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Ecoregion Description

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Species Richness

# of Endemic Species


448: Kavir & Lut Deserts

Major Habitat Type:

xeric freshwaters and endorheic (closed) basins


Brian Coad




This ecoregion lies on the Iranian Plateau, and encompasses the Dasht-e Kavir (Great Salt Desert) and Dasht-e Lut (Emptiness Desert). It is bounded by the Elburz Mountains to the north and Zagros Mountains to the southwest. Ecoregions surrounding it include the Turan Plain [450] to the north; Caspian Highlands [446], Namak [447], Esfahan [447], and Upper Tigris & Euphrates [442] to the west; Northern Hormuz Drainages [451] and Baluchistan [701] to the south; and Helmand-Sistan [702] and Upper Amu Darya [631] to the east.  

Drainages flowing into:

All basins are endorheic, flowing into terminal sumps or playas.

Main rivers or other water bodies:

There are no major water bodies in the ecoregion.


The Kavir & Lut Deserts ecoregion comprises a large part of the Iranian Plateau. It has an average altitude over 500 m, surrounded by mountains that exceed 4000 m in some places.


The Iranian Plateau has a temperate, continental desert climate with extreme temperatures. While the mean annual temperature is around 17 ºC, the maximum summer temperature averages 38 ºC, and exceeds 40 ºC across much of the ecoregion. The minimum temperature in the coldest month averages – 1.7 ºC. Mean annual precipitation is 128 mm, and is less than 100 mm in the Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut basins.

Freshwater habitats:

Small rivers (really streams), springs, and qanats provide the fresh waters in this ecoregion. Rivers descending into the plateau from the surrounding mountain ranges carry high levels of soluble salts. Flash floods occur after heavy rainfall in winter over a denuded or desert landscape.

Terrestrial Habitats:

The ecoregion covers a vast area of rocky desert and semi-desert with  salt flats or playas that act as large terminal sumps. The two major basins are the Dasht-e Kavir in the north and the Dasht-e Lut in the south. Terrestrial habitats range from halophytic communities and sagebrush (Artemisia) steppes to sand dunes and gravel deserts. True sand deserts occur at altitudes between 500 – 1200 m.

Fish Fauna:

The ecoregion’s fish fauna is impoverished, with less than ten known species dominated by Cyprinidae. The only other family, Balitoridae, is represented by a single species, Nemacheilus bampurensis.

Description of endemic fishes:

There are no known described endemic species.

Other noteworthy fishes:

Transcaspian marinka (Schizothorax pelzami) is the westernmost representative of the schizothoracines, more frequently found in higher mountain ranges of the Himalayas.

Evolutionary phenomena:


Justification for delineation:

This ecoregion represents a large central, desert area lying between other basins with more unique faunas.

Level of taxonomic exploration:



Coad, B. W. (2002). "Freshwater Fishes of Iran" (

World Wildlife, Fund (2001). "Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World" 2005 (2005;

The Nature Conservancy World Wildlife Fund
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