Terrestrial Biomes

Tropical Wet Forest

Tropical wet forests are also referred to as tropical rainforests. This biome is found in equatorial regions (Figure). The vegetation is characterized by plants with broad leaves that fall and are replaced throughout the year. Unlike the trees of deciduous forests, the trees in this biome do not have a seasonal loss of leaves associated with variations in temperature and sunlight; these forests are “evergreen” year-round.

The temperature and sunlight profiles of tropical wet forests are very stable in comparison to that of other terrestrial biomes, with the temperatures ranging from 20 °C to 34 °C (68 °F to 93 °F). When one compares the annual temperature variation of tropical wet forests with that of other forest biomes, the lack of seasonal temperature variation in the tropical wet forest becomes apparent. This lack of seasonality leads to year-round plant growth, rather than the seasonal (spring, summer, and fall) growth seen in other more temperate biomes. In contrast to other ecosystems, tropical ecosystems do not have long days and short days during the yearly cycle. Instead, a constant daily amount of sunlight (11–12 hrs per day) provides more solar radiation, thereby, a longer period of time for plant growth.

The annual rainfall in tropical wet forests ranges from 125 cm to 660 cm (50–200 in) with some monthly variation. While sunlight and temperature remain fairly consistent, annual rainfall is highly variable. Tropical wet forests typically have wet months in which there can be more than 30 cm (11–12 in) of precipitation, as well as dry months in which there are fewer than 10 cm (3.5 in) of rainfall. However, the driest month of a tropical wet forest still exceeds the annual rainfall of some other biomes, such as deserts.

Tropical wet forests have high net primary productivity because the annual temperatures and precipitation values in these areas are ideal for plant growth. Therefore, the extensive biomass present in the tropical wet forest leads to plant communities with very high species diversities (Figure). Tropical wet forests have more species of trees than any other biome; on average between 100 and 300 species of trees are present in a single hectare (2.5 acres) of South American Amazonian rain forest. One way to visualize this is to compare the distinctive horizontal layers within the tropical wet forest biome. On the forest floor is a sparse layer of plants and decaying plant matter. Above that is an understory of short shrubby foliage. A layer of trees rises above this understory and is topped by a closed upper canopy—the uppermost overhead layer of branches and leaves. Some additional trees emerge through this closed upper canopy. These layers provide diverse and complex habitats for the variety of plants, fungi, animals, and other organisms within the tropical wet forests.

For example, epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants, which typically are not harmed. Epiphytes are found throughout tropical wet forest biomes. Many species of animals use the variety of plants and the complex structure of the tropical wet forests for food and shelter. Some organisms live several meters above ground and have adapted to this arboreal lifestyle.

 This photo depicts a section of the Amazon River, which is brown with mud. Trees line the edge of the river.
Tropical wet forests, such as these forests along the Madre de Dios river, Peru, near the Amazon River, have high species diversity. (credit: Roosevelt Garcia)