There are some very special forests found in wet areas of the world, they are called rainforests. Tropical rainforests are found close to the equator in warmer areas, but there are also rainforests in cooler climates, like in the northwest United States. Rainforests are amazing places! They are full of plants and animals that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Tropical rainforests have been called our planet’s lungs, because of plants’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the air and produce the oxygen that we need to breathe. The huge number of plants in these rainforests produce most of the world’s oxygen.
Tropical rainforests grow so large that they can be divided into three sections. The top of the forest is called the canopy and it gets the most sunlight. Below the canopy is the understory, where smaller trees and shrubs grow. On the bottom is the forest floor. It is very shady here because those big trees block so much of the sunlight! When a large tree dies, often a patch of the forest floor will begin to flourish from the additional sunlight that can now reach the floor. Because the large trees block out so much of the sunlight, many smaller plants like mosses, ferns and orchids will attach themselves on the trunks or stems of other plants to reach toward the sunlight. These grow on the trees, not on the ground!
Tropical rainforest ecosystems are a huge network of relationships between plants and animals. Plants may rely on animals to spread their pollen, while animals may depend on plants for both food and shelter. There are also millions of people that live in these rainforests, which provide food, shelter and other resources.
Because there is so much plant life, many plant-eating animals live in tropical rainforests! Most of these animals live in the canopy. These animals have unusual characteristics that help them live comfortably in the treetops: monkeys have powerful arms to swing from limb to limb, while sloths can hang upside down from branches for very long periods of time. On the forest floor are the animals that move in the undergrowth, such as deer, leopards and snakes.
Rainforests are a vital part of the Earth’s ecosystem. We need to do everything we can to protect them! You can help by:
- Reducing how much paper and wood products you use.
- Support companies that are committed to rainforest conservation.
- Teach others about these special places!