Being surrounded by greenery and tall trees instills a sense of peace and majesty that cannot be compared to many things in life. Topping this list of serene beauty is the rainforest, some of the world’s oldest living ecosystems. These areas cover only 6% of the earth’s surface but contain more than half of the plant and animal species on this planet. This illustrates perfectly how important and diverse they are. Compared to other woodlands, they are unique in terms of their climate, especially the amount of water they receive in a given year. This conspicuous aspect also means that the animals and botanicals in it must adapt to the environment, and as a result, it is possible to see many specialized organisms that could not exist anywhere else. If you get the chance, the rainforests of the world are a must-visit.
What is a Rainforest?
A rainforest is defined by the large amount of evergreen trees it receives and the high amount of rainfall it receives. Specifically, to be classified as a rainforest, the area must receive continuous and heavy rainfall ranging from 98 to 177 inches per year. However, definitions can vary by region, where temperate rainforests are also classified according to the temperature at which they are located, with the expected average annual temperature between 39 and 56 degrees Fahrenheit.
In fact, a single 4-square-mile piece of rainforest can have 1,500 flowering plants, 750 tree species, 400 bird species, and 15 butterfly classes. Even now, it is estimated that millions of different types of insects, plants and microorganisms remain undiscovered in the leafy branches of these rainforests. This extreme biodiversity is critical to the health of people and the planet. In addition to helping control the already unstable climate, they also produce a variety of everyday products such as chocolate, candy and some medicines. The rainforest is sometimes referred to as the world’s largest pharmacy because over 25% of natural medicines have been discovered in this area.
Rainforests are responsible for 28% of the world’s oxygen cycle, extracting large amounts of carbon dioxide from the air, otherwise contributing to the greenhouse warming effect currently occurring worldwide. Rainforests are also usually dimly lit, with shrubs (meaning vegetation in the lower part of the forest) often covering the sun and causing minimal ground level lighting. In some cases, if the shade of the leaves is reduced or destroyed, the ground underneath can soon be taken over by dense and intricate vines, shrubs and small trees, forming what is known as a forest.
Layers of the Rainforest
Immediate Layer 1
This is where huge trees, sometimes up to 200 meters tall, control the skyline. Leaves on tree trunks tend to be minimal and thin, but expand as trees reach their sunny upper tiers, where they can properly absorb nutrients from sunlight. The tiny seeds in this layer are exposed to strong winds that help drive them away so they can spread elsewhere. The immediate layer is filled with flying and gliding animals or other small creatures that can hover above the thin layers above. These include bats, birds, butterflies and gliders.
2. Canopy Layer
Beneath the emergency layer is the canopy layer, which is a deep area about 20 feet thick. This network of interconnected branches and vegetation forms a kind of roof over the remaining layers.
The canopy excludes wind, precipitation and sunlight while creating a humid, quiet and poorly lit environment below. Trees in this layer have glossy leaves with sharp tips that repel water. Fruit is much more common, as this layer cannot rely on the wind to blow its seeds. Due to the availability of food, more animals can be found here than anywhere else in the rainforest.
Next up is the lower tier, which is a few meters lower than the canopy. It is even darker, increasingly damp, and much quieter. The plants here have larger leaves. Plants here also tend to have large and bright flowers, such as strong-smelling orchids. As a result, they attract pollinators, which can help spread their seeds. Many animals in this region use dim light for camouflage.
4. Forest Floor
The last layer is the forest floor. It is the least illuminated of all areas with few plants and rapidly decaying leaves. This is where decomposers like snails, earthworms and other creepy reptiles reside. Some animals also like this area as a foraging area for insects, these insect-eaters are preyed upon by larger predators such as the jaguar. As a result of the rivers running through the region, the forest floor may have unique freshwater habitats. For example, the pink river dolphin, one of the few freshwater dolphins known all over the world.
What Can Be Done to Protect the World’s Rainforests?
There is so much to learn about rainforests that even the world’s best scientists and zoologists have yet to uncover everything there is to know about these humid and warm ecosystems. From its unique features such as heavy rainfall and warm temperatures to its diverse animal life, rainforests are indeed a unique ecological habitat that would be difficult to change. That’s why it’s more important than ever to focus conservation efforts. Human activities are threatening these majestic areas, and while efforts are made to reverse these effects, it may be too late. Losing rainforests will have dramatic effects on global species diversity, carbon dioxide production and temperature regulation. The next time you hear about global warming, keep in mind the animals and plants that are still out there to save.