Rainforests

Forest floor

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At ground level, the rainforest is very dark. No more than a fiftieth of light from above penetrates this far down. The humid air is almost completely still.

Most of the vegetation down here consists of fungi and other plants that live off the thin layer of decaying leaves and other matter that has fallen from the trees onto the ground.

This decomposing litter is a source of food for all kinds of small invertebrates like termites and millipedes. Countless centipedes, cockroaches, scorpions, slugs, earthworms, and beetles live here under stones, leaves and logs.

These creatures, along with the edible roots and tubers underground, make the forest floor a rewarding habitat for animals that forage for their food: the giant armadillo, for example, whose front feet are equipped with huge claws for digging beetles, worms, and larvae out of the ground... or peccaries (wild relatives of pigs), with snouts that sniff out underground shoots and bulbs.

Guzmania monostachia
It takes time to dig food out of the ground, so foragers are vulnerable to surprise attack. Peccaries protect themselves by feeding in groups, while one or two individuals stand guard. Smaller animals are more likely to hide under roots until the threat is past.

The roots these smaller animals hide under belong to the emergent layer trees or perhaps trees from the canopy layer. Again it's a reminder of the interdependencies in the rainforest. What's living 150 feet above the ground has an effect on the activities of the forest floor. And yet the diversity between the layers enable different species to settle in the varying layers.

The pygmy glider is far from the smallest creature up here. The intensely colored flowers on the tall treetops glow and beckon. Butterflies flutter among.

The richest in species and in interdependencies...and the most diverse landbased ecosystem on earth describe the tropical rainforests. Yet all these astounding diverse forms and habits do one thing: they help the rainforest creatures and plants survive in the many ecosystems within the rainforests' borders.

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