation and Diversity, 9(4):268-281.
doi: 10.1111/icad.2016.9.issue-4
[6]   Cammeraat L H. 2002. A review of two strongly contrasting geomorphological systems within the context of scale. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 27(11):1201-1222.
doi: 10.1002/(ISSN)1096-9837
[7]   Crawford C S, Taylor E C. 1984. Decomposition in arid environments: role of the detritivore gut. South African Journal of Science, 80(4):170.
[8]   Dean W R J, Milton S J, Jeltsch F. 1999. Large trees, fertile islands, and birds in arid savanna. Journal of Arid Environments, 41(1):61-78.
doi: 10.1006/jare.1998.0455
[9]   DI Giovanni E, Palombini A. 2002. Desertification, Sustainability, and Archaeology: Indications from the Past for an African Future. In: Bonsignori Editore. Origins: Prehistory and Protohistory of Ancient Civilizations. Italia: Universita di Roma, 303-334. (in Italiano)
[10]   El-Bana M I, Al-Mathnani A. 2009. Vegetation-soil relationships in the wadi Al-Hayat area of the Libyan Sahara. Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences, 3(2):740-747.
[11]   Fossati J, Pautou G, Peltier J P. 1999. Water as resource and disturbance for wadis vegetation in a hyperarid area (Wadi Sannur, Eastern Desert, Egypt). Journal of Arid Environments, 43(1):63-77.
doi: 10.1006/jare.1999.0526
[12]   Furniss R L, Carolin V M. 1977. Western forest insects (No. 1339). Washington DC: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. doi: 10.5962/bhl.title.131875
doi: 10.5962/bhl.title.131875
[13]   Ginat H, Shlomi Y, Batarseh S, et al. 2011. Reduction in precipitation levels in the Arava Valley (southern Israel and Jordan), 1949-2009. Jounal of Dead-Sea Arava Research, 1:1-7.
[14]   Giorgi F, Hewitson B, Arritt R, et al. 2001. Regional Climate Information- Evaluation and Projections. In: Houghton J H, Ding Y, Grigggs M, et al. Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis. Gambridge: Gambridge University Press, 583-638.
[15]   Goldreich Y, Karni O. 2001. Climate and precipitation regime in the Arava Valley, Israel. Israel Journal of Earth Sciences, 50(2):53-59.
doi: 10.1560/1V61-FPGF-Y5VK-ADAG
[16]   Hackett T D, Korine C, Holderied M W. 2013. The importance of acacia trees for insectivorous bats and arthropods in the Arava Desert. PloS ONE, 8(2):e5299.
[17]   Holtgrieve G W, Schindler D E, Jewett P K. 2009. Large predators and biogeochemical hotspots: brown bear (Ursus arctos) predation on salmon alters nitrogen cycling in riparian soils. Ecological Research, 24(5):1125-1135.
doi: 10.1007/s11284-009-0591-8
[18]   IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) 2007. Contribution of working groups I, II and III to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Geneva: IPCC.IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) 2007. Climate change 2007: Synthesis report. Contribution of working groups I, II and III to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Geneva: IPCC.
[19]   Kassas M, Girgis W. 1965. Habitat and plant communities in the Egyptian desert: VI. The units of a desert ecosystem. Journal of Ecology, 53(3):715-728.
doi: 10.2307/2257630
[20]   Kremen C, Colwell R K, Erwin T L, et al. 1993. Terrestrial arthropod assemblages: Their use in conservation planning. Conservation Biology, 7(4):796-808.
doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1739.1993.740796.x
[21]   Lalley J, Viles H A, Henschel J, et al. 2006. Lichen-dominated soil crusts as arthropod habitat in warm deserts. Journal of Arid Environments, 67(4):579-593.
doi: 10.1016/j.jaridenv.2006.03.017
[22]   Liu R, Zhu F, Steinberger Y. 2016. Changes in ground-dwelling arthropod diversity related to the proximity of shrub cover in a desertified system. Journal of Arid Environments, 124:172-179, doi: 10.1016/j.jaridenv.2015.08.014.
doi: 10.1016/j.jaridenv.2015.08.014
[23]   Louw G N, Hamilton W J. 1972. Physiological and behavioural ecology of the ultrapsammophilous Namib Desert tenebrionid, Lepidochora argentogrisea. Madoqua, 2(1):87-95.
[24]   Mayor Á G, Bautista S, Small E E, et al. 2008. Measurement of the connectivity of runoff source areas as determined by vegetation pattern and topography: A tool for assessing potential water and soil losses in drylands. Water Resources Research, 44(10), doi: 10.1029/2007WR006367.
doi: 10.1029/2007WR006367
[25]   Meserve P L, Glanz W E. 1978. Geographical ecology of small mammals in the northern Chilean arid zone. Journal of Biogeography, 5(2):135-148.
doi: 10.2307/3038168
[26]   Monod T. 1954. Contracted and diffuse modes of Saharan vegetation. In: Cloudsley-Thompson J L. Biology of Deserts. London: Institute of Biology, 35-44.
[27]   Nawaz M A, Rafique M, Khan N K. 2011. Pattern of mammalian distribution in the Chagai Desert, Balochistan, Pakistan. Pakistan Journal of Zoology, 43(5):841-847.
[28]   Noy-Meir I. 1973. Desert ecosystems: environment and producers. Annual Revision of Ecological Systems, 4(1):25-51.
[29]   Parker W S, Pianka E R. 1975. Comparative ecology of populations of the lizardUta stansburiana. Copeia, 4:615-632.
[30]   Pointing S B, Belnap J. 2012. Microbial colonization and controls in dryland systems. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 10(8):551-562.
doi: 10.1038/nrmicro2831
[31]   Pueyo Y, Moret-Fernández D, Saiz H, et al. 2013. Relationships between plant spatial patterns, water infiltration capacity, and plant community composition in semi-arid Mediterranean ecosystems along stress gradients. Ecosystems, 16(3):452-466.
doi: 10.1007/s10021-012-9620-5
[32]   Rebelo H, Brito J C. 2007. Bat guild structure and habitat use in the Sahara Desert. African Journal of Ecology, 45(2):228-230.
doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2028.2006.00721.x
[33]   Rubinstein Y, Groner E, Yizhaq H, et al. 2013. An eco-spatial index for evaluating stabilization state of sand dunes. Aeolian Research, 9:75-87.
doi: 10.1016/j.aeolia.2012.08.007
[34]   Ruhm J, Böhnert T, Weigend M, et al. 2020. Plant life at the dry limit-spatial patterns of floristic diversity and composition around the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert. PloS ONE, 15(5):e0233729.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0233729
[35]   Schwinning S, Sala O E, Loik M E, et al. 2004. Thresholds, memory and seasonality: understanding pulse dynamics in arid/semi-arid ecosystems. Oecologia, 141:191-193.
pmid: 15300489
[36]   Shachak M, Jones C G, Granot Y. 1987. Herbivory in rocks and the weathering of a desert. Science, 236(4805):1098-1099.
pmid: 17799665
[37]   Swift M J, Heal O W, Anderson J M, et al. 1979. Decomposition in terrestrial ecosystems. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 56:96.
[38]   ter Braak C J F, Smilauer P. 2015. CANOCO Reference Manual and CanoDraw for Windows User's Guide: Software for Canonical Community Ordination (version 5.0). New York: Microcomputer Power.
[39]   Trenberth K E. 2011. Changes in precipitation with climate change. Climate Research, 47:123-138.
doi: 10.3354/cr00953
[40]   Valavanis V D, Kapantagakis A, Katara I, et al. 2004. Critical regions: a GIS-based model of marine productivity hotspots. Aquatic Sciences, 66(1):139-148.
doi: 10.1007/s00027-003-0669-2
[41]   Ward D. 2009. The Biology of Deserts. New York: Oxford University Press, 304.
[42]   Ward D F, Stanley M C. 2004. The value of RTUs and parataxonomy versus taxonomic species. New Zealand Entomologist, 27(1):3-9.
doi: 10.1080/00779962.2004.9722118
[43]   Warren-Rhodes K A, Rhodes K L, Pointing S B, et al. 2006. Hypolithic cyanobacteria, dry limit of photosynthesis, and microbial ecology in the hyperarid Atacama Desert. Microbial Ecology, 52:389-398.
pmid: 16865610
[44]   Watson R T. 1989. Niche separation in Namib Desert dune Lepismatidae (Thysanura, Insecta): detritivores in an allochthonous detritus ecosystem. Journal of Arid Environments, 17(1):37-48.
doi: 10.1016/S0140-1963(18)30922-4
[45]   Wessels D C J, Wessels L A, Holzapfel W H. 1979. Preliminary report on lichen-feeding Coleoptera occurring on Teloschistes capensisin the Namib Desert, South West Africa. Bryologist, 82(2):270-273.
doi: 10.2307/3242084
[46]   White R P, Nackoney J. 2003. Drylands, people, and ecosystem goods and services: a web-based geospatial analysis. World Resources Institute. [2003-02-01].
[47]   Zohary M. 1962. Plant Life of Palestine: Israel and Jordan. New York: Ronald Press, 393-394.
[1] MA Jinpeng, PANG Danbo, HE Wenqiang, ZHANG Yaqi, WU Mengyao, LI Xuebin, CHEN Lin. Response of soil respiration to short-term changes in precipitation and nitrogen addition in a desert steppe[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(9): 1084-1106.
[2] Orhan DENGİZ, İnci DEMİRAĞ TURAN. Soil quality assessment for desertification based on multi-indicators with the best-worst method in a semi-arid ecosystem[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(7): 779-796.
[3] ZHAO Hongyan, YAN Changzhen, LI Sen, WANG Yahui. Remote sensing monitoring of the recent rapid increase in cultivation activities and its effects on desertification in the Mu Us Desert, China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(7): 812-826.
[4] QIANG Yuquan, ZHANG Jinchun, XU Xianying, LIU Hujun, DUAN Xiaofeng. Stem sap flow of Haloxylon ammodendron at different ages and its response to physical factors in the Minqin oasis-desert transition zone, China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(7): 842-857.
[5] ZHOU Chongpeng, GONG Lu, WU Xue, LUO Yan. Nutrient resorption and its influencing factors of typical desert plants in different habitats on the northern margin of the Tarim Basin, China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(7): 858-870.
[6] M'hammed BOUALLALA, Souad NEFFAR, Lyès BRADAI, Haroun CHENCHOUNI. Do aeolian deposits and sand encroachment intensity shape patterns of vegetation diversity and plant functional traits in desert pavements?[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(6): 667-694.
[7] CHEN Yingying, LIN Yajun, ZHOU Xiaobing, ZHANG Jing, YANG Chunhong, ZHANG Yuanming. Effects of drought treatment on photosystem II activity in the ephemeral plant Erodium oxyrhinchum[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(6): 724-739.
[8] LI Hongfang, WANG Jian, LIU Hu, MIAO Henglu, LIU Jianfeng. Responses of vegetation yield to precipitation and reference evapotranspiration in a desert steppe in Inner Mongolia, China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(4): 477-490.
[9] WANG Wang, CHEN Jiaqi, CHEN Jiansheng, WANG Tao, ZHAN Lucheng, ZHANG Yitong, MA Xiaohui. Contribution of groundwater to the formation of sand dunes in the Badain Jaran Desert, China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(11): 1340-1354.
[10] ZHAO Mengqi, SU Huan, HUANG Yin, Rashidin ABDUGHENI, MA Jinbiao, GAO Jiangtao, GUO Fei, LI Li. Plant growth-promoting properties and anti-fungal activity of endophytic bacterial strains isolated from Thymus altaicus and Salvia deserta in arid lands[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(11): 1405-1420.
[11] Alamusa , SU Yuhang, YIN Jiawang, ZHOU Quanlai, WANG Yongcui. Effect of sand-fixing vegetation on the hydrological regulation function of sand dunes and its practical significance[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(1): 52-62.
[12] YANG Xinguo, WANG Entian, QU Wenjie, WANG Lei. Biocrust-induced partitioning of soil water between grass and shrub in a desert steppe of Northwest China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(1): 63-76.
[13] YAN Ping, WANG Xiaoxu, ZHENG Shucheng, WANG Yong, LI Xiaomei. Research on wind erosion processes and controlling factors based on wind tunnel test and 3D laser scanning technology[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2022, 14(9): 1009-1021.
[14] CHEN Juan, WANG Xing, SONG Naiping, WANG Qixue, WU Xudong. Water utilization of typical plant communities in desert steppe, China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2022, 14(9): 1038-1054.
[15] YANG Suchang, QU Zhun. Cost analysis of sand barriers in desertified regions based on the land grid division model[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2022, 14(9): 978-992.