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Rainforests are ecosystems characterized by high amounts of rainfall and tall trees. As the world’s oldest living ecosystem, they cover 6% of the Earth’s surface and are diverse and home to more than half of the world’s animal and plant species.
Layers of the rainforest
There are rainforests on every continent except Antarctica. A typical rainforest ecosystem is divided into four layers:
- Emergent Layer: This is the top layer of the rainforest. Trees that grow to 60 meters and occasionally 70-80 meters reside here. Strong winds help to disperse the seeds of the trees. Animals commonly found in this layer include harpy eagles, bats, birds and white-tailed hawks. See the video below for more details about rainforest emergent layer
- Canopy Layer: the second layer after the emergent layer is the canopy. The canopy is the densest layer of the rainforest with large trees creating a continuous foliage cover with their treetops making the lower layers dark and humid. Because of the lack of wind to disperse their seeds, the trees in the canopy layer enclose their seeds in fruits which attract animals that eat the fruits and disperse the seeds with their droppings. Also, because of the abundance of food, more animals live here than any other layer. The canopy layer is home to thousands of insect species. Also found in the canopy layers are monkeys.
- Understory Layer: Located below the canopy, the understory is a dark and humid environment as a result of the dense network of leaves and branches overhead. Understory plants produce flowers that are large and easy to see or that have a strong smell to attract pollinators. Animals take advantage of the dimly lit layer for camouflage. Amphibians, bats, birds, gorillas, antelopes can be found in this layer.
- Forest Floor Layer: Being the darkest and last of the layers, plants don’t find it easy to grow there. Decomposers such as slugs, termites, worms, scorpions and fungi live here feeding on organic matter falling from trees and plants.
Types of rainforests
There are two types of rainforests; tropical rainforests and temperate rainforests. Tropical rainforests are found between the Tropic of Cancer (latitude 23.5°N) and the Tropic of Capricorn (latitude 23.5°S). They are the most biologically diverse ecosystem in the world and are home to about 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species, 3000 types of fish, 427 species of mammals and 2.5 million insect species. Tropical rainforests are found in Central and South America, Western and Central Africa, Western India, Southeast Asia, the Island of New Guinea and Australia. Temperate rainforests are cooler than tropical rainforests. They are located in the mid-latitudes in places such as North America, Chile, the United Kingdom, Norway, Japan, New Zealand and Southern Australia. See video below for more details on the types of rainforests.
Importance of rainforests
Rainforests play an important role in humanity’s survival. Rainforests produce about 20% of our oxygen. They also absorb solar radiations and carbon dioxide emissions. Some of the animals and plants found in rainforests are endemic meaning they cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Apart from providing us with wood and food, rainforests also provide medicinal products. According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute 70% of plants used in the treatments of cancer are only found in rainforests. Rainforest plants are also used to treat a variety of diseases like malaria, asthma, heart disease, and pneumonia. They are also used to make steroids, muscle relaxants and insecticides. It should interest you to know that only 1% of rainforest plants have been analyzed; imagine what we could do with the other 99%.
Due to its usefulness, rainforests should be protected at all cost. Sadly that is not the case as large hectares of rainforests are destroyed everyday by deforestation and other activities for human developments.
Rainforests of the world
Below is are some of the world’s rainforests:
- The Amazon Rainforest
No list of rainforests would be complete without mentioning the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon forest is the largest rainforest in the world with an area of 5,500,000 km2 and contains 10% of the world’s known species. The world’s largest river; the Amazon River runs through it. The Amazon forest runs through nine countries with 60% of it in Brazil. Others include Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Guyana, Ecuador, Suriname and French Guiana. Animals found there include jaguar, tapir, cougar, and anaconda.
2. Congo Rainforest
This is the second largest rainforest. It has an area of 1,780,000km2 and contains about 600 tree species and 10,000 animal species. The Congo rainforest covers six countries with 60% of it in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Others include Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Common animals of the Congo rainforests include gorillas, lions, chimpanzees, and okapi.
3. Daintree Rainforest
The Daintree forest is named after geologist Richard Daintree. It is located on the coast of Queensland, Australia and spans an area of 2600 km2. At over 165 million years old, the Daintree Rainforest is known as the oldest forest in the world. It is the home of Earth’s earliest plants; Lylopsida and Psilotopsida.
4. Valdivian Temperate Rainforest
The Valdivian Rainforest is a temperate forest located on the west coast of Southern South America in Chile and Argentina. It is known for its endemic plants, 150 foot tall trees and rare animal species. Notable trees found in the forest include Olvillo trees which can live up to 400 years old and the Alerce trees which can live up to 4000 years old.
5. Tongass National Forest
The Tongass National Forest is located in southeast Alaska, USA. It spans an area of 68,000 km2. It is the largest national forest in the USA. The forest is home to humpback and orca whales, otters, beavers and the densest concentrations of brown bears and bald eagles on the planets. for more details and to see other rainforests, see the video below.