What Is A Tropical Rainforest?

What is a tropical rainforest? On this page we’ll find out what a tropical rainforest is and where the world’s tropical rainforests are found. We’ll also find out about the animals that live in rainforests, and why rainforests are so important.

What Is A Tropical Rainforest?

A rainforest is a forest that grows in an area with a high rainfall. Most rainforests receive over 2,000 mm (80 in.) of rain every year.

Tropical lowland rainforest.
What Is a Tropical Rainforest? A forest that grows in a tropical area with high rainfall.

A tropical rainforest is a rainforest with a high rainfall that grows in a tropical region. Tropical regions – and therefore tropical rainforests –  are found near the Equator, an imaginary line that circles the globe, dividing the northern and southern hemispheres.

Running parallel above and below the Equator are two more imaginary lines: the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn respectively. The world’s tropical regions are located within these two lines.

In tropical regions, the sun is directly overhead at least once during the year.

The diagram below shows the Equator and the Tropics.

The Equator And The Tropics
World map showing the Equator (the green line) and the Tropics of Cancer (top yellow line) and Capricorn (bottom yellow line).

Rainforests are home to a vast number of animals and plants – we’ll meet some of them further down the page – and are therefore extremely important to the world’s biodiversity.

They're also home to indigenous tribes, with their own languages and cultures.

Tropical rainforests contain more species of plants and animals than any other habitat. If the world’s rainforests are destroyed, then many of these species will be lost along with them. As much as 50 percent of all the Earth's species live in tropical rainforests.

Red Eyed Tree Frog Rainforest
Red eyed tree frogs live in tropical rainforests in Central America.

Tropical rainforests are also used for the production of food, medicine, and other products. Many rainforest products can be produced sustainably. However, commercial pressure often outweighs environmental concerns.

Rainforest Deforestation

Tropical Rainforest Deforestation
Sadly, the world's tropical rainforests are in danger.

Deforestation occurs when forested areas are permanently converted for other uses – for example, farming or mining.

Sadly, despite the world’s forested area being a fraction of what it once was, deforestation still continues today.

Types of Rainforest

What Is a Tropical Rainforest
Lowland tropical rainforest: notice the 'prop roots' that snake away from the tree. These are typical of rainforest trees.

There are several different types of tropical rainforest. The ‘typical’ tropical rainforest is known as a lowland tropical rainforest. Here the temperature is high, rain falls for much of the year, and the atmosphere is humid.

Montane rainforests are found at higher altitudes. They are cooler, and are often covered in mist. For this reason, they are often known as ‘cloud forests’. Trees in montane rain forests are often shorter than those in lowland rainforests.

Mangrove rainforests grow in coastal regions where the land is often continuously submerged in salty water. Flooded forests occur where the land is often flooded by freshwater, and monsoon forests have high seasonal rainfall interspersed with dry spells.

Temperate Rainforests

Not all rainforests are tropical rainforests. Rainforests do grow outside of the Tropics, in both the Southern and Northern Hemispheres. The climate away from the tropics is generally cooler, and these forests are known as temperate rainforests.

An example of a temperate rainforest is the Pacific temperate rainforest, which is located on the west coast of the USA and Canada.

Where Are Tropical Rainforests Located?

Tropical rainforests follow the Equator around the world. The world’s most famous rain forests, including the Amazon Rainforest, are found in South America. Other well-known rainforests include Africa’s Congo rainforest, Australia’s Daintree Rainforest, and the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo.

What Is A Tropical Rainforest: Layers

Tropical rainforests typically have four layers. The highest layer is the emergent layer, which is the tops of the tallest trees. Around 150 ft. above the ground, the emergent layer is home to birds and insects.

The next layer down is the canopy. This is the continuous area formed by the branches and leaves of most of the rainforest’s trees. The canopy layer gets most of the sunlight, and is the forest’s most productive area. More rainforest plants and animals live in the canopy layer than anywhere else.

Below the canopy is the understory (or understorey). Here you will find shrubs, growing trees and vines. Only 2% of the sunlight reaches the understory.

The lowest layer of the rainforest is the forest floor. This is where the rainforest's largest inhabitants are found, such as tapirs, jaguars and forest elephants.

  • You can find out more about the layers of a tropical rainforest here: Rainforest Layers.

Animals That Live In Tropical Rainforests

Orangutans live in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.

Rainforests are extremely biodiverse habitats – which basically means that a large number of species live in them.

South American tropical rainforests are home to animals such as caimans, jaguars, green anacondas, boa constrictors, harpy eagles, red-eyed tree frogs and howler monkeys.

Jaguar in tropical rainforest
The jaguar is an apex predator in South American tropical rainforests.

In African tropical rainforests you’ll find leopards, African forest elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, okapis, parrots and hornbills.

Animals that are found in Asian tropical rainforests include orangutans, tigers, Asian elephants, crocodiles, dholes, clouded leopards, sun bears, gibbons, Malaysian tapirs and slow lorises.

Sitting sun bear

Australian tropical rainforests are home to tree kangaroos, parrots, saltwater crocodiles, cassowaries, Australian brush turkeys, Cairns bird wing butterflies and goannas.

Cassowaries are found in Australia's Daintree rainforest, parts of which are bordered by the sea.

As you can see, tropical rainforests are home to many varied animal species, and we’re only just scratching the surface. No other habitat on Earth is home to as many different species.

  • You’ll find an illustrated list that includes many of the most amazing rainforest animals here: Rainforest Animals.

Plants That Grow In Tropical Rainforests

Of course, it’s not just animals that live in tropical rainforests; an incredible number of plants, including the trees themselves, are found in the rainforest environment.

Epiphytes tropical rainforest
Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants. They are common in tropical rainforests.

Epiphytes, plants that grow harmlessly on other plants, are often found in tropical rainforests.

Other rainforest plants are bromeliads. This is a family of plants that have stiff, spiked leaves which radiate out from a central point. The leaves channel rainwater into a pool at the center of the plant. This pool provides a habitat for animals such as frogs, whose tadpoles grow inside the plants.

What Is a Tropical Rainforest: Conclusion

In this article we’ve found that a tropical rainforest is a rainforest that grows in a tropical region. Rainforests are forests that grow in areas with high rainfall, and there are several different types of rainforest, including montane rainforests and mangrove forests.

We’ve also learned about the animals and plants that live in a tropical rainforest. Of course, we’ve only scratched the surface: there are millions of animal and plant species found in the world’s rainforests. You can find out more about them on these pages:

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