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What is a Tropical Rainforest?

By Susan Grindstaff
Updated May 21, 2024
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The term “tropical rainforest” refers to large areas of forest near the equator, generally between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Brazil has the largest rainforests, followed by Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rainforests can also be found in Hawaii, the Caribbean, and some parts of Southeast Asia. They get their name from the extreme amounts of rain that generally fall in the areas. The heavy rains create a specific type of biome not found in other parts of the world.

Typically, a tropical rainforest receives yearly rain totals of around 300 inches (760 cm), though this amount can vary depending on the exact location. To truly understand the significance of that much rain, these amounts can be compared to yearly rainfall in, for instance, Washington, D.C., in the United States. Washington, D.C., receives yearly rainfall of about 37 inches (94 cm). The dampness and relative warm temperatures inside a tropical rainforest create a humid environment that allows the plants and trees to keep their green foliage year round.

Most scientists agree that conserving the rainforests may be essential to protecting life all over the planet. More than 40% of the earth’s oxygen is created within the biome, and in addition, the tropical rainforest is home to at least half of all the plants and animals in the world. From a medical standpoint, the rainforest is considered crucial to the manufacture of commonly used drugs and development of new medical treatments. More than a quarter of all medicines have their origins in the tropical rainforest.

Most scientists believe that rainforests at one time made up more than 14% of the earth’s surface. Some scientists estimate that as much as 80% of the world’s rainforests have been lost due to deforestation, and that only 6% of the earth is covered in this type of biome. Deforestation is considered a serious threat to the tropical rainforest and the unique biome it creates. Many types of coveted lumber grow only in rainforests, and harvesting of these trees has been occurring much faster than they can be replaced.

Hundreds of different species of animals make their home in the tropical rainforest, and many of them are believed to be endangered. Some of these endangered animals include the mountain gorilla, the Sumatran orangutan, and the brown spider monkey. Conservation of these endangered animals and the tropical rainforest are considered critical, and many environmental groups are exclusively dedicated to rainforest protection.

Frequently Asked Questions

What defines a tropical rainforest?

A tropical rainforest is characterized by its location near the equator, high annual rainfall of at least 1750-2000 mm, and consistent warm temperatures ranging from 20-30°C. This ecosystem boasts a dense canopy of tall trees and high biodiversity, with millions of species of plants, animals, and insects, many of which are yet to be discovered.

Why are tropical rainforests important to the global environment?

Tropical rainforests play a crucial role in the global environment by acting as the world's lungs, producing significant amounts of the Earth's oxygen through photosynthesis. They also store vast quantities of carbon, helping to mitigate climate change. Furthermore, they regulate local and global weather patterns and provide habitat for a multitude of species.

How much of the Earth's surface do tropical rainforests cover?

Despite their immense importance, tropical rainforests cover less than 7% of the Earth's surface. However, they are home to more than half of the world's plant and animal species, according to the World Wildlife Fund, making them incredibly dense in biodiversity compared to other ecosystems.

What are the layers of a tropical rainforest?

A tropical rainforest is structured in four main layers: the emergent layer, which includes the tallest trees reaching heights of 45-55 meters; the canopy layer, forming a continuous cover of foliage; the understory, with young trees and shrubs; and the forest floor, which receives minimal sunlight and is home to decomposers.

What threats do tropical rainforests face?

Tropical rainforests are under threat from deforestation due to logging, agriculture, and urban expansion. This destruction leads to habitat loss, species extinction, and contributes to climate change by releasing stored carbon dioxide. Illegal wildlife trade and mining also pose significant risks to these ecosystems.

How can we help protect tropical rainforests?

Protecting tropical rainforests involves supporting sustainable land use practices, reducing the demand for products that contribute to deforestation, and promoting reforestation efforts. Supporting organizations and policies that enforce environmental protection, and educating others about the importance of these ecosystems can also make a significant impact on conservation efforts.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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