A vast, flat, sand-and-gravel plain, with scattered clay pans, which forms part of El Diffa Miocene Plateau. Several low limestone ridges run east–west across the plain and gradually raise the flat landscape to an elevation of 200 m. Fairly dense desert scrub is dominated in the northern part by Thymelaea and in the south by Anabasis and Hamada, with scattered Lycium bushes. Annual rainfall is fairly high, averaging about 140 mm near the coast. Rainfall and density of vegetation decrease steeply southwards, and severe desert conditions prevail more than 70 km from the coastline. The area represents a fairly undisturbed example of a unique and restricted habitat in Egypt: the Mediterranean coastal steppe, a habitat that is being lost and degraded very rapidly.
See Box and Table 2 for key species. The area falls on the boundary between the Mediterranean and Sahara–Sindian biomes; thus, it supports species restricted to both biomes. It is the only IBA in Egypt selected on the basis of the occurrence of Mediterranean North Africa biome-restricted species. Four species, representing all of Egypt’s Mediterranean North Africa biome-restricted species, are found in this IBA. On the other hand, the four Sahara–Sindian biome-restricted species found in the area represent only 19% of Egypt’s assemblage of these species.
Non-bird biodiversity: Reptiles: small numbers of Testudo kleinmanni (EN) may still exist in the region. Mammals: Allactaga tetradactyla (EN), Jaculus orientalis (LR/nt) and Eliomys melanurus (LR/nt) are present in the more densely vegetated coastal region. Gazella dorcas (VU) used to be common in this region, but has declined sharply as a result of excessive hunting.
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: El Qasr desert. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 12/08/2020.