What Are Tropical Rainforests? - Definition, Plants & Animals

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  • 0:04 Intro to Rainforests
  • 2:26 Plants
  • 4:33 Animals
  • 5:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

What is it really like to stand in the middle of a tropical rainforest? What type of weather, plants, and animals might you find there? Complete this lesson, and you'll discover the answers to these questions and more.

Intro to Rainforests

Image yourself walking through a forest. But it's not just any forest - it's a forest full of lush plants that spread out in every direction and more animals then you have ever seen before. This forest you are walking through is a tropical rainforest. The world is made up of many different types of habitats, or biomes, and one of the most vibrant of these is the tropical rainforest.

Tropical rainforests have five defining characteristics. The most notable characteristic and the reason these forests got their name is the large amount of precipitation, or rain, that falls each year. It rains year-round in tropical rainforests, with most receiving over 100 inches of rain per year! The second defining characteristic of tropical rainforests is their annual temperature, which is normally between 70-90°F.

Although tropical rainforests support a large amount of life, they have surprisingly poor soil quality. Poor soil quality with limited amount of nutrients is the third characteristic of tropical rainforests. The large amount of rain and high temperatures in these areas increase the speed of decomposition, or the breakdown and decay of living matter. The increased rate of decomposition makes it possible for plants to absorb nutrients more quickly, therefore leaving the soil void of nutrients.

The fourth characteristic of tropical rainforests that helps distinguish them from other types of forests is their location. Tropical rainforests are located close to the equator, and the largest area of tropical rainforest in the world is the Amazon Rainforest in South America. In the image below, the green highlighted portions of land represent where tropical rainforests are located on the Earth. You will notice that all of the tropical rainforests are located within a range that is close to the equator.

Rainforest Map

The final characteristic of tropical rainforests is the high level of species richness. Species richness can be described as the number of different species that live in a given habitat. If fifty different species live in one town and one hundred different species live in a second town, then the second town is said to have higher species richness. Tropical rainforests have the highest species richness of any biome on the planet. This high species richness makes tropical rainforests very diverse. In fact, around 50% of the Earth's species are found in tropical rainforests.


In terms of plant life, you could describe tropical rainforests as lush, dense, and very green. Tropical rainforests are able to maintain high species richness of plants due to the large amount of rainfall and warm conditions. Some tropical rainforests have over 1,100 different species of plants! Plants found in tropical rainforests are often broad leaved, densely packed, and cover every surface of the forest.

Tropical rainforests are often divided into three different layers of vegetation:

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