A rainforest is an area of tall, mostly evergreen trees and a high amount of rainfall.
Rainforests are Earth’s oldest living ecosystems, with some surviving in their present form for at least 70 million years. They are incredibly diverse and complex, home to more than half of the world’s plant and animal species—even though they cover just six percent of Earth’s surface. This makes rainforests astoundingly dense with flora and fauna; a 10-square-kilometer (four-square-mile) patch can contain as many as 1,500 flowering plants, 750 species of trees, 400 species of birds and 150 species of butterflies.
Rainforests thrive on every continent except Antarctica. The largest rainforests on Earth surround the Amazon River in South America and the Congo River in Africa. The tropical islands of Southeast Asia and parts of Australia support dense rainforest habitats. Even the cool evergreen forests of North America’s Pacific Northwest and Northern Europe are a type of rainforest.
Rainforests’ rich biodiversity is incredibly important to our well-being and the well-being of our planet. Rainforests help regulate our climate and provide us with everyday products.
Unsustainable industrial and agricultural development, however, has severely degraded the health of the world’s rainforests. Citizens, governments, intergovernmental organizations, and conservation groups are working together to protect these invaluable but fragile ecosystems.
Most rainforests are structured in four layers: emergent, canopy, understory, and forest floor. Each layer has unique characteristics based on differing levels of water, sunlight, and air circulation. While each layer is distinct, they exist in an interdependent system: processes and species in one layer influence those in another.
The top layer of the rainforest is the emergent layer. Here, trees as tall as 60 meters (200 feet) dominate the skyline. Foliage is often sparse on tree trunks, but spreads wide as the trees reach the sunny upper layer, where they photosynthesize the sun’s rays. Small, waxy leaves help trees in the emergent layer retain water during long droughts or dry seasons. Lightweight seeds are carried away from the parent plant by strong winds.
In the Amazon rainforest, the towering trees of the emergent layer include the Brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) and the kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra). The Brazil nut tree, a vulnerable species, can live up to 1,000 years in undisturbed rainforest habitats. Unlike many rainforest species, both the Brazil nut tree and the kapok tree are deciduous—they shed their leaves during the dry season.
Animals often maneuver through the emergent layer’s unstable topmost branches by flying or gliding. Animals that can’t fly or glide are usually quite small—they need to be light enough to be supported by a tree’s slender uppermost layers.
The animals living in the emergent layer of the Amazon rainforest include birds, bats, gliders, and butterflies. Large raptors, such as white-tailed hawks (Geranoaetus albicaudatus) and harpy eagles (Harpia harpyja), are its top predators.
In rainforests on the island of New Guinea, pygmy gliders populate the emergent layer. Pygmy gliders (Acrobates pygmaeus) are small rodents that get their name from the way flaps of skin between their legs allow them to glide from branch to branch.
Bats are the most diverse mammal species in most tropical rainforests, and they regularly fly throughout the emergent, canopy, and understory layers. For instance, one of the world’s largest species of bat, the Madagascan flying fox (Pteropus rufus)—found on the African island of Madagascar—is an important pollinator that mainly feeds on juice from fruit, but will chew flowers for their nectar.
Beneath the emergent layer is the canopy, a deep layer of vegetation roughly six meters (20 feet) thick. The canopy’s dense network of leaves and branches forms a roof over the two remaining layers.
The canopy blocks winds, rainfall, and sunlight, creating a humid, still, and dark environment below. Trees have adapted to this damp environment by producing glossy leaves with pointed tips that repel water.
While trees in the emergent layer rely on wind to scatter their seeds, many canopy plants, lacking wind, encase their seeds in fruit. Sweet fruit entices animals, which eat the fruit and deposit seeds on the forest floor as droppings. Fig trees, common throughout most of the world’s tropical rainforests, may be the most familiar fruit tree in the canopy.
With so much food available, more animals live in the canopy than any other layer in the rainforest. The dense vegetation dulls sound, so many—but not all—canopy dwellers are notable for their shrill or frequent vocalizing. In the Amazon rainforest, canopy fruit is snatched up in the large beaks of screeching scarlet macaws (Ara macao) and keel-billed toucans (Ramphastos sulfuratus), and picked by barking spider monkeys and howler monkeys. The silent two-toed sloth chews on the leaves, shoots, and fruit in the canopy.
Thousands and thousands of insect species can also be found in the canopy, from bees to beetles, borers to butterflies. Many of these insects are the principal diet of the canopy’s reptiles, including the «flying» draco lizards of Southeast Asia.
Located several meters below the canopy, the understory is an even darker, stiller, and more humid environment. Plants here, such as palms and philodendrons, are much shorter and have larger leaves than plants that dominate the canopy. Understory plants’ large leaves catch the minimal sunlight reaching beyond the dense canopy.
Understory plants often produce flowers that are large and easy to see, such as Heliconia, native to the Americas and the South Pacific. Others have a strong smell, such as orchids. These features attract pollinators even in the understory’s low-light conditions.
The fruit and seeds of many understory shrubs in temperate rainforests are edible. The temperate rainforests of North America, for example, bloom with berries.
Animals call the understory home for a variety of reasons. Many take advantage of the dimly lit environment for camouflage. The spots on a jaguar (Panthera onca), which are found in the rainforests of Central and South America, may be mistaken for leaves or flecks of sunlight, for instance. The green mamba, one of the deadliest snakes in the world, blends in with foliage as it slithers up branches in the Congo rainforest. Many bats, birds, and insects prefer the open airspace the understory offers. Amphibians, such as dazzlingly colored tree frogs, thrive in the humidity because it keeps their skin moist.
Central Africa’s tropical rainforest canopies and understories are home to some of the most endangered and familiar rainforest animals—such as forest elephants, pythons, antelopes, and gorillas. Gorillas, a critically endangered genus of primate, are crucial for seed dispersal. Gorillas are herbivores that move throughout the dark, dense rainforest as well as more sun-dappled swamps and jungles. Their droppings disperse seeds in these sunny areas where new trees and shrubs can take root. In this way, gorillas are keystone species in many African rainforest ecosystems.
Forest Floor Layer
The forest floor is the darkest of all rainforest layers, making it extremely difficult for plants to grow. Leaves that fall to the forest floor decay quickly.
Decomposers, such as termites, slugs, scorpions, worms, and fungi, thrive on the forest floor. Organic matter falls from trees and plants, and these organisms break down the decaying material into nutrients. The shallow roots of rainforest trees absorb these nutrients, and dozens of predators consume the decomposers!
Animals such as wild pigs (Sus scrofa), armadillos, and anteaters forage in the decomposing brush for these tasty insects, roots and tubers of the South American rainforest. Even larger predators, including leopards (Panthera pardus), skulk in the darkness to surprise their prey. Smaller rodents, such as rats and lowland pacas (a type of striped rodent indigenous to Central and South America), hide from predators beneath the shallow roots of trees that dominate the canopy and emergent layer.
Rivers that run through some tropical rainforests create unusual freshwater habitats on the forest floor. The Amazon River, for instance, is home to the boto (Inia geoffrensis), or pink river dolphin, one of the few freshwater dolphin species in the world. The Amazon is also home to black caimans (Melanosuchus niger), large reptiles related to alligators, while the Congo River is home to the caimans’ crocodilian cousin, the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus).
Types of Rainforests
Tropical rainforests are mainly located between the latitudes of 23.5°N (the Tropic of Cancer) and 23.5°S (the Tropic of Capricorn)—the tropics. Tropical rainforests are found in Central and South America, western and central Africa, western India, Southeast Asia, the island of New Guinea, and Australia.
Sunlight strikes the tropics almost straight on, producing intense solar energy that keeps temperatures high, between 21° and 30°C (70° and 85°F). High temperatures keep the air warm and wet, with an average humidity of between 77 percent and 88 percent. Such humid air produces extreme and frequent rainfall, ranging between 200-1000 centimeters (80-400 inches) per year. Tropical rainforests are so warm and moist that they produce as much as 75 percent of their own rain through evaporation and transpiration.
Such ample sunlight and moisture are the essential building blocks for tropical rainforests’ diverse flora and fauna. Roughly half of the world’s species can be found here, with an estimated 40 to 100 or more different species of trees present in each hectare.
Tropical rainforests are the most biologically diverse terrestrial ecosystems in the world. The Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. It is home to around 40,000 plant species, nearly 1,300 bird species, 3,000 types of fish, 427 species of mammals, and 2. 5 million different insects. Red-bellied piranhas (Pygocentrus nattereri) and pink river dolphins swim its waters. Jewel-toned parrots squawk and fly through its trees. Poison dart frogs warn off predators with their bright colors. Capuchin and spider monkeys swing and scamper through the branches of the rainforest’s estimated 400 billion trees. Millions of mushrooms and other fungi decompose dead and dying plant material, recycling nutrients to the soil and organisms in the understory. The Amazon rainforest is truly an ecological kaleidoscope, full of colorful sights and sounds.
Temperate rainforests are located in the mid-latitudes, where temperatures are much more mild than the tropics. Temperate rainforests are found mostly in coastal, mountainous areas. These geographic conditions help create areas of high rainfall. Temperate rainforests can be found on the coasts of the Pacific Northwest in North America, Chile, the United Kingdom, Norway, Japan, New Zealand, and southern Australia.
As their name implies, temperate rainforests are much cooler than their tropical cousins, averaging between 10° and 21°C (50° and 70°F). They are also much less sunny and rainy, receiving anywhere between 150-500 centimeters (60-200 inches) of rain per year. Rainfall in these forests is produced by warm, moist air coming in from the coast and being trapped by nearby mountains.
Temperate rainforests are not as biologically diverse as tropical rainforests. They are, however, home to an incredible amount of biological productivity, storing up to 500-2000 metric tons of leaves, wood, and other organic matter per hectare (202-809 metric tons per acre). Cooler temperatures and a more stable climate slow down decomposition, allowing more material to accumulate. The old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, for example, produce three times the biomass (living or once-living material) of tropical rainforests.
This productivity allows many plant species to grow for incredibly long periods of time. Temperate rainforest trees such as the coast redwood in the U.S. state of California and the alerce in Chile are among the oldest and largest tree species in the world.
The animals of the temperate rainforest are mostly made up of large mammals and small birds, insects, and reptiles. These species vary widely between rainforests in different world regions. Bobcats (Lynx rufus), mountain lions (Puma concolor), and black bears (Ursus americanus) are major predators in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. In Australia, ground dwellers such as wallabies, bandicoots, and potoroos (small marsupials that are among Australia’s most endangered animals) feast on the foods provided by the forest floor. Chile’s rainforests are home to a number of unique birds such as the Magellanic woodpecker and the Juan Fernández firecrown, a hummingbird species that has a crown of color-changing feathers.
People and the Rainforest
Rainforests have been home to thriving, complex communities for thousands of years. For instance, unique rainforest ecosystems have influenced the diet of cultures from Africa to the Pacific Northwest.
The Mbuti, a community indigenous to the Ituri rainforest in Central Africa, have traditionally been hunter-gatherers. Their diet consists of plants and animals from every layer of the rainforest.
From the forest floor, the Mbuti hunt fish and crabs from the Ituri River (a tributary of the Congo), as well as gather berries from low-lying shrubs. The giant forest hog, a species of wild boar, is also frequently targeted by Mbuti hunters, although this species is hunted for sale more often than food. From the understory, the Mbuti may gather honey from bee hives, or hunt monkeys. From the canopy and emergent layers, Mbuti hunters may set nets or traps for birds.
Although they are a historically nomadic society, agriculture has become a way of life for many Mbuti communities today as they trade and barter with neighboring agricultural groups such as the Bantu for crops such as manioc, nuts, rice, and plantains.
The Chimbu people live in the highland rainforest on the island of New Guinea. The Chimbu practice subsistence agriculture through shifting cultivation. This means they have gardens on arable land that has been cleared of vegetation. A portion of the plot may be left fallow for months or years. The plots are never abandoned and are passed on within the family.
Crops harvested in Chimbu garden plots include sweet potatoes, bananas, and beans. The Chimbu also maintain livestock, particularly pigs. In addition to their own diet, pigs are valuable economic commodities for trade and sale.
The temperate rainforest of the northwest coast of North America is the home of the Tlingit. The Tlingit enjoy a diverse diet, relying on both marine and freshwater species, as well as game from inland forests.
Due to bountiful Pacific inlets, rivers, and streams, the traditional Tlingit diet consists of a wide variety of aquatic life: crab, shrimp, clams, oysters, seals, and fish such as herring, halibut, and, crucially, salmon. Kelps and other seaweeds can be harvested and eaten in soups or dried. One familiar Tlingit saying is “When the tide is out, our table is set.”
In more inland areas, historic Tlingit hunters may have targeted deer, elk, rabbit, and mountain goats. Plants gathered or harvested include berries, nuts, and wild celery.
The Yanomami are a people and culture native to the northern Amazon rainforest, spanning the border between Venezuela and Brazil. Like the Chimbu, the Yanomami practice both hunting and shifting-cultivation agriculture.
Game hunted by the Yanomami include deer, tapirs (an animal similar to a pig), monkeys, birds, and armadillos. The Yanomami have hunting dogs to help them search the understory and forest floor for game.
The Yanomami practice slash-and-burn agriculture to clear the land of vegetation prior to farming. Crops grown include cassava, banana, and corn. In addition to food crops, the Yanomami also cultivate cotton, which is used for hammocks, nets, and clothing.
Benefits of Rainforests
Rainforests are critically important to the well-being of our planet. Tropical rainforests encompass approximately 1.2 billion hectares (3 billion acres) of vegetation and are sometimes described as the Earth’s thermostat.
Rainforests produce about 20% of our oxygen and store a huge amount of carbon dioxide, drastically reducing the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. Massive amounts of solar radiation are absorbed, helping regulate temperatures around the globe. Taken together, these processes help to stabilize Earth’s climate.
Rainforests also help maintain the world’s water cycle. More than 50% of precipitation striking a rainforest is returned to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration, helping regulate healthy rainfall around the planet. Rainforests also store a considerable percentage of the world’s freshwater, with the Amazon Basin alone storing one-fifth.
Rainforests provide us with many products that we use every day. Tropical woods such as teak, balsa, rosewood, and mahogany are used in flooring, doors, windows, boatbuilding, and cabinetry. Fibers such as raffia, bamboo, kapok, and rattan are used to make furniture, baskets, insulation, and cord. Cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, and ginger are just a few spices of the rainforest. The ecosystem supports fruits including bananas, papayas, mangos, cocoa and coffee beans.
Rainforests also provide us with many medicinal products. According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, 70% of plants useful in the treatment of cancer are found only in rainforests. Rainforest plants are also used in the creation of muscle relaxants, steroids, and insecticides. They are used to treat asthma, arthritis, malaria, heart disease, and pneumonia. The importance of rainforest species in public health is even more incredible considering that less than one percent of rainforest species have been analyzed for their medicinal value.
Even rainforest fungi can contribute to humanity’s well-being. A mushroom discovered in the tropical rainforest of Ecuador, for example, is capable of consuming polyurethane—a hard, durable type of plastic used in everything from garden hoses to carpets to shoes. The fungi can even consume the plastic in an oxygen-free environment, leading many environmentalists and businesses to invest in research to investigate if the fungi can help reduce waste in urban landfills.
Threats to Rainforests
Rainforests are disappearing at an alarmingly fast pace, largely due to human development over the past few centuries. Once covering 14% of land on Earth, rainforests now make up only 6%. Since 1947, the total area of tropical rainforests has probably been reduced by more than half, to about 6.2 to 7.8 million square kilometers (3 million square miles).
Many biologists expect rainforests will lose 5-10% of their species each decade. Rampant deforestation could cause many important rainforest habitats to disappear completely within the next hundred years.
Such rapid habitat loss is due to the fact that 40 hectares (100 acres) of rainforest are cleared every minute for agricultural and industrial development. In the Pacific Northwest’s rainforests, logging companies cut down trees for timber while paper industries use the wood for pulp. In the Amazon rainforest, large-scale agricultural industries, such as cattle ranching, clear huge tracts of forests for arable land. In the Congo rainforest, roads and other infrastructure development have reduced habitat and cut off migration corridors for many rainforest species. Throughout both the Amazon and Congo, mining and logging operations clear-cut to build roads and dig mines. Some rainforests are threatened by massive hydroelectric power projects, where dams flood acres of land. Development is encroaching on rainforest habitats from all sides.
Economic inequalities fuel this rapid deforestation. Many rainforests are located in developing countries with economies based on natural resources. Wealthy nations drive demand for products, and economic development increases energy use. These demands encourage local governments to develop rainforest acreage at a fraction of its value. Impoverished people who live on or near these lands are also motivated to improve their lives by converting forests into subsistence farmland.
Many individuals, communities, governments, intergovernmental organizations, and conservation groups are taking innovative approaches to protect threatened rainforest habitats.
Many countries are supporting businesses and initiatives that promote the sustainable use of their rainforests. Costa Rica is a global pioneer in this field, investing in ecotourism projects that financially contribute to local economies and the forests they depend on. The country also signed an agreement with an American pharmaceutical company, Merck, which sets aside a portion of the proceeds from rainforest-derived pharmaceutical compounds to fund conservation projects.
Intergovernmental groups address rainforest conservation at a global scale. The United Nations’ REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) Program, for example, offers financial incentives for reducing carbon emissions created by deforestation to 58 member countries. The Democratic Republic of the Congo used REDD funds to create an online National Forest Monitoring System that tracks and maps data on logging concessions, deforestation in protected areas, and national forestry sector measures. REDD funds were also used to investigate best practices in solving land disputes in Cambodia, which lacks proper forest zoning and boundary enforcement.
Nonprofit organizations are tackling rainforest conservation through a variety of different approaches. The Rainforest Trust, for example, supports local conservation groups around the world in purchasing and managing critically important habitats. In Ecuador, the Rainforest Trust worked with the Fundación Jocotoco to acquire 495 more hectares (1,222 more acres) for the Río Canandé Reserve, considered to have one of the highest concentrations of endemic and threatened species in the world. Partnering with Burung Indonesia, the Trust created a 8,900-hectare (22,000-acre) reserve on Sangihe Island to protect the highest concentration of threatened bird species in Asia.
The Rainforest Alliance is a nonprofit organization that helps businesses and consumers know that their products conserve rather than degrade rainforests. Products that bear the Rainforest Alliance seal contain ingredients from farms or forests that follow strict guidelines designed to support the sustainable development of rainforests and local communities. The Alliance also allows tourism businesses use of their seal after they complete an education program on efficiency and sustainability. In turn, this seal allows tourists to make ecologically smart vacation plans.
Many plants in the humid rainforest canopy are pointed, so that rain can run off the tips of the leaves. These “drip tips” keep the leaves dry and free of mold.
Jungles and Rainforests
Jungles and rainforests are very, very similar. The main difference is that rainforests have thick canopies and taller trees. Jungles have more light and denser vegetation in the understory.
Rainforests are so densely packed with vegetation that a drop of rain falling from the forest’s emergent layer can take 10 minutes to reach the forest floor.
The soil of most tropical rainforests contains few nutrients. The rich biodiversity in the canopy and quick decomposition from fungi and bacteria prevent the accumulation of nutrient-rich humus. Nutrients are confined to the rainforest’s thin layer of topsoil. For this reason, most of the towering trees in tropical rainforests have very shallow, widespread root systems called “buttress roots.”
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Thick forests found in wet areas of the world are called rainforests. Most people are familiar with hot, tropical rainforests filled with trees that stay green year-round. But there are other kinds of rainforests, too. Temperate rainforests grow in cooler parts of the world, such as the northwestern United States and southern Australia. Monsoon rainforests have a dry season and trees that shed their leaves each year. They grow in Southeast Asia. Montane rainforests, or cloud forests, grow in mountainous regions. The rest of this article will focus on tropical rainforests because they are important to the health of the entire planet.
Where Tropical Rainforests Are Found
Tropical rainforests occur around the equator in the hot, wet region called the tropics. They are found in parts of the tropics that get more than 70 inches (180 centimeters) of rain each year. Parts of South America and Central America, western and central Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia have tropical rainforests. The world’s largest rainforest is located in the Amazon River basin of Brazil and covers about 40 percent of that country. However, tropical rainforests cover less than 5 percent of the Earth’s total land surface.
Tropical rainforests can be divided into several sections. At the top of the forest is a thick layer called the canopy. It is formed by the spreading branches and thick leaves of tall trees. The canopy blocks much of the sunlight from the area below. The canopy can be between 100 and 170 feet (30 and 50 meters) above the ground. A few very tall trees stick up above the rest of the canopy. They are called emergent trees. Many animals and insects live among the treetops of the canopy.
The section below the canopy is called the understory. It contains small trees, shrubs, and plants. Many of these are saplings (young trees). Their stems reach up toward the light. However, these smaller trees generally do not receive enough sunlight to grow into adult trees.
On the forest floor, it is usually dark because the canopy blocks so much of the sunlight. For this reason, only plants that can tolerate shade grow there. So little sunlight reaches the ground that the forest floor may be only lightly covered by ground vegetation. There may be open spaces between the tree trunks. If one of the trees that creates the canopy dies or falls, however, a gap may open in the canopy, allowing sunlight to reach farther down into the forest. In such cases the ground vegetation may become thick and dense.
The constant rain washes away many of the nutrients in the soil. To make up for that loss, bacteria, fungi, and insects on the forest floor help to break down dead plants and animals. This process creates a thin, rich top layer of soil that provides nutrients to the roots of the plants and trees. Because this layer of soil is thin, most of the trees have shallow root systems.
Life in Tropical Rainforests
Tropical rainforests are known for the diversity of their plants and animals. It has been estimated that more than half of the world’s plant and animal species live in tropical rainforests. Scientists believe that many of these species have not yet been discovered.
The trees found in tropical rainforests stay green all year, though they do shed their leaves sometimes. Palms are among the most common trees.
Below the thick canopy, other plants have to compete with each other to get enough light. As a result, many plants use other plants to reach toward the sunlight. For example, woody plants called lianas attach to the stems of other plants and climb from the ground to the canopy. Epiphytes, or air plants, are also abundant in the rainforest. These plants are not attached to the ground. They live on other plants and get water and minerals from rain and also from debris that collects on the supporting plants. Mosses, ferns, and orchids can often be found attached to larger plants.
Each area of the rainforest has thousands of species, or types, of animals. Many plant-eating animals live in the canopy—for example, monkeys, flying squirrels, and sharp-clawed woodpeckers. At the lower levels of the forest are animals that run, flutter, hop, and climb in the undergrowth. On the rainforest floor are such animals as chimpanzees, gorillas, elephants, pigs, deer, and leopards.
Many animals in the rainforest have unusual characteristics. For example, sloths hang upside down, resting for hours at a time. The bright colors of the tiny poison dart frog warn other animals that it is poisonous and should not be eaten. Other common animals throughout the forests include ants, beetles, snakes, and bats. There are also many brightly colored birds such as toucans, parrots, and macaws.
The Importance of Tropical Rainforests
A tropical rainforest is a delicate network of relationships between plants and animals. Many plants, for instance, rely on animals to spread their pollen from flower to flower. At the same time, animals may depend on plants for their food and shelter. In addition, millions of people live in the forests. For them the forests are sources of food, shelter, and other materials.
Even people who live far away from tropical rainforests are affected by the forests. Many rainforest plants are used as medicines to help treat diseases such as cancer. Scientists believe there are many more plants there that will help treat or even cure serious diseases. In addition, products such as fruits, nuts, rubber, rattan, and wood come from rainforests.
Tropical rainforests also help to control the water supply of the areas where they grow. They do this by absorbing the constant rain and then releasing it slowly back into the atmosphere. Some of the water is released steadily into area rivers. Many people rely on the rivers for their water supply and to irrigate their crops. Some of the water is released back into the air through evaporation. This keeps the air moist and leads to more rain. This important process is called the water cycle.
Finally, like all green plants, rainforest plants absorb carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere and produce oxygen. They do this through the process of photosynthesis. Because the number of plants in the rainforests is so huge, the forests produce much of the world’s oxygen, which all animals need to live. For this reason, tropical rainforests have been called the “lungs of the planet.”
The Destruction of Tropical Rainforests
Tropical rainforests grow in many poor countries. Some poor countries sell the wood and other resources of rainforests to make much-needed money. This often means that entire sections of the forest are destroyed. Rainforests are also cut down or burned away so that the land can be used for other purposes, such as cattle grazing and farming. The rainforests that are destroyed for these reasons are rarely replaced.
The loss of rainforests endangers many plants and animals that live nowhere else in the world. Over time, some of these plants and animals may become extinct if their rainforest habitat is destroyed.
When rainforests are cleared, the water cycle is disrupted as well. Rainwater washes away quickly instead of being stored in the plants and returned slowly to the atmosphere. Eventually, rain falls less often, and the region may experience drought.
The destruction of rainforests also affects the environment of the rest of the world. When forests are burned, massive amounts of carbon dioxide escape into the atmosphere. This carbon dioxide contributes to a problem known as global warming.
Tropical forests — a brief description, types and examples of fauna — Nature of the World
- Main features of the rainforest
- Tropical forest classification
- Rainforest animals
Tropical forests are forests that grow in tropical and subtropical regions. Tropical forests cover about six percent of the Earth’s land surface. There are two main types of rainforest: tropical rainforests (such as those in the Amazon or the Congo Basin) and dry rainforests (such as those in southern Mexico, the plains of Bolivia, and the western regions of Madagascar).
Rainforests typically have four distinct layers that define the structure of the forest. The tiers include forest floor, undergrowth, top canopy (forest canopy) and top tier. Forest floor, the darkest place in the rainforest, where little sunlight penetrates. The undergrowth is the layer of forest between the ground and up to a height of about 20 meters. It includes shrubs, grasses, small trees and trunks of large trees. The forest canopy is a canopy of tree crowns at a height of 20 to 40 meters. This tier is made up of tall tree tops that are home to a variety of rainforest animals. Most of the food resources in the rainforest are in the upper canopy. The upper tier of the rainforest includes the crowns of the tallest trees. This tier is located at an altitude of about 40-70 meters.
Main characteristics of the rainforest
The following are the main characteristics of tropical forests:
- tropical forests are located in the tropical and subtropical regions of the planet;
- rich in species diversity of flora and fauna;
- there is a lot of rainfall;
- Tropical forests are under threat due to clearing for timber, farming and grazing;
- Rainforest structure consists of four layers (forest floor, undergrowth, canopy, topstory).
Tropical forest classification
- Tropical rain forests, or tropical rainforests, are forest habitats that receive abundant rainfall throughout the year (typically over 200 cm per year). Moist forests are located close to the equator and receive enough sunlight to keep the average annual air temperature high enough (between 20° and 35° C). Tropical rainforests are among the most species-rich habitats on earth. They grow in three main areas around the world: Central and South America, West and Central Africa, and Southeast Asia. Of all tropical rainforest regions, South America’s Amazon Basin is the largest in the world, covering about 6 million square kilometers.
- Tropical dry forests are forests that receive less rainfall than tropical rainforests. Dry forests usually have a dry season and a rainy season. Although rainfall is sufficient to support vegetation growth, trees must be able to withstand long periods of drought. Many tree species that grow in tropical dry forests are deciduous and shed their leaves during the dry season. This allows the trees to reduce their water needs during the dry season.
Examples of several animals that inhabit rainforests:
- The jaguar (Panthera onca) is a large feline that lives in the rainforests of Central and South America. The jaguar is the only panther species found in the new world.
- The capybara or capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) is a semi-aquatic mammal that inhabits the forests and savannas of South America. Capybaras are the largest rodents living today.
- Howler monkeys (Aloautta) — a genus of monkeys, which includes fifteen species inhabiting tropical forests throughout Central and South America.
Learn more about the animals of the Amazon rainforest in the article «Amazon Animals — Mammals, Birds and Reptiles of the Rainforest».
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Description, names and characteristics of rainforest animals
1 Inhabitants of the forest floor
1.2 Cuban flint tooth
1.5 Western gorilla
1.6 Sumatran rhinoceros
2 Undergrowth animals
2.3 South American noose
2.4 Dart frog
2.5 Common boa
2.6 Flying dragon
3 Rainforest canopy
3.2 Malay bear
3.5 Rainbow toucan
3.6 Golden-helmeted kalao
3.7 Three-toed sloth
4 Upper tropical
4.1 Crowned eagle
4.2 Giant flying fox
4.3 King colobus
5 Rainforest Animal Videos
Covering only 6% of the land, the jungle is home to 50% of species. Many of them are archaic, ancient. The constant heat and humidity of the jungle have allowed them to survive to this day.
The crowns of the tropics are so tightly closed that the hornbills, turacos and toucans that live here have almost forgotten how to fly. But they are excellent at jumping and climbing branches. It is easy to get lost in the intricacies of trunks and roots. Only one expedition in 2007 to the island of Borneo gave the world 123 previously unknown tropical animals.
Inhabitants of the forest floor
Litter refers to the lower layer of the tropics. There are fallen leaves and branches. The overgrowth blocks the light. Therefore, only 2% of the total amount of sunlight illuminates the litter. This limits the vegetation. Only shade-tolerant representatives of the flora survive in the litter. Some plants reach for the light, climbing tree trunks like vines.
There are some sort of creepers among animal bedding. Many of them are large and with long necks. This allows, so to speak, to come out of the shadows. The rest of the inhabitants of the lower tier of the tropics do not need lighting, but depend only on heat. We are talking about snakes, frogs, insects and inhabitants of the soil.
Looks like a pig with a long trunk. In fact, the tapir is a relative of rhinos and horses. Together with the trunk, the length of the body of the animal is about 2 meters. Tapirs weigh about 3 centners, are found in Asia and America. Leading a nocturnal lifestyle, pig-like creatures disguised themselves.
The black and white coloring makes tapirs invisible in the dark jungle floor lit by the moon. Animals living in the rainforest, have acquired a long nose in order to hide from heat and predators underwater. When diving, tapirs leave the tip of the «trunk» on the surface. It serves as a breathing tube.
Tapir a primitive animal that looks today as it did a thousand years ago, which is rare for animals. At the beginning of the 21st century, the animal was found again. The insectivore is a relict species. Outwardly, its representatives are something between a hedgehog, a rat and a shrew. Living in the mountain tropics of Cuba, the sand tooth is the largest of the insectivores. The body length of the animal is 35 centimeters. The shaletooth weighs about a kilogram.
These are flightless birds. Awarded the most dangerous on earth. In Australia, 1-2 people die annually from the powerful paws and clawed wings of cassowaries. How can feathered wings be clawed?
The fact is that the flying «machines» of the cassowaries are transformed into such rudiments. On their central finger is a sharp claw. Its size and strength are frightening, given the bird’s 500-kilogram weight and 2-meter height.
There is a dense leathery outgrowth on the head of the cassowary. Its purpose is not clear to scientists. Outwardly, the outgrowth resembles a helmet. There is an assumption that he breaks the branches when the bird runs in the thick of the tropics.
Cassowary is an extremely irritable bird, goes into a rage for no apparent reason, attacking people
Found in the tropics of Africa. In the appearance of the animal, the signs of a giraffe and a zebra are combined. The body structure and coloration are borrowed from the latter. Black and white stripes adorn the legs of the okapi. The rest of the body is brown. Head and neck like those of a giraffe. According to the genome, it is his relative that the okapi is.
Otherwise, representatives of the species are called forest giraffes. The okapi’s neck is shorter than that of savannah giraffes. But the animal has a long tongue. It is elongated by 35 centimeters, bluish in color. The organ allows the okapi to reach the foliage and clean the eyes and ears.
It is the largest among primates and lives in the jungles of central Africa. The DNA of an animal is almost 96% identical to that of a human. This applies to both lowland and mountain gorillas. The latter live in the tropics. They are few in number. Less than 700 individuals remain in nature. There are about 100,000 lowland gorillas. Another 4,000 are kept in zoos. There are no mountain gorillas in captivity.
Knowing how to walk on their hind legs, gorillas prefer to move on 4 at the same time. In this case, the animals put their hands sideways, leaning on the back of their fingers. Monkeys need to keep the skin of their palms thin and delicate. This is necessary for the proper sensitivity of the brushes, subtle manipulations with them.
It is the smallest of the rhinos. There are few large animals in the jungle. Firstly, it is easier for small creatures to make their way through the thickets. Secondly, the diversity of tropical species should fit into fertile, but small areas.
Among the rhinos, the Sumatran is also the most ancient and rare. Animal life in the rainforest is limited to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Here the rhinoceroses reach one and a half meters in height and 2.5 in length. One individual weighs about 1300 kilograms.
Rhino picks up berries and fruits that have fallen from sloppy birds
Undergrowth just above the litter, already receives 5% of the sun’s rays. In order to capture them, plants grow wide leaf plates. Their area allows you to capture the maximum light. In height, representatives of the flora of the undergrowth do not exceed 3 meters.
Accordingly, the tier itself is the same minus half a meter from the ground. They fall on the floor. Rainforest Animals in the undergrowth are often medium-sized, sometimes medium-sized. The tier is inhabited by mammals, reptiles, and birds.
Lives in the tropics of America. The weight of the animal is 80-130 kilograms. It is the largest cat in America. The color of each individual is unique, like human fingerprints. Spots on the skins of predators are compared with them.
Jaguars are excellent swimmers. On water, cats prefer to move by clinging to logs. On land, jaguars are also associated with trees. On them, cats drag their prey, hiding it in the branches from other contenders for meat.
Jaguar is the third largest among big cats after lions and tigers. Outwardly, the binturong is something between a cat and a raccoon. The relatives of the animal are genets and lisangs. Like them, the binturong is a predator. However, the touching appearance, as it were, discards the fear of the animal.
Binturong lives in the tropics of Asia. Most of all the Indian population. When dividing territories, binturongs mark their possessions with a liquid that smells like popcorn.
South American noose
Represents raccoons. The animal has a long and mobile nose. He, like the head of the beast, is narrow. The name of the species is associated with the nose as a distinguishing feature. You can meet its representatives in the tropics of South America.
There, coats, like jaguars, climb trees very well. The noses have short, but flexible and mobile paws with tenacious claws. The structure of the limbs allows animals to descend from trees both forward backwards and muzzle.
Nosoha climbs trees for fruits and hides from danger. In her absence, the beast is not averse to walking on the jungle floor. By digging with its clawed paws, nosuha finds reptiles and insects. Being omnivorous, the animal preys on them.
Among existing reptiles, poison dart frogs are the brightest. In photo , rainforest animals stand out in indigo colors. There are also turquoise and blue-black colors. It is not without reason that they distinguish the frog from the background of the surrounding nature, like a tropical bud.
A tree climber doesn’t need to disguise himself. Among reptiles, the animal produces the most powerful poison. The frog is not touched, even when seen in front of one’s nose. More often, predators and people bounce off the blue beauty, fearing poison. One frog shot is enough to kill 10 people. There is no antidote.
In poison dart frog 100 substances of non-protein nature are concentrated. It is believed that the frog gets them by processing the tropical ants that it feeds on. When dart frogs are kept in captivity on other food, they become harmless, non-poisonous.
The singing of poison dart frogs does not at all resemble the usual croaking, but rather resembles the sounds made by a cricket. The boa constrictor also does not have a supraorbital bone. Finding out which animals live in the rainforest , it is important to «discard» the Argentine boa constrictor. He settles in arid and desert places. Other subspecies live in the tropics. Some snakes hunt in the water. In America, where rivers and lakes are occupied by anacondas, boas feed on the ground and trees.
Common boa in the tropics often replaces the cat. The inhabitants of the jungle settlements lure snakes, allowing them to live in barns and warehouses. There boas catch mice. Therefore, the snake is considered partially domesticated.
This is a lizard with skin outgrowths on the sides. They open when the animal jumps from the tree like wings. They are not attached to the paws. Moveable, rigid ribs plow open the folds. A flying dragon descends into the jungle floor only to lay eggs. They are usually from 1 to 4 ex. Lizards bury their eggs in fallen leaves or soil.
The dragon can dive long distances while landing silently. It is made up of tall, broad-leaved trees. Their crowns form a kind of roof over the litter and undergrowth. The height of the canopy is 35-40 meters. Many birds and arthropods hide in the crowns of trees. The last in the canopy of the tropics are 20 million species. There are fewer reptiles, invertebrates and mammals at altitude.
Represents the raccoon family. Lives kinkazhu in America. In the tropics, the animal settles in the crowns of trees. On their branches, the kinkajou moves, clinging to the long tail. Despite the small similarity and lack of relationship with clubfoot, animals are called tree bears. It’s a matter of diet. Kinkajou loves honey. His animal extracts with the help of the tongue. In length, it reaches 13 centimeters, allowing it to lick into the hive.
Kinkajous are easily tamed, very affable and often pet-friendly
Among the bears, he is the only one who almost never descends to the ground, lives in trees. The Malayan clubfoot is also the smallest in its squadron. The fur of the bear is shorter than that of other Potapyches. Otherwise, representatives of the Malay species would not be able to live in the tropics of Asia. Among bears, the Malayan clubfoot has the longest tongue. It reaches 25 centimeters. The claws of the animal are also the longest. How else to climb trees?
One of the smartest parrots. Like a real intellectual, Zhako is modestly “dressed”. The plumage of the bird is grey. Only on the tail there are red feathers. Their shade is not flashy, but rather cherry. You can see the bird in the jungles of Africa. The rainforest animals of the continent are successfully kept in captivity and often become news heroes.
Thus, a gray named Baby from the USA remembered the names of the robbers who entered his owner’s apartment. Birds gave out the data of the thieves to the police. Jaco is listed in the Guinness Book of Records, knowing about 500 words in different languages. The bird spoke in connected sentences.
Otherwise known as the spider monkey. The animal has a tiny head, a massive body against its background, and long, thin limbs. When the koata stretches them between the branches, it seems like a spider waiting for prey.
The black, shiny coat of the animal is also confusing, like fluff on the bodies of arthropods. The koata lives in South and Central America. With a 60-centimeter long monkey’s body, the length of its tail is 90 centimeters.
Koats very rarely descend to the ground, sometimes spider monkeys fall and get injured, which heal quickly. With a massive and long beak, the toucan reaches the fruits on thin branches. Sit on them a bird, the shoots will not stand. The toucan weighs about 400 grams. The beak of the animal is painted in green, blue, orange, yellow, red.
The body is mostly black, but there is an extensive lemon-colored spot on the head with a red scarlet edging on the neck. Even the irises of the toucan’s eyes are colored, turquoise. It becomes clear why the species is called iridescent.
The toucan’s colorful appearance matches the fruity variety of the tropics. However, the bird can also feast on protein food, catching insects, tree frogs. Sometimes toucans feed on the chicks of other birds.
Golden helmeted kalao
The largest among the birds of the African tropics. The bird weighs approximately 2 kilograms. The animal is named gold-helmeted due to the feathers sticking out on its head. They are, as it were, raised, forming a kind of armor from the times of the Roman Empire. The color of the feathers is golden.
There is a patch of bare skin on the neck of the kalao. It is slightly saggy and shriveled, like a vulture or a turkey. Kalao is also distinguished by a massive beak. No wonder the bird belongs to the family of hornbills.
With their long beaks it is convenient for birds to pick fruits from branchy trees
Which animals in the rainforest are the slowest? The answer is obvious. On land, sloths move at a maximum speed of 16 meters per hour. Most of the time the animals spend on the branches of African jungle trees. There the sloths hang upside down. Most of the time the animals sleep, and the rest is slowly chewing on the leaves.
Sloths not only feed on vegetation, but are also covered with it. Animal fur is covered with microscopic algae. Therefore, the color of sloths is greenish. Algae are water plants. From there, the sloths took the «tenants». Slow mammals are good swimmers. During the rainy season, sloths have to be melted down from tree to tree.
Tropical upper layer
Upper tropical rainforest animals live at a height of 45-55 meters. At this mark, there are single crowns of especially tall trees. Other trunks do not aspire higher, because they are not adapted to stand alone in front of the winds and the heat of the sun.
Some birds, mammals, and bats also fight them. The choice is due either to the proximity of the food base, or the presence of a view of the area, or the removal to a safe distance from predators and dangers.
Among the birds of prey, it is the largest. The body length of the animal exceeds a meter. The wingspan of a crowned eagle is more than 200 centimeters. A distinctive feature of the species is the crest on the head. In moments of danger or fighting mood, the feathers rise, forming a kind of crown, crown.
The crowned eagle lives in the jungles of Africa. You rarely see birds alone. Crowned birds live in pairs. Even their possessions animals fly around together. «Put on» the eagles, by the way, is about 16 square kilometers.
Giant flying fox
The muzzle of this bat is similar to that of a fox. Hence the name of the animal. His fur, by the way, is reddish, which also reminds of foxes. Soaring in the sky, the flyer opens its wings by 170 centimeters. The giant fox weighs over a kilogram. There are giant flying foxes in Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. Bats live in flocks. Flying 50-100 individuals, foxes terrify tourists.
Belongs to the monkey family. It differs from other colobuses by white markings on the chest, tail, and cheeks.