Rainforest Canopy Layers

The rainforests are home to more than half the animals in the world. Rainforest animals reside in all four stratas of the forest. ‘Strata’ means ‘layers’. Scientists divide rainforests into different strata (or layers) for easy reference.

Each of these layers is a very different environment and supports different life forms.

The stratas differ in many ways, including temperature, the amount of sunlight that they receive, the wetness of the environment and the amount and types of life forms living in it.

Rainforest Strata

Rainforest Emergents

Rainforest Emergents

Many birds such as colourful Macaws, mammals such as monkeys and insects such as tropical butterflies reside in the tops of the trees that are taller than any other trees in the world. The Emergent layer gets most of the sunlight and can be quite windy sometimes. Trees, shrubs and plants of every kind struggle to reach the light. Emergent trees are very top heavy and have almost no side branches below the canopy.

Rainforest Canopy

Rainforest Canopy

The upper parts of the trees house birds, insects, arachnids, reptiles and mammals in its leafy environment. It is referred to as an ‘umbrella’. Trees such as the Brush Box exist in the Canopy and act as a home for birds, possums and plants. The trees in the Canopy entwine to make a very thick cover which is generally 60 – 130 feet above the ground.

At the top, rainfall is heavy, the winds are strong and humidity is fairly high. Many of the trees have their branches intertwined and they are also tied together by many kinds of creepers and vines. Lianes are climbing woody plants that are rooted in the ground and use other plants as support so that they can reach the light.

Rainforest Understorey

Rainforest Understorey

A dark, cool environment that gets little sunlight and therefore has limited plant life. There are usually short, green, leafy shrubs, mostly non-flowering, small trees, ferns and vines. Epiphytes are plants which perch on or adhere to other plants. They collect water in a variety of ways from rain and get nutrients from organic matter. Mosses, lichens, orchids, ferns, elkhorns, staghorns and bird nest ferns are Epiphytes that grow in the Understorey. The Understorey is home to many insects and birds.

Rainforest Floor

Rainforest Floor

The forest floor is teeming with animal life particularly insects and arachnids, also larger animals such as jaguars, pumas, gorillas, anteaters and large snakes like the anaconda and the Boa Constrictor. It is also the most humid part of the Rainforest. There is no grass here. The underlying soil is hidden by a thin layer of rapidly rotting leaves, twigs and dead flowers.

The work of decomposing this litter layer is carried out by plants like fungi and animals and insects like ants and termites as well as worms.

People also live on the forest floor.


Tropical rainforests are forests characterized by high rainfall, with definitions setting minimum normal annual rainfall between 1750 millimetres and 2000 millimetres. In contradiction to popular belief, rainforests are not major consumers of carbon dioxide and like all mature forests are approximately carbon neutral. Recent evidence suggests that the majority of rainforests are in fact net carbon emitters. However, rainforests do play a major role in the global carbon cycle as stable carbon pools. Clearance of rainforest leads to increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Rainforests may also play a role in cooling air that passes through them. As such, rainforests are of vital importance within the global climate system.

Because there are multiple branch levels and microclimates (a local atmospheric zone where the climate differs from the surrounding area), in a rainforest, it is a hotspot for biodiversity. Many species of plants and animals still have yet to be discovered. The rainforest also provides a multitude of resources for local, indigenous people including food and shelter. A number of plants found in the rainforest can also be used for medicinal purposes.

Rainforest Conservation

By speaking with the local people living in and around the rainforest, conservationists can learn information that would allow them to best focus their conservation efforts.

Another way conservation has become the most economically beneficial option is through carbon credits (a key component of national and international emissions trading schemes). Under the Kyoto Protocol (an amendment to the international treaty on climate change), countries must reduce their emissions of Carbon Dioxide by 5% below the 1990 levels before 2012. Countries can meet their mandatory cuts in emissions by offsetting some of those emissions some other way. Through conservation or reforestation of the rainforest, countries can receive carbon credits.

Rainforest Animals