Rainforest Diversity


January 15, 2014

The canopy system characteristic of tropical rainforests further increases diversity by creating new niches in the form of new sources of food, new shelters, new hiding places, and new areas for interaction with other species. In fact, it is estimated that 70-90 percent of life in the rainforest is found in the trees. One of the best examples of a canopy niche which multiplies diversity are the epiphytes, many of which form tiny ecosystems of their own. The tank bromeliads of New World forests can hold over eight liters (two gallons) of water in catchments formed in their stiff, upturned leaves. These pools of water serve as nurseries for frog tadpoles and insect larvae specifically adapted to life in this tiny obscure niche, and provide water for millions of other canopy dwellers. Over 28,000 epiphyte species are known to science, although many more have never been catalogued.

In addition to epiphytes, other plant species including lianas and creepers, create new means for ground-dwelling animals to access the resources of the canopy. Many of the ground-dwelling animals of the temperate zone, like porcupines, kangaroos, anteaters, earthworms, and crabs, have moved up into the canopy in tropical regions.

Rainforest canopy in Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Review questions:

  • How does the canopy amplify rainforest biodiversity?
  • How does area impact biodiversity?
  • Does forest fragmentation reduce forest diversity?
  • How do soils affect forest diversity?

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Continued / Next: The Influence of Habitat Area on Biodiversity