In tropical rainforests, the trees provide a barrier, dividing the forest into very different zones. Above the canopy of trees, the forest is bright, open and windy. Below them, it is dark, stifling and still. The plants and animals of the rainforest have evolved specialized adaptations to live in particular layers, some thriving in the the bright sun near the tops and others in the murky depths below.
The Emergent Layer
The upper layer of the rainforest consists of the tallest trees, towering 200 feet above the floor. These trees get the best light in the forest, as well as the best wind. They use this wind to spread their seeds through the forest. There are many animals that also call this top layer home. There are birds, bats, butterflies and even monkeys living at the top of the rainforest.
Most trees in the rainforest don't grow high enough to reach the emergent layer. Instead, they cluster in the canopy, 80 to 150 feet off the ground. Many of these trees also host epiphytic or air plants. These plants have aerial roots that harvest moisture and nutrients right out of the air. They use the height of the canopy trees as a way to get more sunlight. With its rich plant foliage, this area provides food and shelter to about 90% of rainforest animals. These animals include many species of colorful birds such as parrots and toucans, as well as tree frogs, bats, butterflies and monkeys. Jaguars can move between this layer and the lower layers of the forest, hunting for meat in the trees and on the ground.
Immediately above the forest floor lies the understory. There are fewer plants growing at this layer, and those that do grow have evolved specialized adaptations to deal with the low light levels. Many low plants have broad leaves to soak up as much sun as they can get, and others digest insects to supplement the meager energy that they get from photosynthesis. The understory has the largest population of insects, as well as some larger animals such as tree frogs and snakes.
The Forest Floor
Like any forest floor, the floor of a tropical rainforest accumulates fallen leaves and trees, animal remains and droppings and other forest waste. Termites, ants, worms and other invertebrates feed on this waste, breaking it down into nutrients that plants can use to grow. Animals such as anteaters then feed on these small critters.