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Tropical rainforest

An aerial view of the rainforest in EcuadorAn aerial view of the rainforest in Ecuador Areas of tropical rainforest are found near the Equator, in regions that have a hot climate and high level of rainfall all year round. The most extensive rainforests are found in Central Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. There are also small areas of rainforest in Australia and Central America. Tropical rainforests are the richest of all environments for plant and animal life. Today, large areas of rainforest are being cut down, chiefly to make room for farming, roads, quarries and housing.

Animals of the central African rainforestAnimals of the central African rainforest

Layers of the rainforest

The rainforest is made up of several different layers, like the storeys of a skyscraper. At the highest level is the emergent layer, made up of the tallest trees, some of which can reach 70 metres (230 feet) in height. This is a bright, windy layer, where birds and bats swoop, feeding on insects, fruits and flowers. Below the emergent layer is the canopy, an almost continuous “roof” of branches and foliage. Here, in the warm sunlight, fruits and flowers grow, and many animals feed on them.

Layers of a rainforestLayers of a rainforest Lower still is a shadier area known as the understorey, where animals fly, leap, climb or glide between the trees. Smaller plants that could not survive on the dark forest floor root themselves in pockets of decaying matter among branches, using the trees as a support to reach up towards the light.

At the level of the forest floor, little light can penetrate down through the thick canopy. The atmosphere is dark and still, and ground vegetation is scarce. Only in places where a tree has fallen to create a clearing, or along the banks of a river, can ground vegetation find enough light to to grow.

A jungle has thick, tangled undergrowth that is impossible to penetrate without first hacking a passage through. This is unusual in a rainforest, where the treetops are so dense that little sunlight reaches through them, so vegetation between tree trunks is quite sparse—not a jungle at all.

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