Layers of a Forest

Layers of the Forest by Michelle Heckel and Christina Vasquez, Queensborough Community College Forests are made up of many layers. A typical forest consists of fi ve different layers. Different types of trees grow to form these different layers. These layers enable many different types of plants and animals to live in a small area. The fi rst, primary layer of the forest is called the canopy. The canopy is made up of the tops of trees. These tree tops form a roof that blocks a good deal lot of light from entering the forest. Many animals, such as birds, frogs, lizards, and snakes, are found in this layer. The next layer is the understory. This layer is made of trees that are growing to reach the canopy. The trees are smaller about 65 feet tall and have thin trunks. Some of the animals found in this layer are birds, butterfl ies, frogs, and snakes, as well as squirrels, racoons, and opossums. The third layer is the shrub layer. This layer is made up of young trees, mature shrubs, and bushes. It grows between the smaller trees of the understory and the forest fl oor. Shrubs can range from about knee-high to 10 feet, which means these shrubs can grow into the understory. The layer that lies directly above the forest fl oor is the herbaceous layer. This layer of tree seedlings, ferns, grasses, and weeds acts as a cover to the forest fl oor and doesn’t receive much sunlight. The plants found in this layer bloom in early spring, before the trees begin to grow their leaves. Some of the animals that are found in this layer are rabbits, squirrels, mice, and raccoons. The last layer is the forest fl oor, which contains all of the dead matter. The dead matter releases nutrients into the soil that will be used by the plants in the forest. It is also very dark in this layer due to lack of sunlight. The animals that are found in this layer include sow bugs, spiders, and earthworms. While walking through a forest, try to identify the different layers by LOOKING AT the various plants and animals.


What Is a Leaf? The leaf is the food-producing part of a plant. It is usually a green and fl attened structure attached to a stem. There are as many kinds of leaves as there are trees and plants. The stuff that makes leaves green is called chlorophyll. It captures light energy from sunlight and turns it into the chemical energy sugar in a process called photosynthesis. Using this process, plants get food and energy to live. During the shorter days of winter, leaves are exposed to less sunlight and water. This means that photosynthesis slows down and leaves produce less food and carbon dioxide. The bright green chlorophyll in the leaf also disappears which causes the leaves to change colors in the fall.

Layers_of_the_Forest: For download



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The tallest trees are the emergents, towering as much as 200 feet above the forest floor with trunks that measure up to 16 feet around.   Most of these trees are broad-leaved, hardwood evergreens. Sunlight is plentiful up here.  Animals found are eagles, monkeys, bats and butterflies.

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This is the primary layer of the forest and forms a roof over the two remaining layers.   Most canopy trees have smooth, oval leaves that come to a point. It’s a maze of leaves and branches.  Many animals live in this area since food is abundant.   Those animals include: snakes, toucans and treefrogs.

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Little sunshine reaches this area so the plants have to grow larger leaves to reach the sunlight.   The plants in this area seldom grow to 12 feet.  Many animals live here including jaguars, red-eyed tree frogs and leopards.  There is a large concentration of insects here.

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It’s very dark down here.  Almost no plants grow in this area, as a result.  Since hardly any sun reaches the forest floor things begin to decay quickly.  A leaf that might take one year to decompose in a regular climate will disappear in  6 weeks.   Giant anteaters live in this layer.


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