Tropical rainforests might only make up 7% of the earth, but they are truly unrivaled in how much they contribute to the ecosystem of our planet. Covering huge areas of South America, Africa, Asia and Australia, the rich habitats of our tropical rainforests work hard to keep our climate stable and produce the rains that are so important to keep crops and people thriving across the world.
Tropical rainforests contain over 50% of all the planet’s wildlife, with 3 million different species living in our largest rainforest, the Amazon, alone. Wider estimates have said that up to 50 million different species could call the planet’s rainforest home. Across the world, from Peru to Malaysia, a life that is unknown to the majority of us plays out gloriously beneath the canopies of these increasingly at risk environments.
Within the tropical forest biome, many variations of this rich and fascinating environment exist. From shrouded montane (or ‘cloud’) forests in the high reaches of the Himalayas and Caucasus to coniferous and dry (deciduous) tropical forests in Central America, tropical rainforests are quietly working hard across our continents. Their aim? To keep our planet liveable for years to come.
- Extremely wet, with between 2000 and 10,000 mm of annual rainfall
- Consistently warm climate
- Hot and humid
- Evergreen trees
- Sparse undergrowth
- High biodiversity
- Acidic soil
- Range of tree species (in seasonal tropical forests)
- Variable temperatures (in coniferous tropical forests)
- Savanna, desert and mountainous landscapes (in subtropical forests)
Environmental threats to rainforests are well known and extremely serious. Logging, where areas of the rainforest are cut down in order to keep up with demand for wood in order to create items such as furniture, leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions, desertification, and destruction of habitats for animals, plants, and the indigenous people that live in the rainforest. In the year up to July 2018, 7,900 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest was destroyed in this way.
Another threat to the rainforest is the ongoing need for energy, which leads to destruction caused by mining, burning trees for fuel, and oil extraction. Agriculture is also encroaching on the rainforest, with trees being cut down to make way for production of coffee, tea, sugarcane and palm oil. Poaching and hunting remains an issue that can lead to the loss of rare species and disrupt the biome’s fragile ecosystem.
Over the past half century, around 17% of the Amazon has been lost completely.
The best tropical rainforest tours will utilise local guides who know the area well, ensuring that local traditions and resources are protected and that ethical practices are followed. The Amazon, as well as the world’s other tropical rainforests, are extremely popular destinations for those looking for long haul adventure, so in order to keep the sanctity of the area intact and ensure that no biodiversity is lost through tourism.
Activities in the tropical rainforest are plentiful: kayaking, paddleboarding, white water rafting, visiting local communities, fishing, canopy bridge walking, visiting waterfalls and taking riverboat rides can all be a big part of a trip to this kind of habitat. Attempts to spot animals such as red howler monkeys, jaguars, sloths, anteaters and pink river dolphins are also often high on visitors’ itineraries.
The Amazon Rainforest is the leader when it comes to biodiversity and opportunities for exploration. There are other rainforests found across the world, though. The Daintree Rainforest in Queensland, Australia, the Congo Rainforest in Central Africa, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve in Costa Rica, and the Sinharaja Forest Reserve in Sri Lanka are all breathtaking examples that those with a thirst for adventure should try to seek out.
With some estimating that up to 50 million species live here, the sheer volume of life that exists underneath and within the rainforest canopy is hard to fathom. As a snapshot, though, some animals that live in the rainforest include jaguars, capybaras, sloths, macaws, mountain gorillas, poison dart frogs, tapirs, lemurs, snakes, lizards, ocelots, kinkajous, agouti, spider monkeys, and orangutans. Numerous amphibians and reptile species are suited to this warm environment.
Numerous tropical rainforest plants, including orchids, passion flowers, cacao, giant water lilies, rubber trees and coffee plants, are found in the Amazon Rainforest. Evergreen trees that stretch high into the sky are the most dominant tree. In fact, our rainforests are home to two thirds of all the world’s plant species.
You’ll find tropical rainforests in the hottest, most humid countries on Earth. The Amazon stretches across countries including Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Guyana, whilst in Central America over half of Costa Rica is covered by rainforest. Northeastern Australia also has a climate that supports this habitat. In Asia, countries including Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia all have tropical rainforests, whilst Africa’s largest habitat of this kind is found in the Democratic Republic of Congo.