A geographical map of Africa, showing the ecological break that defines the Saharan area

The Sahara comprises several distinct ecoregions. With their variations in temperature, rainfall, elevation, and soil, these regions harbor distinct communities of plants and animals.

The central Sahara is estimated to include five hundred species of plants, which is extremely low considering the huge extent of the area. Plants such as acacia trees, palms, succulents, spiny shrubs, and grasses have adapted to the arid conditions, by growing lower to avoid water loss by strong winds, by storing water in their thick stems to use it in dry periods, by having long roots that travel horizontally to reach the maximum area of water and to find any surface moisture, and by having small thick leaves or needles to prevent water loss by evapotranspiration. Plant leaves may dry out totally and then recover.

The Periplus of the Phoenician navigator Hanno, who lived sometime in the 5th century BC, claims that he founded settlements along the Atlantic coast of Africa, possibly including the Western Sahara. The identification of the places discussed is controversial, and archeological confirmation is lacking.

Egypt became independent of Britain in 1936, although the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 allowed Britain to keep troops in Egypt and to maintain the British-Egyptian condominium in the Sudan. British military forces were withdrawn in 1954.

A 19th-century engraving of an Arab slave-trading caravan transporting black African slaves across the Sahara