Key points

  • Rainforests can be classified in many different ways.
  • Rainforests are found throughout the world.
  • Rainforests are home to a large number of different animals.
  • Industry and climate change are threats to rainforests.
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Red eyed tree frog in the rainforest understory.

When is a forest a rainforest?

Rainforests are a type of forest where the crown cover is 80 per cent or more, according to the NSW Department of Primary Industries. However, rainforests can be classified in several ways, including according to broad climatic categories:

•    tropical rainforests
•    subtropical rainforests
•    dry rainforests
•    warm temperate rainforests
•    cool temperate rainforests
•    littoral rainforests.

Some people prefer to break them down simply into tropical or temperate rainforests.

Rainforests of the world

Rainforests are found on every continent across the Earth, except Antarctica. They cover two per cent of the Earth's total surface area, but are home to 50 per cent of the Earth's plants and animals.

World heritage listed rainforests are protected in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Ecuador, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Madagascar and Panama.

Rainforest structure

Rainforests can consist of four layers: the emergent layer or overstory, the canopy, the understory and the forest floor or leaf layer. Each layer creates a unique environment for the plants (flora) and animals (fauna) that live there. Many of these organisms have gradually developed specific adaptations which enable them to thrive in their environments.

Animals of the rainforest

Rainforests have an abundance of vegetation for herbivores to live on, which then creates a rich source of food for omnivores and carnivores.

Because much of the vegetation is up high in the canopy, many animals have adapted to life in the trees.

A large variety of birds live in the rainforests of the world, eating plants or the insects that thrive in the lush, humid environment. Many are migratory birds, which spend winter in the forest and return to cooler climates for spring and summer.

What rainforests do

As well as providing habitat for a large proportion of the planet's flora and fauna, rainforests affect our day-to-day lives. Everyday products like coffee, cocoa, fruits, timber as well as many new medicines come from rainforests.

Often described as the 'Earth's lungs', rainforests also produce oxygen, filter pollutants from the air and store carbon dioxide.

They also serve as an enormous sponge, absorbing water runoff from heavy rain, capturing it in the root systems and higher up in the leaves of the canopy. Rain intercepted by the canopy is released into the atmosphere as humidity, which forms into clouds and starts the water cycle again.  

Threats to the rainforest

It's estimated that every second, a slice of rainforest the size of a football field is cut down and that more than 56,000 square miles of natural forest are lost each year.

Rainforests (and the animals that live there) are seriously threatened by global warming and the deforestation that comes from logging, farming, tourismand mining.

We can help prevent the destruction of rainforests, by being aware of the things we buy, where they come from, and the daily impact we each have on the environment.



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