Amazon Rainforest: Ecosystem & Facts

Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this lesson, you'll be learning about characteristics that define the Amazon rainforest biome. We'll also look at the different trophic levels in the ecosystem and how they interact.

What Is the Amazon Rainforest?

Picture the dense jungles of South America. Large leaves and vines block the sunlight from penetrating down to the floor. Above you, monkeys howl to their troop members and birds give welcoming chirps to their flock. All around you the brush rustles with small mammals and insects skirting along the forest floor. This is the Amazon rainforest, a wet, tropical forest with lots of rain and warm temperatures year round.

Tropical rainforests are hot spots for biodiversity, also known as the variety of species in an area. The Amazon rainforest spans throughout South America, with the majority of it concentrated in Brazil.

Characteristics of the Amazon Rainforest

Rainforests are a type of biome, or a large geographic area with a specific climate. Although this lesson focuses specifically on the Amazon rainforest, there are other rainforests located all over the world along the equator. All rainforests share abiotic factors, or non-living characteristics such as temperature, humidity, rainfall and soil type.

Temperatures range between 65 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit in the tropical rainforest. However, don't be fooled by these temperate temperatures, the humidity in Amazon hovers around 85%, making it feel much hotter than what the thermometer reads. The high humidity creates a moist climate perfect for flourishing plants. Rainfall is also common in the Amazon and some areas can receive as much as 260 inches of rain per year.

Surprisingly, the soil of the Amazon is actually quite lacking in nutrients; the sandy soils are very thin. However, due to the rapid turnover of organic material (plants and animals dying and quickly decomposing in the moist heat), these soils support an incredibly array of vegetation.

Tropical rainforests also share particular biotic factors, or living factors. Although some animals and plants are endemic only to the Amazon rainforest, all rainforests have a similar structure of life. The top layer of the rainforest is called the canopy. This area encompasses the very tops of trees, reaching up to 250 feet tall. The broad leaves of the canopy prevent much of the sunlight from reaching the forest floor, which in some areas remains almost completely dark.

An aerial shot of the canopy
Amazon canopy

The understory is the next layer beneath the canopy. This layer is filled with vines, ferns and smaller trees. The forest floor is covered with decomposing plant and animal material, especially fallen leaves. Although few plants grow at this depth, many animals, fungi and bacteria make the dark forest floor their home.

Food Web

The Amazon's tropical rainforest ecosystem can be divided into layers, separating species based on how they get their energy. These layers are called trophic levels. Species can be divided into four trophic levels: producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers and tertiary consumers.

Producers

Producers are organisms that make their own food, like green plants. These organisms are numerous in the tropical rainforest, a biotic factor that makes up most of the forest. Many types of trees produce delicious fruits adored by both humans and animals alike. Bananas, coconuts, cacao, and oranges all come from tropical trees in the Amazon. If you appreciate a hot cup of coffee in the morning, you can give your thanks to the producers of the Amazon. Coffee trees are native to this area and some of the world's finest coffee comes from the rainforest.

Coffee trees are producers in the Amazon
coffee tree

Primary Consumers

With all these delicious fruits to consume, many species make this the staple of their diet. Primary consumers are organisms that only eat producers. Leaf cutter ants form a highly complex, social colony. These ants work to cut apart leaves, carrying them back to their colony. Although they are quite small, these ants carry leaves up to 50 times their own body weight.

Leaf cutter ants are primary consumers
leaf cutter ants

Although we've only looked at terrestrial species so far, plants and animals also enjoy the waterways of the Amazon. The Amazon manatee weighs up to half a ton and can reach over eight feet in length. This giant is strictly vegetarian however, feeding on water lettuce and hyacinth.

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