What Are Rainforest Decomposers?

Decomposers are essential parts of the the rainforest ecosystem.
••• Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

Decomposers are living things that get their energy from the waste materials of other organisms. The rainforest ecosystem relies on these organisms to break down waste materials into usable energy for other plants. Because of the abundance of life in the rainforest, the process of decomposition happens quickly and at a large scale.


Although these organisms are small and often overlooked, decomposers are the most important component of the rainforest ecosystem. Without them, the rainforest floor would be piled high with organic litter such as branches and leaves. The soil of the rainforest would quickly run out of nutrients and the rainforest's primary producers, trees, would not be able to survive.

Termites and Leaf-Cutter Ants

Termites and leaf-cutter ants are types of decomposers found in rainforests. Of these, termites are the more dominant decomposers. Their numbers exceed a thousand individuals per ten square feet, with a total biomass of approximately 4,409 lbs. per hectare. Ants and termites consume approximately one third of the organic litter; however, they do not digest everything. Part of their role as rainforest decomposers is to break down larger matter such as fallen trees and leaves into smaller pieces which are then digested by other organisms such as fungi, worms and slugs.

Slugs, Fungi and Bacteria

After the termites and leaf-cutter ants have broken down the large organic waste into smaller pieces, the decomposition process continues with smaller organisms such as slugs, fungi and bacteria. These organisms thrive in the warm, moist environment of the rainforest and are able to decompose organic waste at a very rapid rate. Waste that would typically take one year to decompose in a regular forest would decompose within six weeks in the rainforest.

Modern Implications

Because the lush rainforest vegetation requires constant nutrients to survive, the nutrients produced by decomposers do not go very deep into the soil before they are used up entirely. The great majority of these nutrients are found in the top one or two inches of soil on the rainforest floor. For this reason, rainforest trees and other plants that have been cut down are rarely able to grow back, as there are simply not enough nutrients in the soil for the vegetation to regenerate. Thus, as the world's richest ecosystems are destroyed at an alarming rate, it is unlikely that they will be able to recover.

Related Articles

Love Nature? Bring The Outdoors Inside with These Science...
How to Change Improper Fractions to Mixed Numbers in...
The Trophic Levels in Rain Forests
Facts for Kids: Rainforest Animals
About the Rainforest Floor Animals
How Does the Climate Affect the Ecosystem of the Rainforest?
How Fast Does a Tiger Run?
The Greenhouse Effect & Photosynthesis
Heterotrophs & Autotrophs in the Tropical Rainforest
What Are the Trophic Levels in the Savanna?
Animals Losing Their Homes in the Rainforest
Natural Disasters in the Rainforests
Why Do People Want to Save the Rainforest?
What Is a Producer in an Ecosystem?
Information About a Forest Ecosystem
What Are the Resources of the Amazon Rainforest?
Things That Makes Up an Ecosystem
What Role Do Decomposers Play in a Food Chain?
Why Are Trees Important to the Ecosystem?
What Process Is Responsible for Producing Most of Earth's...
Soil As a Detritus-Based Ecosystem