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dense forest found in tropical areas of heavy rainfall. The trees are broad-leaved and evergreen, and the vegetation tends to grow in three layers (undergrowth, intermediate trees and shrubs, and very tall trees, which form a canopy)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


Forests that occur in continually wet climates with no dry season. There are relatively small areas of temperate rainforests in the Americas and Austral­asia, but most occur in the tropics and subtropics.

The most extensive tropical rainforests are in the Americas. These were originally 1.54 × 106 mi2 (4 × 106 km2) in extent, about half the global total, and mainly in the Amazon basin. A narrow belt also occurs along the Atlantic coast of Brazil, and a third block lies on the Pacific coast of South America, extending from northern Peru to southern Mexico.

Tropical rainforests have a continuous canopy (commonly 100–120 ft or 30–36 m tall) above which stand huge emergent trees, reaching 200 ft (60 m) or taller. Within the rainforest canopy are trees of many different sizes, including pygmies, that reach only a few feet. Trees are the main life form and are often, for purposes of description and analysis, divided into strata or layers. Trees form the framework of the forest and support an abundance of climbers, orchids, and other epiphytes, adapted to the microclimatic conditions of the different zones of the canopy, from shade lovers in the gloomy, humid lower levels, to sun lovers in the brightly lit, hotter, and drier upper levels. Most trees have evergreen leaves, many of which are pinnate or palmate. These features of forest structure and appearance are found throughout the world's lowland tropical rainforests. There are other equally distinctive kinds of rainforest in the lower and upper parts of perhumid tropical mountains, and additional types on wetlands.

Rainforests occur where the monthly rainfall exceeds 4 in. (100 mm) for 9–12 months. They merge into other seasonal or monsoon forests where there is a stronger dry season (3 months or more with 2.5 in. or 60 mm of rainfall). The annual mean temperature in the lowlands is approximately 64°F (18°C). There is no season unfavorable for growth.

Primary rainforests are exceedingly rich in species of both plants and animals. There are usually over 100 species of trees 2.5 in. (10 cm) in diameter or bigger per 2.4 acres (1 ha). There are also numerous species of climbers and epiphytes. Flowering and fruiting occur year-round, but commonly there is a peak season; animal breeding may be linked to this. Secondary rainforests are much simpler. There are fewer tree species, less variety from location to location, and fewer epiphytes and climbers; the animals are also somewhat different. See Ecological succession

Tropical rainforests are a source of resins, dyes, drugs, latex, wild meat, honey, rattan canes, and innumerable other products essential to rural life and trade. Modern technology for extraction and for processing has given timber of numerous species monetary value, and timber has come to eclipse other forest products in importance. The industrial nations use much tropical hardwood for furniture, construction, and plywood. Rainforest timbers, however, represent only 11% of world annual industrial wood usage, a proportion that has doubled since 1950. West Africa was the first main modern source, but by the 1960s was eclipsed by Asia, where Indonesia and Malaysia are the main producers of internationally traded tropical hardwoods. Substantial logging has also developed in the neotropics. See Forest ecosystem

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A forest of broad-leaved, mainly evergreen, trees found in continually moist climates in the tropics, subtropics, and some parts of the temperate zones.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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