What Are the Different Layers of the Rainforest?

What Are the Different Layers of the Rainforest?
The rainforest is a complex web of interdependent plants and animals. The forest is divided into discrete layers, and in some ways these layers are like separate environments. A monkey may spend its whole life in the canopy or emergent layer, and an anteater will never see the treetops. Yet what happens in one layer of the forest inevitably effects what happens to the others. The roots of the trees are homes and hiding places for animals on the forest floor, and the small insects which help break down forest waste provide food for the towering trees above.

The Emergent Layer

The emergent layer is the topmost layer of a rainforest, consisting of a few old, hardwood evergreen trees reaching to heights of 200 feet. These trees are home to many bats, birds and butterflies, as well as some species of monkeys. Because this layer is above the canopy, the trees and animals here get the most sunlight. The trees can also take advantage of the fairly strong winds at this height, which they use to distribute their seeds all over the rainforest.


The Canopy Layer

The canopy layer is the height where most forest trees grow to, and is usually 80 to 150 feet above the forest floor. The foliage in the canopy is dense enough to stop light rains from reaching the floor. Most of the trees here tend to have tapered leaves that allow water to drip off instead of pooling in the foliage. These trees provide a lot of food, which is why 90% of the rainforest animals live in this layer. Because the canopy is too dense for much wind to move through, many of these trees rely on animals to disperse their seeds by eating the fruits they grow.

The Understory

The understory is the layer immediately above the forest floor. There is very little sunlight as a result of the thick canopy. Many of the plants in the understory have evolved very large leaves to take advantage of what little light there is. There are many insects in this layer, and certain carnivorous plants have evolved to eat the insects. Jaguars, treefrogs and snakes also call this layer home.

The Forest Floor

The forest floor is layered with leaf litter and other decaying organic matter from higher layers of the forest. Worms, termites and other small invertebrates feed on this material, helping to break it down. The forest floor is also home to anteaters and other critters, which feed on the decomposers. Normally, it is too dark on the forest floor for most new plants to grow, but when one of the big trees in the canopy or emergent layer falls, many plants quickly spring up to take advantage of the burst of sunlight.



Article Written By Isaiah David

Isaiah David is a freelance writer and musician living in Portland, Ore. He has over five years experience as a professional writer and has been published on various online outlets. He holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Michigan.

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