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Layers of the Rainforest

By: C.M.Shorter

Layers of the Rainforest

The Emergent Layer is the highest level of the Rainforest. Giant trees reach to the sky. It is not uncommon for the hardwood evergreens and broad-leaf Rainforest trees to reach an amazing 180 to 200’ in height. The Emergent Layer of the Rainforest is the brightest layer receiving the most sunlight. From the Rainforest treetops you can see the rolling mist of condensation as it forms into clouds dissipating from the dense layers beneath. The Emergent Layer is the world’s finest Natural Aviary. Rainforests are home to nearly 1/3 of our planet’s bird species including thousands of species of birds, including Hummingbirds and Eagles. Many other species of Bats, Butterflies and Monkeys also seek food, nesting & shelter here as they look for a safe-haven away from the predators of the forest. The Emergent Layer is directly above the Canopy Layer.

The Canopy Layer is found directly beneath the Emergent Layer. The Canopy Layer is the primary life sustaining layer with an abundance of food and forms a natural roof over the remaining two layers beneath. It consists of a thick layering branch system of limbs and vines that create natural vistas and form a natural umbrella. This layer absorbs ultra-violet rays from the sun protecting the plant and animals species beneath the Canopy Layer from UV rays. The Canopy Layer also retains moisture and makes a natural shield to prevent “wash-outs” during the tremendous rain deluge from the tropical rainy seasons.
Orchid growing in the Canopy Layer

Many Epiphytic Plants, commonly called “air plants” like Bromeliads and Orchids grow in the Canopy Layer. The roots of these plant do not reach the ground or live in soil. Instead they thrive by absorbing moisture and nutrients through an aerial root system by attaching themselves to a host. The Canopy Layer is also home to many species, including Birds, Butterflies, Monkeys, Parrots, the slow moving Sloth, Tree Frogs, Toucans, Jaguars and Leopards.


The Understory Layer is directly underneath the Canopy Layer and on top of the Forest Floor. Growth here is very dense. The Understory Layer is a dark, sometimes almost impenetrable natural habitat entwined with vines, shrub and broadleaf trees. This layer provides superior camouflage and many of the species who live here crossover between this layer and the Canopy Layer. Trees here average 12’-15’ feet in height and have exceptionally large leaves to compensate for the lack of sunlight. The leaves are so large in fact, just one single leaf could be used for an umbrella. The Understory Layer teams with life. Many species living in this layer are nocturnal. Here you will find several species of Tree Frogs, Bats, Owls, and an amazing array of insect species like the famous team working “Leaf Cutter Ants”. Intermingling between layers is done by many species but especially by the many varieties of Monkeys, Sloths, Jaguars and Leopards.

The Forest Floor is the ground layer. Since almost no sunlight reaches the Forest Floor it is very dark. The quality of the soil is extremely poor and very few plants are found growing in this area. There is of course moss, ferns and some low growth plants and vine roots taking root. But it is rich in microorganism and this environment makes quick work of decomposition making a natural compost that is exceeding rich. Giant Anteaters, Beetles, Frogs, Lizards, Snakes – including the giant Anaconda, Termites, and insects of every kind thrive by the millions in the moist, dark climate of the Forest Floor.

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Also: Bio-Prospecting in the Rainforest | People of the Amazon Rainforest

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