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Learn to recycle, reduce, reuse and revere with Environmental Resources from Gale

Building a Desert Biome


In this project, you will build, grow, and maintain a desert biome. The desert biome is characterized mainly by its lack of water, which causes harsh growing conditions. Maintaining the right climate, soil, and vegetation is the goal. This particular biome is characterized by a temperature range of 23 to 60°F (6 to 30°C).

Level of Difficulty

Moderate to difficult because of the length of time needed for the project.

Materials Needed

  • 10-gallon fish tank
  • indoor/outdoor thermometer
  • watering container
  • gravel
  • sand
  • topsoil
  • incandescent light with 60-watt bulb
  • succulent plants, such as jade plant, strawberry cactus, barrel cactus, etc.

Note: Most plants are easily found in local nursery stores selling houseplants.

Approximate Budget

$25. (Try to get an old fish tank to use.)


One hour to set up the project and at least six months to maintain the plants and observe changes.

How to Work Safely

Ask for assistance when moving the fish tank. Do not leave the light fixture on for more than 10 hours at a time, as it will get too hot.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Place a 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) layer of gravel in the bottom of the fish tank.
  2. Mix 1 to 2 cups of topsoil with 6 to 10 cups of sand. Place this mixture over the gravel layer.
  3. Place 2 inches (5 centimeters) of sand over the sand/topsoil layer.
  4. Plant the cactus and succulents in the fish tank and cover the roots completely.
  5. Place the thermometer inside the fish tank, against the back wall.
  6. Water sparingly. Pour 2 cups of water on the sand to start. Water the fish tank with 1 cup of water every week after that.
  7. Place the light fixture above the fish tank and leave it on for 8 to 10 hours a day.
  8. Check the fish tank daily. Record any differences in the plants' growth and in the temperature range.

Summary of Results

Graph the data you collected during the project. You will notice very little change, as the plants have a very slow growth cycle.

Source: Experiment Central. U·X·L, 2000.


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