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Based on my previous question here, which a helpful other person pointed out, which would make the question too broad, here comes a different question for that.

Given a desert full of ore sand, what would be the kinds of flora and fauna that could live in such an area

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  • $\begingroup$ Um, rather sparse? $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Feb 24 '15 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa like a desert amirite? More seriously though, metal camels and steel cacti and things like that I was thinking of $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Feb 24 '15 at 2:42
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The mundane flora and fauna of any desert would be pretty similar to that of any reality-based desert unless there were magical reasons why they should not exist.

Since the desert is described as ore sands, we would expect much of it to be free-flowing dunes. However, some ores may bind together into a cohesive mass when wetted (most deserts get some rain), so some ores may form more solid surfaces such as desert pavement.

There is not usually much that lives in sand dunes. Smaller plants get buried by windblown sand, so such terrain may have only a few acacia-like trees or tall cacti and some insects and reptiles. Birds may visit from time to time, but would not stay long.

Where the ores have bound together due to occasional exposure to water, or the grain sizes are larger and not consistent, we would expect a desert pavement. More can grow in such an environment, so expect dry-climate cacti, trees and grasses, as well as dry-adapted insects, birds, mammals and reptiles.

Where the ore was toxic, we may still get the same vegetation (depending on the ore), but there may be a noticeable difference in appearance, and there would be fewer or no animals living there. Some ores that are particularly toxic (such as salt, cobalt or arsenic ores) may have little or no plants or animals growing there at all.

As to the magical creatures that might live there... who can say?

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As the other answers have pointed out, you're not going to have a lot of Earth-normal flora and fauna that will survive out on the ore sands. Heavy metal toxicity is pretty gnarly, and when it doesn't kill you quickly, it tends to sterilize you, so you're not going to be having a lot of offspring that might be slightly-more-adapted.

That said, there are such things on Earth as plants that hyperaccumulate heavy metals, enough so that there's discipline called "phytomining" that involves using metal-accumulating plants to leech stuff out of the soil that's later processed. (Here's more information on phytomining in the context of gold phytomining, and here's a Wikipedia list of hyperaccumulating plants: list of hyperaccumulators. Quickly scanning that list, I see mostly water plants and some temperate grasses with the notable exception of creosote bush, which is very hardy desert plant.) Hyperaccumulators tend to do really well in the presence of heavy metals because of their stellar ability to sequester the stuff in their leaves and resist its toxic effects. Throw in a bit of ambient magic, and this would be the way to go for the "metal plant" effect you want--though less "steel cactus" and more "copper creosote bush".

The neat thing about this is that your desert-dwellers could exploit these hyperaccumulators to make their own metal trade easier. Creosote, for example, happens to hyperaccumulate only copper, so planting a bunch near a mixed ore sand obviates the need to refine it to get the copper out. Just let the creosote do it and collect later. I could see them gradually developing a science of phytomining by observing what plants grow well next to which ore sands, and what kind of metal can be reclaimed from those plants when they're processed. (This is something you may also want to bring in the magic for, since processing metals out of plants in the real world involves some very strong, very nasty chemical processes.)

As for the animals, well--there's magic in the setting, so the sky's the limit on what you want to do with that. Keep in mind, though, that if an animal--through ambient magic--adapts to live out in this extreme environment where it picks up all kinds of trace metals in its food, it's probably also going to adapt to make that metal do something for it. Deposition in bone is the most likely initial start, since that's where heavy metals already bioaccumulate in vertebrate animals, but it will spread out from there. People who are exposed to a lot of silver in their diet, for example, eventually change color as it gets into their skin! (And there's another potential economic opportunity--if the metals that get into the local fauna deposit in their skin, fur, scales, or shells and result in attractive coloration that's long-lasting after the animal dies, you've got some really pretty exotic animal parts you can sell to supplement all the ore you're shipping out.)

You would not, however, get much in the way of non-magical, non-plant-life in this environment that was any bigger than bacteria. That doesn't mean, though, that you can't go pore over some lists of desert fauna and base some magical animals on them. Personally, I'd think tortoises would do pretty well if they could magically resist heavy metal poisoning and incorporate all that metal they're picking up into their shells.

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  • $\begingroup$ Since all of these metals are extremely small, would the heavy metals not also naturally sink deeper into the ground, so heavy metal toxicity isn't really such a large threat for humans? $\endgroup$ – Flotolk Feb 25 '15 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Flotolk You know, that's not something I thought about, but it is probably the case that the heavier ores would tend to migrate to the bottom of the dunes. You might want to bring that up on the original question so it gets out there for people to think about. $\endgroup$ – plagueheart Feb 26 '15 at 5:19
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Basically you wouldn't really have flora in the ore sands, any more than you have significant amounts of plant life on sand dunes. What life there is would cluster around oases: either rivers & streams flowing down from mountains, or underground water sources.

As mentioned, that life would probably suffer from all sorts of heavy metal poisoning. You could, however, suppose that this life has evolved from extremophile microorganisms. As such it would likely be toxic to 'normal' life, and vice-versa.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why would they suffer from heavy metal poisoning? Nothing in the question states that they're heavy metal ores. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 24 '15 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ @David Richerby: The desert is supposed to have many different types of ores, and most useful metals (especially with pre-modern tech) are heavy metals. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 24 '15 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ But wouldn't the heavy metals naturally sink lower, and be covered by the lighter sands? $\endgroup$ – Flotolk Feb 25 '15 at 20:09

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