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Rainforests are very warm, wet, and dense forests. They provide homes for millions of plants and animals, some we don’t even know about yet! The rainforests aren’t only havens for animals, but they are a very important part of the Earth’s ecosystem. They are a major provider of oxygen, and many of the trees and plants are used in new drugs to help fight disease.
The rainforest is divided into four different zones or strata. Scientists divided it like this based on the different living environments. Starting from the top, the strata are:
These are trees that are much higher than the average canopy height. Many birds and insects live in this portion.
The canopy is the upper level of trees. Insects, birds, reptiles, mammals and more enjoy these leafy surroundings.
This is the dark environment that is cool, but still above the ground. Come here if you need a break from the sun!
The forest floor is full of animals, especially insects. Generally, this is where the largest mammals of the rainforest are.
Science Museum of Minnesota - Rainforest Strata
Rainforests are typically found in a band around the equator. The band reaches from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn (this is about 3,000 miles wide) and is called the “tropics.”
The high temperatures located at the equator cause accelerated water evaporation, resulting in the frequent rain in the tropical areas.
Tropical Rainforests are in red.
The largest rainforests are in the Amazon River Basin (South America), the Congo River Basin (western Africa), and throughout much of southeast Asia. Smaller rainforests are located in Central America, Madagascar, Australia and nearby islands, India, and other locations in the tropics. Temperate rainforests are found along the Pacific coast of the USA and Canada (from northern California to Alaska), in New Zealand, Tasmania, Chile, Ireland, Scotland and Norway. They cover less area than tropical rainforests.
The Olympic rain forest (located on the Olympic peninsula in the state of Washington, United States of America) is a temperate rain forest near the Pacific ocean.
Temperate Rainforest Web Page
Tropical Rainforest Web Page
It is almost always raining in a rainforest! Rainforests get over 80 inches (2 m) of rain each year. This is about 1 1/2 inches (3.8 cm) of rain each week. The rain is more evenly distributed throughout the year in a tropical rainforest (even though there are only two seasons). In a temperate rainforest, there are wet and dry seasons. During the "dry" season, coastal fog supplies abundant moisture to the forest.
The temperature in a rainforest never freezes and never gets very hot. The range of temperature in a tropical rainforest is usually between 75 degrees F and 80 degrees F (24-27 degrees C). Temperate rainforests rarely freeze or get over 80degrees F (27 degrees C).
The soil of a tropical rainforest is only about 3-4 inches (7.8-10 cm) thick and is ancient. Thick clay lies underneath the soil. Once damaged, the soil of a tropical rainforest takes many years to recover. Temperate rainforests have soil that is richer in nutrients, relatively young and less prone to damage.
Tropical rainforests cover about 7% of the Earth's surface and are VERY important to the Earth's ecosystem. The rainforests recycle and clean water. Tropical rainforest trees and plants also remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their roots, stems, leaves, and branches. Rainforests affect the greenhouse effect, which traps heat inside the Earth's atmosphere.
The Greenhouse Effect
The Earth's Atmosphere
There are huge amounts of animals in the rainforest! There are insects (remember, only six legs), arachnids (spiders and ticks), worms, reptiles (lizards and snakes), birds (toucans and parrots), and mammals (sloths, jaguars, and you and me!).
Remember the strata? Well different kinds of animals live in the different sections of the rainforest. Birds live in the emergent and the canopy (the two tallest parts of the rainforest), Animals such as monkeys or sloths live in the trees, and bigger mammals, like jaguars, live on the forest floor. Insects can be found at all levels of the rainforest.
As in any food web, there are more plant-eaters than meat-eaters (and many more plants than plant-eaters). There are also more small animals than large animals. There are more insects than any other animal in the rainforest!
Although there is intense competition between animals, there is also an interdependence. When one species goes extinct, it can affect an entire chain of other species and have unpredictable consequences
Animals are always in danger of being eaten unless they are on top of the food chain. Some forms of staying alive in the world of the rainforests are hiding, camouflage, scaring their predators, or showing their warning colors.
There are many native groups of people who live in the tropical rainforests. Many of these groups, like the Yanomamo tribe of the Amazon rainforests of Brazil and southern Venezuela, have lived in villages in the rainforests for hundreds or even thousands of years. These tribes get their food, clothes, and houses from materials they find in the forests.
Forest people are mostly hunter-gatherers; that means they get their food by hunting for meat (and fishing for fish) and gathering plants, like roots and fruit. Many people also have small gardens in certain areas of the forest. Since the soil in the rainforest is so poor, the garden areas must be moved after just a few years, and another part of the forest is cleared.
Many of the native populations are declining. There are many reasons for this. The primary problems that are causing them to be smaller are disease (like smallpox and measles, which were inadvertently introduced by Europeans) and governmental land seizure.
There are many different threats to rainforests that are making them disappear before our eyes. Between droughts, fires, and people cutting down trees to make room for more commercialized areas like stores and new buildings, the rainforests are depleting more and more every year.
Recycle everything you can.
Don’t leave water running.
Turn off the lights!
Make a compost pile in your backyard.
Don’t waste paper, use both sides.
Spread the word! Tell others about everything you’ve learned about the rainforest, and make sure they are aware of the dangers of them being completely gone from our planet in the future!
For more ideas on how you can help save the rainforests, try visiting this web page for more information.
How YOU can save the rainforest