A rainforest is an ecosystem characterized by heavy rain and a dense tree canopy that lets very little light through to the understory. A forest ecosystem must receive over 60 inches of rain per year to be considered a rainforest. Two types of rainforests are temperate rainforests and tropical rainforests.
The tropical rainforest biome is home to over 50 percent of all known species of living things, the vast majority of which live in the canopy. The temperate rainforest biome has fewer species due to its cooler climate.
Compare and Contrast: Temperate and Tropical Rainforests
The main difference between a temperate rainforest and tropical rainforest is location. Tropical rainforests are located near the equator, between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Temperate rainforests are located to the north of the Tropic of Cancer and to the south of the Tropic of Capricorn.
Both types of rainforests boast the presence of epiphytes – plants whose roots (if present) do not touch the ground. While they are not considered parasites, epiphytes frequently make their homes on other plants, such as trees. Both temperate and tropical rainforests have epiphytic plants. Temperate rainforest epiphytes are mainly ferns, moss and lichen, while tropical rainforest epiphyte species include orchids and bromeliads. Epiphytes give rainforests their jungle-like appearance.
Temperate and Tropical Rainforest Precipitation
When comparing and contrasting temperate and tropical rainforests, it is important to consider the amount of rain they receive. While temperate rainforest precipitation is approximately 140 to 167 inches of rain per year, tropical rainforest precipitation may be up to 400 inches of rain per year.
Tropical Rainforest Climate
The tropical rainforest climate is hotter than that of the temperate rainforest. Temperatures average between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity levels in the tropical rainforest biome range from 70 percent to 90 percent. This warm climate causes dead organic matter to decompose extremely fast, so the soil layer in the tropical rainforest is very thin and devoid of nutrients.
Temperate Rainforest Climate
The temperate rainforest climate experiences temperatures that rarely fall below freezing and that typically range no higher than 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. The consistently cooler temperatures of the temperate rainforest slow down decomposition, creating a very large layer of nutrient-filled soil and dead organic matter. Countries that experience this temperate rainforest climate include parts of Canada and the United States, as well as Chile, New Zealand and Norway.
Tropical Rainforest Plants and Animals
Tropical rainforest plants include bromeliads, orchids, vines and other flowering plants. Broadleaf (deciduous) trees such as Brazil nut trees, mahogany trees, rubber trees, fig trees and cacao trees are just a few of the hundreds of tree species that live there. Many of the tropical rainforest plants have medicinal value; in fact, over 25 percent of modern medicines come from tropical rainforest plant species.
Tropical rainforest animals include monkeys, jaguars, sloths and tapirs, as well as a variety of snakes, frogs, lizards, and other reptiles and amphibians. Many insects thrive in the tropical rainforest biome because of the consistently warm temperatures and high humidity. A variety of migrating songbirds live there for part of the year, as well as year-round bird species including harpy eagles, hummingbirds, toucans, macaws and quetzals.
Temperate Rainforest Plants and Animals
Temperate rainforest plants include epiphytes such as ferns, moss and lichens. Tree species in the temperate rainforest are mainly conifers (evergreens with needle-like leaves). Temperate rainforest plant examples include Sitka spruce, western hemlock, Douglas fir and western red cedar. Other temperate rainforest plants include big leaf maple, red alder and black cottonwood trees.
Temperate rainforest animals include black-tailed deer, elk, black bears, grizzly bears, cougars, wolves and bobcats. Birds such as eagles, owls, woodpeckers and crossbills characterize this ecosystem. A variety of insects, salamanders, frogs, snakes and turtles live mainly on the forest floor of the temperate rainforest.
- Prince William Network: America's Rain Forests
- World Atlas: Circles of Latitude & Longitude – the Equator, the Prime Meridian, the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn
- Science World: Coastal Temperate Rainforests
- National Park Service: Olympic National Park: Temperate Rain Forests
- Arbor Day Foundation: Animals and Plants of the Rainforest
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images