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What Is a Tropical Rainforest?

Tropical rainforests lie around the equator.
Mountain gorillas make their home in the tropical rainforest.
A forested area that falls between the tropic of cancer and the tropic of capricorn is considered a tropical rainforest.
Some scientists say deforestation has wiped out as much as 80 percent of the world's rainforests.
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  • Written By: Susan Grindstaff
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2014
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The term “tropical rainforest” refers to large areas of forest near the equator, generally between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Brazil has the largest rainforests, followed by Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rainforests can also be found in Hawaii, the Caribbean, and some parts of Southeast Asia. They get their name from the extreme amounts of rain that generally fall in the areas. The heavy rains create a specific type of biome not found in other parts of the world.

Typically, a tropical rainforest receives yearly rain totals of around 300 inches (760 cm), though this amount can vary depending on the exact location. To truly understand the significance of that much rain, these amounts can be compared to yearly rainfall in, for instance, Washington, D.C., in the United States. Washington, D.C., receives yearly rainfall of about 37 inches (94 cm). The dampness and relative warm temperatures inside a tropical rainforest create a humid environment that allows the plants and trees to keep their green foliage year round.

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Most scientists agree that conserving the rainforests may be essential to protecting life all over the planet. More than 40% of the earth’s oxygen is created within the biome, and in addition, the tropical rainforest is home to at least half of all the plants and animals in the world. From a medical standpoint, the rainforest is considered crucial to the manufacture of commonly used drugs and development of new medical treatments. More than a quarter of all medicines have their origins in the tropical rainforest.

Most scientists believe that rainforests at one time made up more than 14% of the earth’s surface. Some scientists estimate that as much as 80% of the world’s rainforests have been lost due to deforestation, and that only 6% of the earth is covered in this type of biome. Deforestation is considered a serious threat to the tropical rainforest and the unique biome it creates. Many types of coveted lumber grow only in rainforests, and harvesting of these trees has been occurring much faster than they can be replaced.

Hundreds of different species of animals make their home in the tropical rainforest, and many of them are believed to be endangered. Some of these endangered animals include the mountain gorilla, the Sumatran orangutan, and the brown spider monkey. Conservation of these endangered animals and the tropical rainforest are considered critical, and many environmental groups are exclusively dedicated to rainforest protection.

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