Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Rainforests are forests characterized by high rainfall, with definitions setting minimum normal annual rainfall between 1750–2000 mm (68-78 inches).

Rainforests are home to two-thirds of all the living animal and plant species on Earth. It has been estimated, that many millions of species of plants, insects and microorganisms are still undiscovered. Tropical rainforests have been called the "jewels of the Earth", and the "world's largest pharmacy", because of the large number of natural medicines discovered there. Rainforests also supply 28% of the worlds oxygen, processing it through photosynthesis from carbon dioxide.

The undergrowth in a rainforest is restricted in many areas by the lack of sunlight at ground level. This makes it possible to walk through the forest. If the leaf canopy is destroyed or thinned, the ground beneath is soon colonized by a dense, tangled growth of vines, shrubs and small trees called a jungle. The two types of rainforest are:

Tropical rainforests are rainforests in the tropics
found near the Equator (between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn) and present in southeast Asia (Myanmar to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, northern and eastern Australia), sub-Saharan Africa from Cameroon to the Congo, (Congo Rainforest), South America (the Amazon Rainforest) Central America (Bosawás, southern Yucatán Peninsula-El Peten-Belize-Calakmul), and on many of the Pacific Islands(such as Hawaii). Tropical rainforests have been called the "Earth's lungs," although it is now known that rainforests contribute little net oxygen additions to the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

Temperate rainforests are rainforest in temperate regions
They can be found in North America (in the Pacific Northwest, the British Columbia Coast, and in the inland rainforest of the Rocky Mountain Trench east of Prince George), in Europe (parts of the British isles such as the coastal areas of Ireland, and Scotland, southern Norway, parts of the western Balkans along the Adriatic coast, as well as in the North West of Spain and coastal areas of the eastern Black Sea, including Georgia and coastal Turkey), and in East Asia (in southern China, Taiwan, much of Japan and Korea, and on Sakhalin Island and the adjacent Russian Far East coast), and also Australia and New Zealand.

Despite the growth of vegetation in a rainforest, soil quality is often quite poor. Rapid bacterial decay prevents the accumulation of humus. The concentration of iron and aluminium oxides by the laterization process gives the oxisols a bright red color and sometimes produces minable deposits such as bauxite. On younger substrates, especially of volcanic origin, tropical soils may be quite fertile.

Rainforest layers
Rainforest in the Blue Mountains, Australia
The rainforest is divided into four different parts each with different plants and animals, adapted for life in that particular area:

The 'emergent layer'
Contains a small number of very large trees which grow above the general canopy, reaching heights of 45-55 m, although on occasion a few species will grow to 70-80 m tall. They need to be able to withstand the hot temperatures and strong winds. Eagles, butterflies, bats and certain monkeys inhabit this layer.

The canopy layer contains the majority of the largest trees
typically 30-45 m tall. The densest areas of biodiversity are found in the forest canopy, a more or less continuous cover of foliage formed by adjacent treetops. The canopy, by some estimates, is home to 50 percent of all plant species, suggesting that perhaps half of all life on Earth could be found there. The fauna is similar to that found in the emergent layer, but more diverse. A quarter of all insect species are believed to exist in the rainforest canopy. Scientists have long suspected the richness of the canopy as a habitat, but have only recently developed practical methods of exploring it. As long ago as 1917, naturalist William Beebe declared that "another continent of life remains to be discovered, not upon the Earth, but one to two hundred feet above it, extending over thousands of square miles." True exploration of this habitat only began in the 1980s, when scientists developed methods to reach the canopy, such as firing ropes into the trees using crossbows. Exploration of the canopy is still in its infancy, but other methods include the use of balloons and airships to float above the highest branches and the building of cranes and walkways planted on the forest floor. The science of accessing tropical forest canopy using airships, or similar aerial platforms, is called dendronautics.

The understory layer lies between the canopy and the forest floor.
The understory (or understorey) is home to a number of birds, snakes, and lizards, as well as predators such as jaguars, boa constrictors, and leopards. The leaves are much larger at this level. Insect life is also abundant. Many seedlings that will grow to the canopy level are present in the understory. Only about 5 percent of the sunlight shining on the rainforest reaches the understory. This layer can also be called a shrub layer, although the shrub layer may also be considered a separate layer.

The forest floor layer receives only 2 percent of sunlight.
Only plants adapted to low light can grow in this region. Away from riverbanks, swamps, and clearings where dense undergrowth is found, the forest floor is relatively clear of vegetation because of the low sunlight penetration. It also contains decaying plant and animal matter, which disappears quickly due to the warm, humid conditions promoting rapid decay. Many forms of fungi grow here which help decay the animal and plant waste. It takes up to 20 minutes for rain to acutally touch the ground from the trees

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