- There are two types of rainforests
- Temperate forests can be found in the mid-latitudes
- Tropical forests are, fittingly, found in the tropics
There are two main types of rainforests to consider, with each type sufficiently varied in climate, location, and prevalence of certain plants and animal species.
Tropical rainforests are mainly located between the Tropics of Cance and Capricorn, otherwise known as the tropics area. These include forests in western India, Southeast Asia, Central and South America, the island of New Guinea, and western and central Africa.
These rainforests can contain a top layer of a canopy featuring giant trees that grow. up to staggering heights of 250 feet or more. This uppermost layer prevents too much sunlight from reaching the ground, encouraging the growth of thick, ropey vines. Many of the plants in this biome have been used as common houseplants, as they require minimal sunlight and rain, and can grow in any condition.
In these forests, sunlight tends to come in at a direct, harsh angle, producing a lot of solar energy that maintains a very high temperature in these regions. This temperature can range, typically, from 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
As a result of these high temperatures, the air is kept at a very humid and hot level, with humidity reaching averages of 77% to 88%. Basically, any humans visiting will be sweating constantly and likely wishing to be free of the muggy, deeply uncomfortable, and bug-infested climate.
The humid air has another knock-on effect on the surrounding weather patterns. Rainfall is the norm, coming down constantly, in frequent bursts of extreme waterfall that verges on monsoon levels of rain. The total rainfall in these regions can range all the way from 80 to 400 inches in a given year, an absolutely towering amount that explains why these rainforests are so aptly named.
Because of the high amounts of sunlight and the rich building blocks of moisture and rain, tropical rainforests house a uniquely diverse range of flora and fauna. It's so diverse that an approximate number from 40 to 100 different species of trees can be found in each hectare.
In fact, these rainforests are easily the most terrestrial animal and plant diverse ecological habitats in the entirety of planet Earth.
The Amazon Rainforest alone contains nearly 1300 types of birds, 3000 fish species, 2.5 million species of insects, 427 different mammals, and around 40,000 plant species. This is only cataloging the ones that have already been found and classified, with millions more estimated to exist in these ecological hotspots.
On the forest floor, animals like the okapi can be found. This stand-out mammal species is native to the tropical climes of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa. They look like zebras but are in reality more closely tied to giraffes, which makes sense once you see their distinctive faces. They tend to feed on tree leaves, buds, and fungi.
Moving up to the understory layer, animals like the infamous jaguar can be found. Their spots are meant to resemble the interplay of shadow and light peeking through the dense canopy, providing them with a built-in camouflage perfect for stalking and capturing their prey. They can typically be found across Central America and in portions of Paraguay and Argentina. They even extend out to Mexico. This is a distinctive, solo, top of the food chain predator that dominates the ecosystems it inhabits.
In the canopy layer, cuter animals can be found like spider monkeys in South and Central America and keel-billed toucans in Latin America. The toucans like to roost in tree holes prevalent throughout this layer and they often like to tuck their beaks and tails under their bodies. Spider monkeys are highly social and live in groups of 30+ individuals.
Lastly, on the emergent layer, only the smallest and flightiest of animals can be found. The crowned eagle is one such animal. It is a bird of prey that mainly feeds on animals like primates and lizards. It's a massive bird and ferocious in its hunting patterns - an arbiter of death that is likely the last thing many creatures see before they die.
As for leaves and plants, these tropical rainforests feature many thousands of broad-based leaves at an age of between 50 and 100 years. At the bottom-most layers, decomposition is frequent.
Temperate rainforests mainly vary from tropical rainforests in where they are located. However, as a result of this difference, they actually branch off into completely unrecognizable paths, with a drastically altered climate, and endemic wildlife that is in a completely different sphere of existence.
First, this article will go over its location. Temperate rain-forests are located in the mid-latitudes, an area on earth defined as the zone between the latitudes of 23, 26, 22 and 66, 33, 39 north, and 23, 26, 22 and 66, 33, 39 south. This region features temperature and climates that are much milder than the tropics, and as a result, are considerably more comfortable and accessible for human habitation.
To narrow down the region, even more, temperate rainforests are typically found in mountain-filled areas, located along coasts. This location is critical because these geographic circumstances help to encourage the heavy and frequent rainfall associated with any rainforest.
As for national borders, temperate rainforests can be found along the sealines of the Pacific Northwest in North America, Norway, Japan, southern Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and the United Kingdom.
The name aptly describes their main difference from tropical rainforests. Specifically, that they are much more temperate and comfortable to visit. They're considerably cooler than their tropical counterparts, hitting an average of 50 degrees Fahrenheit to 70 degrees Fahrenheit over any given rain. They are also a lot less sunny and have considerably less rainfall. In fact, they only receive 60 to 200 inches of rain per year, a figure that is half of the tropical rainfall levels at their respective peaks.
Still, the rainfall is higher than many other areas in the world, and this is largely a result of the coastal location. Moist, hot air from the coastal bodies of water push in and become trapped against the nearby mountains. As a result, the conditions for rain are created.
Because of these weather conditions, not as much wildlife can grow and truly prosper, as they can in tropical regions. Temperate rainforests are generally not as biologically diverse as their hotter, more humid cousins, but they have advantages of their own.
Specifically, they host an astounding quantity of biological processes and productivity, with a total storage of up to 500-2000 metric tons of wood, leaves, and other varied organic matter per hectare.
This is possible because the cooler temperatures and less fluctuating climate slow down the processes of decomposition, allowing more material to gather over time. As an example, look at the Pacific Northwest's old-growth forests, which produce three times the biomass (which refers to material that is living or was once living) of comparable tropical rainforests.
This heavy density of dead and living material means that many plant species can thrive in a never before seen way. As a result, they can often live for longer and grow to even more enormous dimensions than are seen in the tropics. For instance, temperate rainforest trees like the redwood coast in the United States' California, and Chile's alerce, rank among the biggest and most long-living species of tree in the entire world.
As for the animals, it's common to see much more large mammals, though small birds, reptiles, and insects are also common.
Black bears and bobcats are two such apex predators in this area. The black bear is a moderately sized creature, thickset and bulky in its composition. It uses its strong curved claws to tear out roots, logs, and stumps when foraging for food. Meanwhile, bobcats may look like their sister felines, but they are in fact ferocious predators capable of leaping up to 12 feet to capture their prey.
On the smaller side of things, these regions house unique ground and sky dwellers. Chile's rainforests have birds like the Juan Fernández firecrown, a color-changing hummingbird, and the Magellanic woodpecker. Australia is home to creatures like wallabies and bandicoots. They are also the resident habitat of potoroos, adorable small marsupials that currently rank as one of the most endangered animals in the entire region.
There is so much to learn about rainforests that even the world's top scientists and animal scholars have yet to unearth all there is to know about these humid and hot ecosystems.
From their unique characteristics of heavy rainfall and warm temperature to their varied animal life, rainforests really are a unique ecological habitat that will be hard to replace.
That's why it's important than ever to focus on preservation efforts. Human activity has threatened these majestic sites, and though efforts are being made to reverse these impacts, it may be too little too late.
Losing the rainforests would have dramatic effects on global species diversity, carbon dioxide production, and temperature regulation. Next time you hear about global warming, keep in mind the animals and plants that are still out there to save.