Arabian Desert and East Sahero-Arabian xeric shrublands

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ecoregion : Arabian Desert and East Sahero-Arabian xeric shrublands (Ref PA1303).

Name in arabic :



Ecozone : Palearctic
Biome : Deserts and xeric shrublands
Climate type : hyper arid
Soil types :
Surface : 1,851,300 km²
Conservation status : critical/endangered
Global 200 : no

Oceans or seas (borders) :
Rivers : Tigris, Euphrates, Tharthar lake
Borders :
Countries : Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen.

This ecoregion is the largest on the Arabian Peninsula.
It is a vast desert wilderness stretching from Yemen to the Persian Gulf and Oman to Jordan and Iraq. It is one of the continuous bodies of sand in the world. Gazelles, oryx, sand cats, and spiny-tailed lizards are just some of the desert-adapted species survive in this extreme environment, which features everything from red dunes to deadly quicksand. The climate is extremely dry, and temperatures oscillate between extreme heat and seasonal nighttime freezes.

This ecoregion holds little biodiversity, although a few endemic plants grow here. Many species, such as the striped hyaena, jackal and honey badger have become extinct in this area due to hunting, human encroachment and habitat destruction. Other species have been successfully re-introduced, such as the endangered white oryx and the sand gazelle, and are protected at a number of reserves. Overgrazing by livestock, off-road driving, human destruction of habitat are the main threats to this desert ecoregion.

General description


Type : hyper arid
Detailed description : Most of the Rub'al-Khali is classified as hyper-arid. Rainfall is generally less than 35 mm per annum and relative humidity low (50% in winter, 15% in summer).
Temperatures are about 50C in summer, with an average temperature of 12C in winter, though it can go below 0C. Daily extremes are very important.
Saudi Arabia show lower summer temperatures (around 30C) with cold winter temperature (around 5C, with frequent frost), with average rainfall of less than 80 mm.

Geologic and pedologic features

picture needed
Detailed geological features :

  • A corridor of sandy terrain known as the ad-Dahna desert connects the large an-Nafud desert (65,000 km²) in the north of Saudi Arabia to the Rub' al-Khali in the south.
  • the Tuwayq escarpment is a region of 800 km arc of limestone cliffs, plateaux, and canyons.
  • Brackish salt flats : the quicksands of Umm al Samim
  • The Wahiba sands of Oman : an isolated sand sea bordering the east coast
  • The Rub' al-Khali [1] ( desert is a sedimentary basin elongated on a southwest to northeast axis across the Arabian shelf. At an altitude of 1000 metres, the rock landscapes yield the place to the ar-Ruba' Al-Khali, vast wide of sand of the Arabian desert, whose extreme southern point crosses the center of Yemen. The sand overlies gravel or gypsum plains and the dunes reach maximum heights of up to 250m. The sands are predominantly silicates, composed of 80 to 90% of quartz and the remainder feldspar, whose iron oxide-coated grains color the sands in orange and red.

Ecology and natural resources

Some resources are oil, natural gas, phosphates, and sulfur.

The Rub'al-Kali has very limited floristic diversity. There are only 37 species, 20 recorded in the main body of the sands and 17 around the outer margins. Among these 37 species, only one or two are endemic. Vegetation is very diffuse but fairly evenly distributed, with some interuptions of near sterile dunes.
Some typical plants are

Other widespread species are

Very little trees may be found except at the outer margin (typically Acacia ehrenbergiana and Prosopis cineraria).
Other species are a woody perennial Calligonum comosum and annual herbs such as Danthonia forskallii

People and Conservation

Ecoregion and political borders

Countries : mostly Saudi Arabia, extending into the surrounding countries of Egypt (Sinai), western Iraq, much of southern and eastern Jordan, Syria and northern Saudi Arabia. Bordering the Persian Gulf, there is an extension into Qatar and, further east, the region covers almost all of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Rub'al-Khali crosses over from Saudi Arabia into western Oman and eastern Yemen.

People, language and cultures

Ethnics : Arab, Kurdish, Turkman, Assyrian...
Religions: Muslim in majority (Shite and sunni)
Languages: Arabic, Kurdish, Assyrian, Armenian...

Ecological threats

Oil spills

This ecoregion was victim of a massive economic-environmental : the sabotage of Kuwait oil facilities that caused vast oil spills and the release of toxins into the atmosphere in the 1990s.

At the beginning in January 1991 during Persian Gulf War, Iraqi forces released about 1.7 million m³ (11 million barrels) of oil from storage tanks and tankers directly into the Persian Gulf. In February, they also destroyed 1,164 Kuwaiti oil wells. It took nine months to extinguish these oil fires. These oil spills contaminated 1000 km (600 miles) of Persian Gulf coast.

Result of the pollution was thousands of water birds death and serious damage to the Persian Gulf's aquatic ecosystem (shrimp, sea turtles, dugongs, whales, dolphins and fish).

The damaged wells also released 10 million m³ (60 million barrels) of oil into the desert and formed lakes (total surface of 49 square kilometers) which contaminated soil and ground water.


Weaponry used by the US during the Persian Gulf war also poses a huge risk to the environmental stability of the area. Tank columns in the desert plains may disrupt the fragile stability that exists. The desert soil is protected from erosion by a thin hardened crust. However, in 1991, the passage of US tanks damage the crust and unleashed a massive, slow moving sand dune. Some people fear that this dune could ultimately reach Kuwait City. Another concern is related to the use of radioactive depleted uranium munitions by the A-10 Warthog. Some detractors claim the ammunitions to be a risk for cancer and a source of water contamination. In 1991, the U.S. and NATO dropped nearly 300 tons of depleted uranium on Iraqi targets. The splinters resulting from the explosion contaminated the surrounding soil.


Pictures needed.

Conservation status : critical/endangered
Protected area :
Endemic species : Gazelles, oryx, sand cats, and spiny-tailed lizards
Introduced species :
Threatened species : white oryx, sand gazelle
Extinct species : striped hyaena, jackal, honey badger

No formal protected areas exist but a number of protected areas are in the planning for Abu Dhabi.

Relevant Wikipedia articles

soil salination
Persian Gulf War
Tigris-Euphrates alluvial salt marsh

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