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Desert Wildlife

Desert Food Chains

Food chains allow us to examine the basics of how energy passes through an ecosystem.
photo of goleta grass the bottom of the desert food chain
photo of rabbit the consumer in the desert food chain
photo of a desert predator
A food chain is sequence of plants, herbivores and carnivores, through which energy and materials move within an ecosystem. Food chains are usually short and not more than three or four links. They usually consist of a producer, a consumer and a predator, with the predator being the top of the food chain. The top of the desert food chain does eventually die though, and is returned to the bottom of the chain as nutrients by decomposers.

Typical Desert Food Chains

Mountain Lion
Mule Deer
Plant (forbs)

Plant (shrub seeds)
Plant (wildflower/grass seeds)
Rats & Mice
Plant (seeds)
Man is the top predator in any desert environment whether by intention or accident. An example of this is the coyote. The coyote's natural predator was at one time the wolf. The wolf has been extirpated from the Mojave Desert by man, however, man and his motor vehicles have taken the place of the wolf as the primary killer of coyotes.

The tortoise and the chuckwalla are the largest reptilian herbivores in the Mojave. The tortoise will only eat plants throughout it's life cycle while young chuckwallas have been known to sample a grasshopper or two.

Mule deer and bighorn sheep are the largest mammalian herbivores in the Mojave. Mule deer are the prefered prey of the mountain lion, while bighorn sheep are often in areas too vertical and dangerous for the big cats to successfully attack. Coyotes will sometimes corner and kill an older bighorn as a pack, but prefer to scavenge the carcass of the sheep killed by it's most dangerous predator- fly larvae. Flies will lay eggs in the nostrils of the bighorn. As the eggs grow into larvae, the bighorn suffocates.

Desert Food Pyramid

A pyramid representing trends in food consumption, with the lowest level (primary producers) having the greatest total biomass, ...

Desert Food Webs

The interconnected feeding relationships in an ecosystem. These relationships can be complex; some organisms may ...


Swainson's hawk

Gambel's quail

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