Lush forest, generally composed of tall, broad-leaved trees and usually found in wet tropical regions around the Equator. Despite increased awareness of the rainforests' importance during the late 20th century, they continue to be cleared. Rainforests grow mainly in South and Central America, West and Central Africa, Indonesia, parts of Southeast Asia, and tropical Australia, where the climate is relatively humid with no marked seasonal variation. Depending on the amount of annual rainfall, the trees may be evergreen or mainly deciduous. The former require more water. Temperatures are high, usually about 86 °F (30 °C) during the day and 68 °F (20 °C) at night. Soil conditions vary with location and climate, though most rainforest soils tend to be permanently moist and not very fertile, because the hot, humid weather causes organic matter to decompose rapidly and to be absorbed quickly by tree roots and fungi. Rainforests have several layers. The highest continuous layer, called the canopy, extends across the treetops at a height of 100–165 ft (30–50 m). Most animals live among the leaves and branches. Below the canopy is a thick understory filled with small trees, lianas, and epiphytes. The space directly above the ground can be occupied by tree branches, twigs, and foliage, but, contrary to popular belief, the rainforest floor is not impassable. Rather, it is bare except for a thin layer of humus and fallen leaves. Animals inhabiting this layer (e.g., gorillas, elephants, jaguars, and bears) are adapted to walking or climbing for only short distances. Burrowing animals, such as armadillos and caecilians, are found in the soil, as are microorganisms that help decompose and recycle the organic litter accumulated by other plants and animals from all layers. The climate of the ground layer is unusually stable because the upper stories of tree canopies and the lower branches filter out sunlight, retain heat, and reduce wind speeds, keeping the temperature fairly even.
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Rainforests are home to two-thirds of all the living animal and plant species on Earth. It has been estimated that many hundreds of millions of species of plants, insects and microorganisms are still undiscovered. Tropical rainforests have been called the "jewels of the Earth," and the "world's largest pharmacy," because of the large number of natural medicines discovered there.
The undergrowth in a rainforest is restricted in many areas by the lack of sunlight at ground level. This makes it possible to walk through the forest. If the leaf canopy is destroyed or thinned, the ground beneath is soon colonized by a dense, tangled growth of vines, shrubs and small trees called a jungle. The two types of rainforest are:
The rainforest is divided into four different parts, each with different plants and animals, adapted for life in that particular area:
More than half of the world's species of plants and animals are found in the rainforest. Rainforests support a very broad array of fauna including mammals, reptiles, birds and invertebrates. Mammals may include primates, felids and other families. Reptiles include snakes, turtles, chameleons and other families while birds include such families as vangidae and Cuculidae. Dozens of families of invertebrates are found in rainforests. Fungi are also very common in rainforest areas as they can feed on the decomposing remains of plant and animal life. As a result of all the decomposing matter on the forest floor, rainforests develop high levels of organic matter in the soil, making it very nutritious for plant and animal life. This humus is a major factor in allowing rainforests to be highly active ecosystems, with rainforests home to about 80% of the Earth's species. This amounts to over 20 million species of plants and animals. These species are rapidly disappearing due to deforestation, habitat loss and biochemical releases into the atmosphere.
Tropical and temperate rain forests have been subjected to heavy logging and agricultural clearance throughout the 20th century, and the area covered by rainforests around the world is rapidly shrinking. Biologists have estimated that large numbers of species are being driven to extinction (possibly more than 50,000 a year, at that rate, says Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University, a quarter or more of all species on earth could be exterminated within 50 years) due to the removal of habitat with destruction of the rainforests.
Another factor causing the loss of rainforest is expanding urban areas. Littoral Rainforest growing along coastal areas of eastern Australia is now rare due to ribbon development to accommodate the demand for seachange lifestyles.
The rainforests are being destroyed at an ever-quickening pace. Almost 90% of West Africa's rainforest has been destroyed. Since the arrival of humans 2000 years ago, Madagascar has lost more than 90% of its remaining eastern rainforests. At present rates, tropical rainforests in Indonesia would be logged out in 10 years, Papua New Guinea in 13 to 16 years.
Several countries, notably the Brazil, have declared their deforestation a national emergency. Amazon deforestation jumped by 69% in 2008 compared to 2007's twelve months, according to official government data. Deforestation could wipe out or severely damage nearly 60% of the Amazon rainforest by 2030, says a new report from WWF.