While some of the youngest forests on the planet are currently establishing themselves, other forests on the planet have been around for over 100 million years. We’ll discover the oldest rainforest in the world and discuss some details about this ancient forest.
What Is a Rainforest?
Rainforests are forests that get more than 80 inches of rain per year. A forest is an area of land with trees as the dominant life form.
Some rainforests handle almost 400 inches of rain every year. The dominant life forms are evergreen trees with broad leaves. Because rainforests have closed canopies, the forest floor is always densely shaded.
The forest floor is covered in a layer of moist plant matter made mostly of fallen leaves. The moisture, darkness, and heat on the forest floor provide the perfect place for specialized organisms to survive. These organisms break down the leaf litter that provides nutrients to plants.
Despite all of the decomposing leaf litter, the soils in rainforests are nutrient-poor. Because of this, most of the plants in rainforests have shallow roots. That’s so they can absorb the new nutrients produced by the surface plant debris.
What Is the Oldest Rainforest in the World?
The oldest rainforest in the world is the Daintree Rainforest in Australia. It’s a tropical rainforest on Queensland’s northeast coast, and it’s approximately 180 million years old. It takes up just over one-tenth of Australia, yet it’s one of the most diverse regions on the continent.
Daintree is part of the Wet Tropics. It takes up a little over two million acres of this umbrella rainforest. The Wet Tropics occupy the coastline northeast of the Great Dividing Range for about 280 miles.
Are All Rainforests Tropical?
No, not all rainforests are tropical. Some rainforests are temperate.
Tropical rainforests don’t have a guaranteed dry season because they’re wet and warm forests. They never drop below an average temperature of 64 degrees with most hovering around 85 degrees. Average temperatures vary less than 10 degrees between seasons.
If freezing temperatures occur, it may cause widespread damage. Tropical rainforests are bunched around the equator, and most are located within 10 degrees north or south of it.
Temperate rainforests exist in a few areas of the world though they aren’t as widespread as their tropical counterparts. Examples of temperate rainforests in the United States are in the Pacific Northwest.
What Animals Live in the Daintree Rainforest?
A lot of incredible animals live in the Daintree Rainforest because it is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet. It plays host to around 30 percent of the marsupial, frog, and reptile species found on the Australian continent. 90 percent of the butterfly and bat species in Australia are in this rainforest.
The southern cassowary is an important resident of the Daintree Rainforest. It’s a fast bird that moves at speeds over 30 miles per hour.
The Daintree Rainforest is an important sanctuary for birds such as white-streaked honeyeaters, fern wrens, Atherton scrubwrens, pale-yellow robins, chowchilla, and pied monarchs. The tooth-billed bowerbird is also endemic to the area. 40 percent of Australia’s birds live in the Daintree.
This forest is an important habitat for marsupials like Bennett’s tree kangaroos and musky rat kangaroos. The Ulysses butterfly is an important insect in the region, and the northern leaf-tailed geckos camouflage in local trees like spur mahogany.
What Plants Live in the Daintree Rainforest?
The Daintree has incredibly diverse flora, some being ancient holdovers from the huge rainforests of Gondwana. There are over 3,000 plant species in this forest, and every 2.5 acres contains about 150 different species of trees.
There is a huge diversity of plants living in the Daintree Rainforest. Some of these plants include whisk ferns, tassel ferns, royal ferns, comb ferns, coral ferns, shield ferns, scrub breadfruit, smooth-barked kauri, bull kauri, yellow mahogany, spur mahogany, red tulip oak, zamia palm, and plum pine.
Epiphytes are common plants in tropical rainforests. These plants need a host plant since they have no ground roots. However, they aren’t parasites as they obtain their nutrients and water from the surrounding environment. One of the notable epiphytes in the Daintree Rainforest is the basket fern.
The fronds of the king fern can grow over 20 feet long, and this specific species has been around for 320 million years. A frond is a large leaf-like structure with many sections.
The idiot fruit tree is a well-known inhabitant of Daintree. Also known as the ribbonwood, this plant is a flowering plant that has been around for over 110 million years. This makes idiot fruit one of the oldest primitive flowering plants on the planet.
There are a few dozen ginger species found in the Daintree Rainforest. Some types of ginger, like snow and common ginger, are part of a cassowary’s diet.
How Old Is the Amazon Rainforest?
The modern location of the Amazon Rainforest began taking root over 33 million years ago. More than 100 million years went into generating the exact conditions needed to establish today’s Amazon Rainforest. It is the largest rainforest on earth, and it is supported by the wet and warm climate created by the Atlantic Ocean.
The current Amazon Rainforest was fully unified into the huge swath it is today at the end of the last Ice Age. It was fractured and re-established at various points as climate change occurred. Hundreds of millions of years ago, the Amazon River formed and provided the environment needed for the forest.
A few areas of the Amazon Rainforest are around 2,000 years old. It’s believed that a shift in weather about two millennia ago produced a wetter climate. This transformed some ancient savannahs near the established forest into new sections of rainforest.
Other areas of the Amazon are less than 500 years old. It’s believed that the farming communities in the Amazon that had cleared patches of forest disappeared with the arrival of colonists. With their disappearance, the forest reclaimed their fields.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Seatravel
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