When most of us in the US think of the tropics, we think of the tropical rain forest. It may come as a surprise that for over 75% of the tropics, annual drought is a way of life. There are many different kinds of tropical habitat that experience dry seasons, with names like tropical dry forest, tropical deciduous forest, thorn forest, spiny desert, savannah, cerrado, and caatinga. Some of these habitats aren't so unfamiliar after all: most people have seen images of giraffes, zebras, and elephants congregating around African waterholes during a dry season, with flat- topped Acacias or baobab trees adding a strange air to the landscape. Savannah scenes like these are often from the Serengeti, Masai Mara, or Tsavo parks in eastern Africa. These places, which definitely aren't rainforest, are right on the equator!
Dry tropical habitats are exciting places, rich in color and texture and full of strange organisms and surreal landscapes. This site is an attempt to share some of this excitement. The images on these pages aren't the only areas of tropical drylands. They are just from places I happen to have gone during my field work. Other important areas are underrepresented, like the vast tracts of cerrado and caatinga in Brazil, and the dry forests of southern Asia. Almost all of the areas shown on this web site are from hot lowlands, at elevations less than 1500 meters.
Despite being more extensive than rainforests, public awareness of tropical dry habitats is low and they receive little attention from conservation efforts. Dry areas of the tropics often have higher soil quality than tropical wet forest areas, making them better for agriculture. As a result, their degradation is far more advanced than that of wet forest. In addition, their contribution to humanity of such crops as maize -- the most important US crop -- is inestimable.
Compared to rainforests, little scholarly work has been done to summarize work in dry habitats. A good place to start is: