Exploring the Tropical Rainforest
Tropical Rainforest Layers

Tropical rainforests have four layers:

Emergent Layer
These giant trees thrust above the dense canopy layer and have huge mushroom-shaped crowns. These trees enjoy the greatest amount of sunlight but also must endure high temperatures, low humidity, and strong winds.

Canopy Layer
The broad, irregular crowns of these trees form a tight, continuous canopy 60 to 90 feet above the ground. The branches are often densely covered with other plants (epiphytes) and tied together with vines (lianas). The canopy is home to 90% of the organisms found in the rain forest; many seeking the brighter light in the treetops.

Receiving only 2-15% of the sunlight that falls on the canopy, the understory is a dark place. It is relatively open and contains young trees and leafy herbaceous plants that tolerate low light. Many popular house plants come from this layer. Only along rivers and roadways and in treefall and cut areas is sunlight sufficient to allow growth to become thick and impenetrable 

Forest Floor
The forest floor receives less than 2% of the sunlight and consequently, little grows here except plants adapted to very low light. On the floor is a thin layer of fallen leaves, seeds, fruits, and branches that very quickly decomposes. Only a thin layer of decaying organic matter is found, unlike in temperate deciduous forests.

Tropical Rainforest Layers

Soil and Nutrient Recycling
Most tropical rainforest soils relatively poor in nutrients. Millions of years of weathering and torrential rains have washed most of the nutrients out of the soil. More recent volcanic soils, however, can be very fertile. Tropical rain forest soils contain less organic matter than temperate forests and most of the available nutrients are found in the living plant and animal material. Nutrients in the soil are often in forms that are not accessible by plants.

Constant warmth and moisture promote rapid decay of organic matter. When a tree dies in the rainforest, living organisms quickly absorb the nutrients before they have a chance to be washed away. When tropical forests are cut and burned, heavy rains can quickly wash the released nutrients away, leaving the soil even more impoverished.

Comparison of Where Nutrients Are Found in an Ecosystem Based on the Averaging of Major Nutrients.
Tropical Rainforest Temperate Deciduous Forest
52% in Vegetation 31% in Vegetation
48% in Soil 69% in Soil


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