Tropical Rainforests: The Good, The Bad, and The Facts
Features of the Rainforest
While there are many rainforests in different areas of the world, all rainforests have certain features in common. To be classified as a rainforest, an area must have a large amount of rainfall per year. Most rainforests experience between 68 to 78 inches of rainfall annually. Usually a rainforest is divided into four layers. The emergent layer is the top layer, followed by the canopy, the understory, and the forest floor, which receives about 2% of the rainforest’s sunlight.
Plants and Animals of the Rainforest
The rainforest is a lush and fertile environment, so fertile in fact that there are still many types of plants and animals that remain undiscovered by humans. No one knows exactly how many species of plants and animals are in the rainforest, but estimates indicate that 40-75% of all life on Earth can be found somewhere in the rainforest. Most plant and animal life is found in the canopy layer due to the rich and moist conditions and ample sunlight. Since the understory and forest floor layers receive so little sunlight, only low light plants can grow in these layers. The emergent layer is usually too hot to sustain much life.
Even though the rainforest is very fertile, the soil is not. Most plants that grow at the lower level only have their roots in the top layer of soil, as the lower levels are filled with mineral deposits and rapid bacterial decay. Plants on the lower layers tend to rely on the decomposing plant and animal life on the top layers of soil for nutrients.
The Importance of the Rainforest
Even though the rainforest only covers about 6% of the planet, it plays many crucial roles not only to the survival of humans, but also to the survival of all life on Earth.
Rainforests contain numerous plants in condensed areas, allowing for the production of massive amounts of the world’s oxygen. In fact, the Amazon rainforest alone is responsible for about 20% of the oxygen created on Earth. Rainforests also take in a huge amount of carbon dioxide each year. Both processes are crucial to life on Earth.
The rainforest also holds many different medicines that can only be found in the rainforest. Somewhere around 70% of the 3000 plants that are effective against cancer are found in tropical rainforests around the world.