WHY THE RAINFOREST ARE IMPORTANT
Rainforests are amazing. They are home to hundreds and thousands of animal and plant species. Over I Billion people around the world live in or around rainforests. We get food, water, and materials from rainforests.
But those are not the most important thing about rainforests.
Trees are natural air cleaning machines, and rainforests are full of trees. Rainforests cover only 2.5% of the earth’s total land surface, but are home to half of all plants and animals.
The plants in rainforests combat air pollution by absorbing carbon dioxide. It is then released as oxygen and moisture into the atmosphere.
The world’s rainforests act like a giant air conditioner sending fresh air and freshwater around the planet.
The world’s rainforests contain between 40,000 and 53,000 tree species.
Rainforests produce one third of earth’s oxygen supply.
Types of the rainforest
All rainforests share many similarities, but there are 2 distinct types:
Tropical rainforests can be found around the globe close to the equator, also known as the tropics.
Tropical rainforests are hot and wet biomes<span style=”font-weight: 400;”> that are great for plant growth.
They have almost no dry season. Rain falls all year round. The climate is steady and temperatures average around 20 degrees Celsius*.
*Britannica: Tropical Rainforest
Temperate rainforests are found in areas around the globe with temperate climates.
These areas receive heavy rain and have moist conditions.
Compared to tropical forests, they have a cooler, moist biome but are great for plant growth*.
*Britannica: Temperate Rainforest
Types of layers in a rainforest
Rainforests are biomes with dense biodiversity. So much so, that animals who live at the top of the rainforest rarely or never come down to the forest floor.
There are 4 layers in a rainforest:
- Emergent Layer
The emergent layer rests on the top of the rainforest. It consists of enormous trees that can grow up to 100 meters high and protrude out from the rest of the plants.
The climate in the emergent layer is very different from the rest of the rainforest. At the highest point of the rainforest, it receives direct sunlight during the day making it very hot. At night the temperatures drop, and there is no protection from strong wind and heavy rain.
Trees have adapted to this climate by growing small, thick, and wax covered leaves. These leaves can withstand strong winds. The wax cover stops all the water from evaporating from the hot tropical sunlight.
Animals who live in the emergent layer have also adapted. Branches in the emergent layer are weak and thin. Only birds, insects, and small animals can live there.
- Canopy Layer
Under the emergent layer, the canopy layer has the hottest climate. It is also the most biodiverse area of the rainforest and is home to 60% to 90% of species living in the forest.
The canopy layer is around 100 feet from the ground. It is called the canopy layer because its branches spread out to form a kind of roof over the rest of the rainforest.
The canopy layer can support its huge animal population because it is rich in fruit and nuts.
The canopy is the rainforest’s power station. Its leaves turn sunlight into energy through photosynthesis. Supplying plenty of energy for plants to grow.
- Understory Layer
The weather is damp and humid in the understory layer. This climate is perfect for young trees, shrubs, ferns and climbing plants.
With the canopy above, the understory receives very little sunlight.
Vines and climbing plants grow from the forest floor. Attach themselves to tree trunks and climb upwards to reach a point where there is enough sunlight.
There are no seasonal changes in the understory layer.
Many insects, reptiles, and mammals are found here.
- Forest Floor
Less than 2% of the total sunlight reaches the forest floor. It is dark and the climate is humid.
The forest floor is like a compost pit. All the leaves, branches, seeds, and fruit fall to the forest floor. They decompose making it the most nutrient-rich layer of the rainforest.
The largest animals in the rainforest can be found on the forest floor. Elephants, tigers, and jaguars roam this dense part of the rainforest.
Only the strong survive on the forest floor. There is little to no sunlight and heavy rains wash away the soil. Seedlings must compete for survival in this harsh environment.
Like any biome, rainforests have producers. These are plant species that make life for other species possible in unique ways. They convert sunlight, water and soil into energy. The rainforest’s tropical climate is unique. Some of these producers are only found in rainforests.
These massive, thick trees grow to tower over the rainforest to reach the sun. Their strong branches support weaker plants that climb up to reach the sun.
They produce large amounts of fruit and seeds, feeding countless animals that live in the canopy.
With so little sunlight being reaching the forest floor, Lianas have adapted. To reach the sunlight, they attach themselves to surrounding plants.
As they climb upwards they produce food. They also create mat-like structures which animals use as shelters.
Fungi are the recyclers of the rainforest. They feed on the decaying material to get their energy.
Much like roots, fungi have filaments that extend into decaying matter. Then they extract nutrients the same way plants do.
Once the decaying matter has been broken down it slowly turns into nutrients. The soil absorbs the nutrients that are later absorbed by plants.
These plants need no soil to thrive. They attach their roots to trees and rocks.
They absorb all the nutrients they need from water and the air around them, and leave nutrients in the ground for soil-dwelling plants.
Some species can bear fruit, such as the pineapple.
What is the largest rainforest in the world?
The Amazon is by far the largest rainforest in the world. It covers an area of 5.5 million square kilometers across South America. 30 million people live there. It is so biodiverse that 1 in 10 species known to man is found there*.
* Conserve Energy Future: Rainforest Biome
Rainforests are essential to the Earth’s survival
Without rainforests, the planet would resemble a fishbowl full of smoke. Although the rainforest biome is the most biodiverse, it is also the most threatened. Mass deforestation is destroying our rainforests at an alarming rate. Animals are losing their homes and many living species are going extinct.
The effects of losing our rainforest can be seen in climate change around the globe. Humans must act to stop this destruction before it’s too late.
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