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Feeling hot, hot, hot!

It is no secret that Australia is hot! In 2003, a whopping 69.3 °C was recorded in the shrublands of Queensland. However, millions of years of evolution mean high temperatures, lack of water, and frequent fires aren’t enough to stop Australian plants and animals from surviving and thriving!

Adaptations to aridity

Over one third of the earth’s surface is characterised by desert. In Australia, 35% of the continent receives so little rain it is classified as desert. In arid areas, plants and animals require adaptations that allow them to survive two critical challenges: a lack of water and an intense amount of heat.

Arid plants

Transpiration is the process of water moving through a plant, and its evaporation from leaves. Water vapour escapes from leaves through tiny pores in the leaf surface called stomata. Plants found in arid conditions have evolved a range of unique structural features that help reduce water loss, increase water storage, and reduce exposure to the sun (which increases transpiration rates). Try and match the structural adaptation with its function in the game below. 

Succulents are a group of plants that have specifically evolved to retain water in arid conditions. Explore the Succulent Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens in 360 degrees and see how many other adaptations you can spot among these plants.

Animals in the arid zone

Animals living in arid areas have unique structural features that help them stay cool and hydrated.  

Compare the image of the Bilby (an Australian desert animal) and the Fennec Fox (found in the Sahara Desert). What features do they have in common? ‘Spot the similarities’ to find out about the adaptive advantage of each feature.  

Behavioural techniques for avoiding excess heat are plentiful among desert animals. For the vast majority of Australian mammals, they are nocturnal to avoid being active in the heat of the day. Many are also active at dawn and dusk, and this is called being crepuscular.  

Some desert animals such as desert-dwelling frogs, remain dormant deep in the ground, only emerging during floods.

Learn more about the adaptations of Australian animals in the arid zone in the image gallery below.

Adaptations to fire

Plants

The Australian bush is characteristically hot and dry, and has evolved with fire. Plants have many structural and physiological adaptations to survive fire events, with some even relying on fire for their reproduction!

Download the ‘Plant Adaptations to Fire’ Spotto Card showcasing each of these adaptations. 



Explore the images below of a bushland recovering from fire. Look at how remarkably green it is! Can you spot any adaptations that have enabled this bushland to survive?  

Animals

Unlike Australian plants, most animals perish in bushfires - especially those that are slow-moving or live in the trees (like koalas, sugar gliders and possums). However, some animals can survive fire by either: 

The behavioural responses of these animals often match their body shape and structure, showing interactions between structural and behavioural adaptations. Can you guess which animals use each behavioural response to fire? Play the memory game below.  

One remarkable animal, the Black Kite, has even learnt to use fire to help them hunt for food:  

Taking it to the extreme

Watch the video below explaining some adaptations to extreme heat through scientific demonstrations 

Extreme Adaptations (play from 21:38 - 23:48) 

Further activities

1. Is there evidence of the arid zone at your school? 

Survey for arid and fire adapted plants in your school. Click here to access the 'Plant Adaptations in your School' activity sheet. 
Note for teachers: This activity is best suited as an assessment tool to be completed once students have used this web resource to learn about plant adaptations to other environments.  
 

2. Where do I grow?

Investigate whether plants are adapted to extreme heat by growing a plant under different environmental conditions.
Click here to access the 'Where do I grow?' activity sheet.
 

3. Experimenting with heat

Model structural adaptations to extreme heat in this experiment
Click here to access the 'Model Adaptations to Heat' activity sheet and the 'Teacher Resource' for this activity.
 

4. Diary of a Eucalypt

Write a diary entry from the perspective of a Eucalypt surviving a fire.
Click here to access the 'Surviving Fire: Diary of a Eucalypt' activity sheet.
 

5. Arid zone adaptations sensory poster

Create a sensory poster showcasing the adaptations of an animal or plant living in extreme heat.
Click here to access the 'Adaptations Sensory Poster' activity sheet.   
 

6. Guess the habitat

Use your understanding of structural adaptations to aridity to create the habitat of an unknown species. Click here to access the 'Guess the Habitat!' activity sheet. 
Note for teachers: This activity is best suited as an anchor activity or as an assessment tool to be completed once students have used this web resource to learn about adaptations to other environments.