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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
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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: Benjamin DAVIDSON     E-mail:
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.

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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.
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