Rainforests are defined as dense forests with high amounts of
annual rainfall, often located in tropical regions. There are two
types of rainforest: tropical and temperate. Tropical Rainforest
is often located between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic
of Cancer. Regions that have Tropical Rainforest growth include
Brazil and northern South America, West Central Africa, India
and Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Northeast Australia.
Temperate Rainforests are located in several regions across the
world including the Pacific Coast of the United States and
Canada, and various regions of Europe, Russia and Eastern
Asia. Temperate Rainforest may often have more coniferous
trees such as pines, firs and redwoods; whereas Tropical
Rainforest contains more broad-leafed trees.
In 1917, the rainforest was described by naturalist William
Beebe: "Yet another continent of life remains to be discovered,
not upon the earth, but one to two hundred feet above it,
extending over thousands of square miles ... there awaits a rich
harvest for the naturalist who overcomes the obstacles—
gravitation, ants, thorns, rotten trunks— and mounts to the
summits of the jungle trees."
Layers of the Rainforest
Emergent Layer - Emergent Trees reach high above the average
tree height of the rainforest canopy. These trees can grow to
heights of 200 feet or more. Emergent trees do not generally
grow close to one another, and will endure different conditions
than other trees of the rainforest. They will receive more
sunlight and less moisture because they are not confined to the
shady and humid conditions that exist beneath the rainforest
canopy. Animals that inhabit emergent trees include a variety of
insects, some species of bats and and some species of birds
including Harpy Eagles.
Canopy - The rainforest canopy is composed of trees that grow
to heights between 100 - 150 feet. The canopy is home to a
large biodiversity of plant and animal life. Animals that inhabit
the rainforest canopy include Lemurs, Spider Monkeys, Sloths,
Toucans, Orangutans and Parrots. Some of these animals find
most or all of their food high in the trees of the canopy so that
they will rarely, if ever, need to go to the rainforest floor. The
canopy also acts as a reverse umbrella for the rainforest. It
traps moisture and humidity underneath the leaves of its trees
and also blocks out sunlight.
Understory - The understory is the layer of the rainforest
between the canopy and the forest floor. Here, the leaves of
trees and plants are broad and large so that they can capture
what little light gets through the canopy. The understory is dark
and humid, and has a large amount of insect life.
Rainforest Floor - The rainforest floor only receives between 1 -
2% of the sunlight that hits the upper layers of the rainforest.
Very little plant life grows here as a result. Although the ground
is covered by a layer of decomposing vegetation, the top soil is
surprisingly poor in nutrients. The rainforest floor is very humid
due to the evaporation of water from the leaves and shrubs that
are found in this layer. This humidity will help speed up the
process of decomposition of the matter. A wide variety of life
including insects and larger animals inhabits the rainforest floor.
Some of the larger animals that live in this layer include
Jaguars, Bengal Tigers, Okapis, and Southern Cassowaries.
Life in the Rainforest
It is believed that over 50% of the world's species of plants and
animals are found in the rainforest. Amazingly, only cover 6 -
7% of the total land surface on Earth is covered by rainforest.
On average, there are between 20 to 80 different species of
trees per acre. There is also a wide variety of animal life found
in the rainforest. Many of the animals have special adaptations
that allow them to live in the tropical conditions, but they would
not survive outside of this ecosystem. These animals include
but are not limited to Toucans, Parrots, Resplendant Quetzals,
Sloths, Orangutans, Gorillas, Queen Alexandra Birdwing
Butterflies, and Lemurs.
There are also indigenous cultures of people that live in and
depend on the rainforest. Some of the tribes that can be found
here include the Yanomami and Kayapo tribes of the Amazon,
the Huli of Papau New Guinea, and the Pygmies of Central
Africa. Some tribes have had little, if any, contact with outside
civilizations, while others seek to legally protect the lands on
which they live. These cultures have adapted to the conditions
of the rainforest, and have a deep understanding of the
ecosystem. They often have knowledge of medicinal herbs and
plants, and understand how to cultivate rainforest land without
upsetting the balance of nutrients in the soils.
Much of the world's rainforest has been severely impacted by
human activities. These activities usually include deforestation
for the purposes of logging, growing crops, urban settlement, or
raising farm animals such as cattle. As the population of the
world continues to increase, the amount of deforestation of the
rainforest may also continue to rise.
Unfortunately, we are losing many species of plants and
animals found in the rainforest due to these activities. Potential
medicines that have not even been discovered yet may be at
risk of never being found due to deforestation. Many rainforest
animals are endangered due to these activities. Cultures of
indigenous peoples are also at risk of losing their way of life.
There are currently many organizations working to protect the
rainforest. Some of them include the Rainforest Alliance, The
Nature Conservancy, and the Rainforest Action Network. These
sites provide information on ways we can all help to conserve
one of the world's most valuable and endangered ecosystems.
The rainforest is a vital lifeline of Earth, as well as one of the
most unique ecosystems of our planet. It contains a wide
variety of plants, animals and people, and all are important to
the balance of nature. While it is not too late to save the
rainforest ecosystems of the world, there is still much work to
be done if we will succeed in protecting this valuable resource.