The Ecology of a Rain Forest

In 1980, the estimated amount of rain forests in the world was 40,000 square miles. This number decreases each

year by roughly 1,000 square miles due to construction and the resources being used for profit. It is too bad, because

the rain forest is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is the most diverse, containing the most species of

living things, much more than anywhere else, and most have yet to be identified. All rain forests are located on

earth's "green belt", that is, the area roughly around the equator that covers all the area from Mexico and the

northern area of South America, to Africa, to India, stretching out to Indonesia, the northern tip of Australia and all

the way to New Guinea. This area is heavily covered with flora and fauna,

and it abounds with life. In a rain forest, it is very wet and it rains everyday or every other day very heavily. There is

a high and steady level of heat and moisture. There are some general layers to the rain forest. It starts

135 feet up in the air, with the lofty crowns of the tallest trees in the jungle. They take the most light, heat, rain and

the most punishment from the winds. Woodpeckers hunt insects in this layer, and also the black and white

Colobus monkey can be found here, ready to launch into the air, using his specially developed tail as a rudder to

guide his flight. Beneath this is the second layer of trees, whose crowns form a forest canopy. Rain filters

through this canopy, and the top sides of the crowns hold a large amount of ferns and other small plants whose roots

never touch soil. They live off the water and nutrients held in the small pockets of the leaves and branches. Tree

frogs and chimpanzees live here, burrowing holes to live in the vast vegetation. The third layer is called the

"understory". This grows beneath the canopy. The gorilla makes this his regular hangout, also pythons lie here

waiting for prey. The dim forest floor teems with life. Termites and ants feed on all the decomposing matter on the

ground, and elephants make their way down a path of moss. Butterflies move silently by, and the air is still and very

humid. These are the layers that make up the rain forest's complex

ecology. In the rest of the essay I will describe some of the life forms found in the rain forest, and ways they affect

the environment. In the rain forest, plants develop poisonous alkaloids to protect against insects, and insects develop

complex digestive chemistry to overcome these poisons. Some of these plant alkaloids give native Indians great

poisons for darts, and to cancer researchers hope for a new medicine. The rain forest root systems are so efficient

that almost all of the nutrients in decaying plants are recycled into new ones. Most roots are found within three

inches of the surface in heavy clay or at the surface in sandy soils. Tiny rootlets grow up and attach themselves to

leaves. When the leaf decays, minuscule fungi on the rootlets take over and send threadlike projections into the leaf

which absorbs all of the leaf's nutrient material. The phosphorous that the fungi produces is taken by the root, and in

turn gives the fungus sugars from the tree. Al!

so, termites and ants break down the forest litter.


In a small lake in the middle of the rain forest, a small lizard skims across the water away from dangerous prey and

attacks its own victim by surprise, yet another marvel of the tropical rain forest. Mutualism occurs in the jungle with

a specialized ant and a swollen-thorn acacia. The acacia provides budlike leaflet tips which are called Beltian bodies,

which the ants give to their young for food. The insects hollow out the tree's thorns when soft and green and raise

their young inside. The acacia doesn't have chemical defenses to repel dangerous and damaging insects and demands

pure sunlight for proper growth. The ants patrol the tree day and night. If any insect lands on the tree, they bite it

with a poisonous sting. They also attack plants