Rainforest 101: Why Is This Type of Ecosystem So Valuable to Our Planet?

Rainforest 101: Why Is This Type of Ecosystem So Valuable to Our Planet?

Rainforests are some of the oldest living ecosystems on Earth, and their role exceeds any other method in slowing down climate change. How can an ecosystem that covers only 6% of the land surface of the Earth can be so indispensable to all life on our planet? Let’s learn the basic facts about rainforests and why we should make a collective effort as a species to protect them.

What Is the Rainforest?

Rainforests can be found on every continent except Antarctica, and they have a series of unique characteristics that define them. A brief description of a rainforest is “an area covered by tall trees, with a high amount of rainfall.” Contrary to popular belief, rainforests aren’t only found in tropical climates, but they can go as far North as Norway.

  • Tropical and Temperate Rainforests

The most well-known type of rainforest is found in between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5° North and South of the Equator). They are hot, moist biomes with mostly evergreen trees that have an extremely important role in regulating the planet’s temperature.

Tropical rainforests have an average humidity of 77%-88%, which allows them to generate important amounts of moisture. The most well-known tropical rainforest is the Amazon rainforest, which is the national forest of several countries, including Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and others.

Temperate rainforests can only be found in a few places on Earth: coastal parts of North and South America, a few areas in Europe, in East Asia and also in Australia and New Zealand. What defines these forests and differentiates them from all-weather forests is an average temperature that doesn’t fall below 0°C and a large amount of precipitation all year round. Typically, these rainforests are found nearby the ocean.

  • Layers of a Rainforest

Typically, a rainforest has multiple vertical layers, with specific characteristics that depend on conditions like light, humidity and air circulation. The main layers of a rainforest are:

  • Emergent: the top layer of a rainforest, it consists of wide spread foliage of the tallest trees which try to reach as much sunlight as possible
  • Canopy: The second top layer measures about 6m in height and it’s made of a dense layer of branches that keep the bottom layers dark and humid. This layer has important sources of food, like sweet, nutritious fruit and the animals that feed on it.
  • Understory: the plants that can be found in the understory are short, have large leaves and beautiful, big flowers. The animals that thrive here have adapted to the dark, humid environment and are often amongst the endangered species of this habitat (gorillas, forest elephants etc.).
  • Forest floor: a thriving layer with a life of its own, the forest floor is where organic matter is decomposed and the soil is enriched with nutrients that are vital for the tall trees of the top layers. Many species rely on this process and sustain the other layers by recycling organic matter continuously.

Why Is the Rainforest so Special?

Rainforests are so important for our planet’s health because of the multiple roles they play in the big picture.

As mentioned in the beginning, the biodiversity of a rainforest is incredible, with tens of thousands of endemic species living in rainforest areas, about half of the world’s plants and animals! From the canopy layer to the rivers that flow through rainforests, each part of a rainforest has an ecosystem that influences the ones in its neighborhood.

Another crucial role played by the rainforests has to do with the global climate changes. Tropical rainforests are the “thermostat” of the Earth, generating immense amounts of moisture and entrapping the carbon dioxide that leads to the glasshouse effect.

The direct benefits of the rainforest for us as a species are also incommensurable, from life-saving medicines that are based on the endemic flora to millions of people living in tribes that directly depend on the rainforest for food and shelter.

The responsibility to preserve the rainforests that were left after decades of deforestation is huge, and the world’s nations are stepping up, trying to repair at least part of the damage that has been done. The future of the rainforest is not an ideal that only concerns the people living next to them, but a condition of survival for us all, as a species.

Plant a Tree Now

Rainforests alone cannot regenerate (assisted or not) and do their job if we don’t put a stop to the continuous release of harmful elements in the atmosphere. You can help the planet by reducing your own carbon print and living a life that is respectful towards the environment.

Planting a tree is one of the easy steps you can take towards that goal, and it’s benefits outweigh its costs overwhelmingly. Look for tree planting programs in your state and make sure that the organizations behind them are aware of the principles of responsible tree planting that takes biodiversity and sustainability into account.

By doing this little, we can contribute to the healing and thriving of the rainforests from thousands of miles away.

We here at Replant Amazon have made it our goal to restore the Amazon forest by planting one billion trees until 2022. If you would like to contribute to the health of the rainforest and don't know how to do it, then you can join our initiative. You can find out more about our initiative here and learn how you can contribute to the cause.


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