An ecosystem is a unique environment where every living thing is interdependent, and one of the most complex and most interesting ecosystems in the world can be found in the rainforest. It's dark recesses and thick plant growth make it one of the moistest places on earth. By studying the plants and animals that comprise the rainforest ecosystem, you can gain a basic understanding of why scientists and ecologists alike are concerned about the disappearing tropical jungles.
Rainforests like those in Africa support more than 8,000 kinds of plants within their dense vegetation. If you hiked through the jungle, you might see orchids, a strangler fig tree or even a mangrove tree. You could feed yourself on bananas or coconuts, if you were good at shinnying up a 20-foot tree trunk. Australian rainforests produce flowers that are not found in any other place in the world. Down at the ground level of a rainforest, it is so dark it might seem like dusk even at lunch time because of the layers of leaves blocking the light. In fact, the forest is so dense that it can take 10 minutes for a raindrop to fall from the top of the trees to the forest floor.
More than half of the animals in the world make their homes in the lush environment of the rainforest. Sloths thrive in the South America rainforests, where more than 2,000 kinds of butterflies flutter through the trees. The rainforests of Asia provide shelter to frogs, snakes and flying squirrels. A delicate food cycle hangs in the balance within each rainforest. From the bat to the beetle, from the toucan to the tiger, each member of the chain depends on each other.
Although rainforests cover less than 10 percent of the earth, they can be found on five continents, from the islands of Java and Borneo to the billion-acre Amazon. In fact, the rainforest in the Amazon river basin spans sections of five countries, and it would comprise the ninth largest country in the world if it became its own country. The Amazon rainforest alone houses 20 percent of the plants and birds in the world. Nicknamed the "Lungs of the World," this forest provides more than 20 percent of the oxygen we need to live.
Many scientists are concerned about the disappearing rainforests in areas like the Amazon. According to the California Institute of Technology, a football-sized area of rainforest is being destroyed with each passing second. Even with a bamboo plant's daily astronomical growth of up to nine inches, the forests can't keep up with the 2,000 trees cut down every day. Destruction of this magnitude impacts the animal life as well as the rare plant species. Humans may eventually feel the impact as well since 25 percent of the ingredients in our medicines come from rainforest plants.
- Kids Mongabay: Tropical Rainforests
- Ducksters: Biomes: Tropical Rainforest
- National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis: World Biomes: Rainforest
- neoK12.com: Ecosystems
- Rainforest Foundation: Rainforests: What You Need to Know
- Education.com: Characteristics of Plants in Tropical Rain Forests
- California Institute of Technology: Rainforest Facts
- Raintree: Rainforest Facts
- Rainforest Alliance: Kids' Corner: Banana
- Scholastic Teachers: Rainforests
- PBS: Teaching Kids to Protect the Environment and Their Health
- A Rainforest Habitat (Introducing Habitats); Molly Aloian and Bobbie Kalman
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