- Describe the layers in the rainforests.
I always think of two layers in the rainforest: the canopy and the understory but others divide them into three or even four including the “emergent” layer. Starting from the top the tallest trees form the emergent layer which “emerges” above the main canopy of trees. The canopy is the principal treetop layer where the most biodiversity lies. The understory comprises all the plants which grow mostly in the shadow below the leafy canopy.
The tallest trees are the emergents, towering as much as 200 feet above the forest floor with trunks that measure up to 16 feet around. Most of these trees are broad-leaved, hardwood evergreens. Animals found are eagles, monkeys, bats and butterflies.
This is the primary layer of the forest and forms a roof over the two remaining layers. Most canopy trees have smooth, pointed leaves. Many animals live here since food is abundant. These include: snakes, toucans and treefrogs.
Little sunshine reaches this area so the plants have to grow larger leaves to reach the sunlight. Many animals live here including jaguars, and red-eyed tree frogs. There is a concentration of insects.
It’s very dark down here. Fewer plants grow in this area, as a result. Decay is rapid. Giant anteaters live in this layer.
In the novel Alicia, a rainforest biologist, studies the understory but yearns to see the canopy and one day………….
“Alicia heard a creaking sound and turned in the direction of the noise. A crack and an alarming whoosh brought her to her feet and she had the sensation that the canopy was caving in.
In a sense it was. One of the colossal trees came smashing through the forest, taking out other trees as it fell. She ran amid a cacophony of chatter as birds took flight and frightened animals fled. Just as she heard the explosive sound of the violent crash, she felt the impact through the ground in the marrow of her bones.
Stopping in her tracks, she raised one hand to her heart, as if to still the agitated beating, and sucked in a deep breath of relief. Fear turned to excitement. Without hesitation she made her way through the thicket of green to the downed tree. She had to use her machete to get through, but she would finally have the rare chance to observe the canopy—from the ground.
She’d spent innumerable hours studying the jungle floor and shrub layer, but here was a cross-section of the rainforest from the roots and lianas through the middle branches and mysteries of the upper foliage. Each layer was a distinct habitat reflecting different microclimates, starting from the shaded wet bottom and ending in the strong sun, wind and rain of the treetops.
By this time of day it was normally shaded in the rainforest as the sun angled behind the mountains. But shafts of light streamed through the gap formed by the downed giant and the branches it sheared off other trees in its plunge. Alicia knew this light would give small trees a chance to grow and in ten or twenty years the break would close over as new trees become part of the canopy.
Some forty feet away she could barely discern the fat upturned roots of the end closest to her. She scrambled through debris and vegetation as she made her way to the prize, eager to clamber along the fallen trunk to what had once been the treetop. Jagged splinters of wood poked up among rotted limbs. She recoiled as a thick stem turned out to be a snake—green as grass—slithering smoothly away from her. Possibly an eyelash viper she thought, giving him a wide berth.”
An excerpt from A Place in the World