Vol 4 The Rainforest ... Introduction ... Rainforest layers
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Rainforest layers

Rainforests consist of a number of layers, and different animals and plants thrive at the different levels.
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Rainforests are usually divided into four layers; the emergent layer, the canopy, the understory and the forest floor. Each level is home to a unique variety of animals many of whom rarely cross between the different layers.

The emergent layer gets its name because trees emerge randomly from the main forest roof. Most of the trees at this level reach 160 feet but some attain heights of 200 feet or more. Pavilion trees are able to withstand burning sun, strong winds and torrential rainshowers.

The crowns of trees in the canopy form an almost closed roof on the forest below. It is often further divided into upper and lower canopy. Because the top of the canopy basks in almost constant sunlight and can absorb light more easily trees tend to have smaller leaves than those at a lower level. Usually trees are very straight and reach heights of between 100 and 150 feet.

The lower canopy is the richest layer in terms of animal and plant life. Most of the mammals that live in the canopy are nocturnal.

The understory extends from the forest floor up to about 80 feet and contains a mix of saplings, tall shrubs, vines and palms. Leaves are often long and pointed, the ends of which form 'drip tips' allowing excess water to run off quickly. Little sunlight filters into the understory which makes it dark and humid.

Plant growth on the forest floor is very limited because only between 1-2% of sunlight filters down to this level. The floor of the rainforest teems with life. Millions of termites, beetles, centipedes and ants can be found in one acre of rainforest.