The rainforest is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world. Home to countless plants and animals, Earth’s rainforests also play an important role in climate regulation and maintaining the water cycle. While you may be familiar with some of the creatures that live in the rainforest, what do you really know about this fragile, fascinating, and unique ecosystem? We’ve rounded up 7 fascinating facts about the rainforest to help you learn more about this amazing environment that so many plants and animals call home. Let’s get started!
#1 Not All Rainforests Are Tropical.
Not all rainforests are tropical. The term rainforest refers to an ecosystem filled with mostly evergreen trees that receive large amounts of rainfall. This means that rainforests can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Temperate rainforests exist in coastal, mountainous areas in the mid-latitudes, while tropical rainforests are found near the equator and feature high average temperatures and humidity. Rainforests are typically made up of four layers: emergent, upper canopy, understory, and the forest floor.
#2 Tropical Rainforests Cover Less Than 3% of Earth’s Surface – But They’re Home to Over Half of the Terrestrial Animals on Earth.
Even though tropical rainforests cover less than 3% of Earth’s surface, they are home to over half of the terrestrial animals living on our planet. Many magnificent animals, including Bengal tigers, mountain gorillas, orangutans, jaguars, and blue poison dart frogs call the rainforest home. Sadly, many of them are on the brink of extinction, which is part of why preserving the Earth's rainforests is so important. But how do temperate rain forests factor in? Do they cover significantly more territory? Surprisingly, no. Together, temperate rainforests and tropical rainforests cover a mere 6% of the Earth’s surface while housing more than half of the world’s plant and animal species!
#3 Rainforests Are Partially Self-Watering.
Rainforests are partially self-watering through the process of transpiration, which causes plants to release water into the atmosphere. This extra moisture helps to create the thick cloud cover that hangs over many rainforests, so even when it isn’t raining, the clouds overhead keep the rainforest humid and warm. The extra water also goes directly into the water cycle, helping to regulate rainfall.
#4 Rainforests Are Essential for Maintaining Earth’s Supply of Fresh Water.
Rainforests are essential for maintaining the Earth’s limited supply of fresh water. This unique ecosystem helps to add water to the atmosphere through transpiration, a process by which plants release water from their leaves during photosynthesis. In addition to contributing moisture to the water cycle, rainforests also help filter and store fresh water. Scientists estimate that about 15% of the world’s supply of fresh water is stored in the Amazon Basin!
#5 Rainforests Help Regulate the Global Climate.
Rainforests play an important role in maintaining the Earth’s climate, which is why it is so important to halt their decline and protect these fragile, diverse ecosystems. Rainforests produce around 20% of our oxygen while storing massive amounts of carbon dioxide, although there is recent evidence that due to deforestation, tropical rainforests are now emitting more carbon than they store. Rainforests also absorb large amounts of solar radiation, which helps to regulate global temperatures. They help limit the Earth’s reflectivity, which in turn helps to stabilize ocean currents, wind, and rainfall patterns. Rainforests also help maintain the world’s water cycle by producing, filtering, and storing water, which not only supplies living creatures with water but also helps protect against soil erosion, flooding, and drought.
#6 Plants from the Rainforest Are Used to Make Life-Saving Medicines.
According to the International Journal of Oncology, over 60% of cancer drugs originate from natural sources, including rainforest plants. Compounds in rainforest plants are used to treat a variety of other diseases as well, including malaria, heart disease, bronchitis, hypertension, rheumatism, diabetes, muscle tension, and arthritis. Many antibiotics, anesthetics, cough medicines, and other treatments are also derived from rainforest plants and herbs.
#7 Rainforests Are Earth’s Oldest Living Ecosystems and Are Incredibly Biodiverse.
Rainforests are the oldest living ecosystems on Earth. Some have survived in their present form for 70 million years or more. Tropical rainforests are the most biodiverse terrestrial ecosystems in the world, with the Amazon rainforest being the largest example. They are incredibly dense, complex, and delicately balanced in order to support so much life. For example, a single 4-square-mile patch of tropical rainforest can contain 1,500 flowering plants, 750 species of trees, 400 species of birds, and 150 species of butterflies! The Amazon rainforest is thought to be home to around 40,000 plant species, nearly 1,300 bird species, 3,000 types of fish, 427 species of mammals, and 2.5 million different insects, but many scientists believe that there are still many more species of plants and animals living in the Earth's rainforests that we haven’t even discovered yet!
Want to learn more incredible facts about rainforests? Check out this cool video!
Still not enough science facts for you? Why not check out our articles on birds and sloths?