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What is it really like to stand in the middle of a tropical rainforest? What type of weather, plants, and animals might you find there? Complete this lesson, and you’ll discover the answers to these questions and more.

Intro to Rainforests

Image yourself walking through a forest. But it’s not just any forest – it’s a forest full of lush plants that spread out in every direction and more animals then you have ever seen before. This forest you are walking through is a tropical rainforest. The world is made up of many different types of habitats, or biomes, and one of the most vibrant of these is the tropical rainforest.Tropical rainforests have five defining characteristics. The most notable characteristic and the reason these forests got their name is the large amount of precipitation, or rain, that falls each year.

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It rains year-round in tropical rainforests, with most receiving over 100 inches of rain per year! The second defining characteristic of tropical rainforests is their annual temperature, which is normally between 70-90;F.Although tropical rainforests support a large amount of life, they have surprisingly poor soil quality. Poor soil quality with limited amount of nutrients is the third characteristic of tropical rainforests.

The large amount of rain and high temperatures in these areas increase the speed of decomposition, or the breakdown and decay of living matter. The increased rate of decomposition makes it possible for plants to absorb nutrients more quickly, therefore leaving the soil void of nutrients.The fourth characteristic of tropical rainforests that helps distinguish them from other types of forests is their location. Tropical rainforests are located close to the equator, and the largest area of tropical rainforest in the world is the Amazon Rainforest in South America.

In the image below, the green highlighted portions of land represent where tropical rainforests are located on the Earth. You will notice that all of the tropical rainforests are located within a range that is close to the equator.

Rainforest Map

The final characteristic of tropical rainforests is the high level of species richness.

Species richness can be described as the number of different species that live in a given habitat. If fifty different species live in one town and one hundred different species live in a second town, then the second town is said to have higher species richness. Tropical rainforests have the highest species richness of any biome on the planet. This high species richness makes tropical rainforests very diverse.

In fact, around 50% of the Earth’s species are found in tropical rainforests.

Plants

In terms of plant life, you could describe tropical rainforests as lush, dense, and very green. Tropical rainforests are able to maintain high species richness of plants due to the large amount of rainfall and warm conditions. Some tropical rainforests have over 1,100 different species of plants! Plants found in tropical rainforests are often broad leaved, densely packed, and cover every surface of the forest.Tropical rainforests are often divided into three different layers of vegetation:

  1. The highest layer is called the canopy, and in this layer, you can find the tallest trees in the forest. These trees often block the majority of sunlight from reaching the ground below.

    Due to the fact that these large trees block light, it is common in tropical rainforests to find vines climbing up large trees to the canopy to reach the light.

  2. The middle layer of the forest is called the understory, and in this layer you would find smaller trees, ferns, and palms. You may wonder how these plants survive in the understory with such limited light.

    The answer lies in their adaptations. The most common adaption of these plants is to have larger leaves to broaden their chances of catching any sunlight that comes through the canopy. A fun fact about these understory plants is that many of them are commonly used as houseplants all over the world.

  3. The base layer of the tropical rainforest is also known as the floor and is covered in leaves and other plant debris. Although not much plant life is found on the floor of the forest, it is an important layer because it is the location of decomposition.

Many tropical plants are used for a variety of resources such as foods and medicines. Many edible plants are cultivated in the tropics and shipped around the world for consumption.

Tropical rainforests produce such edible fruits as bananas, pineapples, and coconuts. They also produce seasonings like nutmeg, cloves, and black pepper. Tropical rainforests plants are also used for medicinal purposes. The anise plant is used to relieve upper respiratory problems, and the oil from a castor tree is commonly used to cure calluses, corns, and warts.

Animals

Due to the large amount of plants found in tropical rainforests, this biome is able to support a very large amount of animal life. Tropical rainforests actually have the highest species richness and diversity of animals anywhere on Earth. Some tropical rainforest regions are even referred to as biodiversity hotspots because they have such high species richness.

Most of the animals found in tropical rainforests have adapted to live in the trees of the understory and the canopy, where they can move quickly through the densely packed plants. An example of one adaptation you would observe is the prehensile tail of some monkey species. This type of tail is used by monkeys to grab branches and increase balance.

Tropical rainforest animals are often described as colorful, having loud vocalizations, and eating diets that are heavy in fruits. In a tropical rainforest, you could find many different types of animals including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. The type of animal that you would find the most of would be insects. Some common animals found in tropical rainforests include monkeys, toucans, bats, tigers, and snakes.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review. Tropical rainforests are forests near the equator that receive over 100 inches of rain a year and maintain high average temperatures. Tropical rainforests are also known for their ability to support a large number of plant and animal species, making them the biome with the highest species richness.

When you think of tropical rainforests, imagine a lush green forest that is full of more plants and animals than you have ever seen before.

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