Semi Desert

Best know for its lush, green Mediterranean coastal areas and higher snow covered slopes Lebanon also has semi desert habitat in the northern Bekaa region. Near Hermel the rainfall is only 250 mm per year compared to over 800mm on the coast. The reason for the difference is the high mountains of the Mount Lebanon range, which capture much of the rainfall before it can reach the Bekaa plain. Literally the region is in the “rain shadow” of Qornet es Sauda.

With low rainfall fewer plants can grow and those that do are specialised to live in a dry environment.

As well as large areas of bare rock and thin soil there are scattered, low-growing shrubs, interspersed with a thin cover of annual and perennials flowers. Very common is the spiny low shrub Thorny Burnet Sarcopoterium spinosum, which also occurs elsewhere in the country. Other plants include ArtemisiaHaloxylonSalsolaAchillea, and Scorzonera.

The habitat is much more common in surrounding countries and is, in fact, a direct extension of the Syrian Desert via the Homs depression.

You might expect the area to be devoid of life and not worth a visit – but you would be wrong! Although deserts and semi deserts, have little production by plants due to the lack of water, and therefore low levels of insects and other animals – what they do have is special. Many species are adapted to this harsh habitat and a visit can be rewarded with some special sightings. This is particularly true of birds.

The following species are found only in this habitat in Lebanon: Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor top right, Bar-tailed Lark Ammomanes cincture middle right, Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti, Temminck’s Lark Eremophila bilopha bottom right, Scrub Warbler Scotocerca inquieta below right and Mourning Wheatear Oenanthe lugens below left.

As can be seen from the birds above most desert birds are coloured like the sand and rock around them. Not the Mourning Wheatear, however, which with its black & white plumage and habit of sitting on thorn bushes makes it quite conspicuous.

It is not just birds that live here –there are many snakes and lizards, such as this Agama lizard (Laudakia stellio) right. Reptiles do well in deserts as they need far less food than an equivalent sized mammal. They do not have to maintain such a strict body temperature as warm blooded or “endothermic” animals and can use behavioural means to war, up or cool down. (See Reptiles.)

Deserts and semi deserts have few people, as agriculture is only possible with irrigation. With low human population carnivores such as the Jackal, left, can exist unmolested.