Rainforest and Rainforest Animals
The tropical rain forest is a forest of tall trees in a region of year-round warmth. An average of 50 to 260 inches (125 to 660 cm.) of rain falls yearly.
Rain forests belong to the tropical wet climate group. The temperature in a rain forest rarely gets higher than 93 °F (34 °C) or drops below 68 °F (20 °C); average humidity is between 77 and 88%; rainfall is often more than 100 inches a year. There is usually a brief season of less rain. In monsoonal areas, there is a real dry season. Almost all rain forests lie near the equator.
Rainforests now cover less than 6% of Earth's land surface. Scientists estimate that more than half of all the world's plant and animal species live in tropical rain forests. Tropical rainforests produce 40% of Earth's oxygen.
A tropical rain forest has more kinds of trees than any other area in the world. Scientists have counted about 100 to 300 species in one 2 1/2-acre (1-hectare) area in South America. Seventy percent of the plants in the rainforest are trees.
About 1/4 of all the medicines we use come from rainforest plants. Curare comes from a tropical vine, and is used as an anesthetic and to relax muscles during surgery. Quinine, from the cinchona tree, is used to treat malaria. A person with lymphocytic leukemia has a 99% chance that the disease will go into remission because of the rosy periwinkle. More than 1,400 varieties of tropical plants are thought to be potential cures for cancer.
All tropical rain forests resemble one another in some ways. Many of the trees have straight trunks that don't branch out for 100 feet or more. There is no sense in growing branches below the canopy where there is little light. The majority of the trees have smooth, thin bark because there is no need to protect the them from water loss and freezing temperatures. It also makes it difficult for epiphytes and plant parasites to get a hold on the trunks. The bark of different species is so similar that it is difficult to identify a tree by its bark. Many trees can only be identified by their flowers.
Despite these differences, each of the three largest rainforests--the American, the African, and the Asian--has a different group of animal and plant species. Each rain forest has many species of monkeys, all of which differ from the species of the other two rain forests. In addition, different areas of the same rain forest may have different species. Many kinds of trees that grow in the mountains of the Amazon rain forest do not grow in the lowlands of that same forest.
Many species of animal life can be found in the rain forest. Common characteristics found among mammals and birds (and reptiles and amphibians, too) include adaptations to a life in the trees, such as the prehensile tails of New World monkeys. Other characteristics are bright colors and sharp patterns, loud vocalizations, and diets heavy on fruits.
Insects make up the largest single group of animals that live in tropical forests. They include brightly colored butterflies, mosquitoes, camouflaged stick insects, and huge colonies of ants.
The Amazon river basin rainforest contains a wider variety of plant and animal life than any other biome in the world. The second largest population of plant and animal life can be found in scattered locations and islands of Southeast Asia. The lowest variety can be found in Africa. There may be 40 to 100 different species in 2.5 acres ( 1 hectare) of a tropical rain forest.