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What is a Rainforest?



Rainforests are a very important type of forest that we hear a lot about.  But what is a rainforest?  A rainforest is a dense, warm, very wet forest that gets a large amount of rain every year.  To be called a rainforest, an area must have a rainfall of more than two hundred and fifty-four centimetres per year.  Many of these forests get even more rain than that.

Rainforests are important to us because they make most of the oxygen on the earth.  In fact, more than twenty percent of the oxygen in the world is made by the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.  That forest is being cut down every day, which could lead to problems for all life on Earth.

There are also lots of different plants and animals in rainforests that you can't find anywhere else.  There are rainforests on only six percent of the surface of the earth, but those rainforests have more than half of the different kinds of plants and animals that exist.  Some of them live only in a very small area and are very easily hurt by changes in environment or temperature.

Rainforests come in two types.  There are temperate rainforests and tropical rainforests.  Rainforests are found on every continent other than Antarctica.  Tropical rainforests are located very close to the equator.  They are hot and there is a lot of rain all year. 

However, they do have a wet season and a dry season.  The biggest areas where tropical rainforests are located are West Africa, Southeast Asia, South America and Central America.  The rainforests we know best are found between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, which are lines drawn around the Earth north and south of the Equator.

Temperate rainforests are in the temperate zones - further north and south of the tropical regions.  They are mostly found along the coasts.  The biggest temperate rainforests on earth are located on the Pacific Coast of North America.  They reach from the northern part of the state of California into Canada.  In temperate rainforests, the wet season happens in the winter and spring, and summer is drier but foggy.

There are up to thirty million different species of animals and plants in tropical rainforest.  A typical patch of rainforest that's about six and a half kilometres on a side could have as many as seven hundred fifty different tree species, fifteen hundred flowering plants, four hundred different kinds of birds and one hundred fifty different species of butterflies.

There are four major parts that make up a rainforest.  The top is called the emergent layer, and is very sunny with the tallest trees.  Birds, small monkeys, snakes, insects and bats live here.  Below this layer is the canopy.

The canopy is the height that most of the trees grow to.  Its thick leaves stop most of the rain, and there are even plants that grow high up in these trees.  These air plants don't have roots in the ground.  There are also sloths, frogs, monkeys, birds, snakes, lizards and many different insects.

In the understory layer, there isn't much light at all.  Many vines and dense vegetation mean that the frogs, snakes, birds and insects that live here have many places to hide.  Below the understory is the forest floor.

It is very dark on the forest floor, since sunlight is blocked by the leaves above.  There are many dead leaves and plants and this part of the forest is very damp.  There are many animals here, including leopards and gorillas in Africa, jaguars in South America, and elephants and tigers in Asia.

This is an original news article © The Kids Window

One in a series of articles about Geography written for children.

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