Tropical Rain Forest Ecosystems for Kids


The tropical rain forest is a warm and wet land, filled with exotic creatures and vegetation. An ecosystem is an area of land where all the plants, animals, microorganisms and environment work together to maintain a perfect balance. Tropical rain forest biomes, or collections of individual ecosystems, contain 80 percent of the earth’s biodiversity, according to Rain Forest Facts. This means most of the world’s plants, animals, insects and birds live in tropical rain forest ecosystems.

A Gibbon monkey hangs from a tree in a tropical rainforest.
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The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rain forest with Central African rain forests ranking second largest. Tropical rain forests in the Americas include Brazil’s east coast, the eastern parts of all countries in Central America and southern Mexico. Tropical rain forest ecosystems are located in Southeast Asia, the eastern half of Madagascar, northern Australia and most Pacific islands.

A tropical rainforest in the mountains of Southeast Asia.
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Rain forests contain four main layers, top to bottom. Trees make up the top layer, known as the emergent layer, followed by the canopy, the understory and the ground layers. The ground layers are quite dark and humid, receiving less than 3 percent of the sun shining on the forest. Ferns and palm plants grow on this lowest layer, and small trees make up the understory. The canopy, containing most of the leaves, is full of beetles, caterpillars and other plant-eaters.

Palms and ferns grow on the rainforest floor.
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Each layer has its own ecosystem, or assortment of animals and plants living in balance within it. Additionally, each layer plays a part in the larger tropical rain forest ecosystem -- what happens to one layer directly affects life on the other layers. For example, when a tree loses a branch on the uppermost, emergent layer, light falls onto the normally dark forest floor. This tree branch may even contain seeds. The warm, wet air causes the tree branch to begin rotting. Buzzing insects feed on the decomposing branch and leaves, attracting birds and other insect-loving animals. These animals may even consume the seeds and deposit them on the ground where they germinate in the warm, humid air. The hole in the emergent layer, caused by the fallen branch, provides light for the seedlings

A Scarlet Peacock butterfly lands on a green leaf.
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Tropical rain forests are warm because they are located in a belt along earth’s equator. Temperatures typically range from 75 to 88 degrees all year long, according to the JASON Foundation for Education. Rain forests get a lot of rain -- about 80 inches each year. The rain leaches important nutrients from the dirt, making rain forest soil poor for farming but a rich place for tropical flora and fauna. Warm, moist air makes leaves decompose faster, providing food for creatures living at the forest floor.

A red-eyed tree frog sits on a log.
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Tropical rain forests are crawling with spiders and insects. Biologists call this group of animals “arthropods,” a scientific name noting jointed legs and hard exoskeleton. Arthropods are important creatures because they eat leaves, leafy debris and animal waste. Many other animals rely on arthropods for food. Some arthropods, like leaf cutters, even stimulate new plant growth by pruning trees.

A spider spins a web in the rainforest.
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Insects are also an important part of the nutrient cycle of the tropical rain forest ecosystem. Though the rain forest gets most of its nutrients from dead matter on the forest floor, insects provide a significant amount of nutrients by eating vegetation and excreting waste products. Plants absorb this substance. Birds, animals and other insects rely on arthropods as a food source, which then keeps insect populations under control.

A Blue-winged Pitta feeds hungry chicks in a nest on the ground.
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