The rainforest food chain is less like a direct food chain and more like a food web - intricate and complicated chains within a larger web. It's fascinating to consider that every living organism within the tropical rainforest depends on another living organism to survive! The intricacy of this food web is exquisite in design with several different chains or levels of the food chain represented in what is known as the rainforest.
Simplifying the food chain of the rainforest is somewhat helpful for understanding it better, so let's start with the four main levels of the food chain or web.
What is the difference between these two terms? A food chain is pretty straightforward. One animal eats another animal consistently and so and so forth down the chain. A food web is a bit more complicated as it is made up of several networking food chains. The key to understanding the rainforest food chain is the concept of interdependence. That's the whole idea that makes the food web of the rainforest a bit less complicated!
It's a really cool concept if you think about it - interdependence within the rainforest means that every animal or species living in the rainforest depends upon one another, whether directly or indirectly. The ecological system is so intricate that if one species ceases to exist, the entire food web and that particular food chain are disrupted.
Here are some examples of what we mean by interdependence in the rainforest food chain. Larger carnivores eat the smaller carnivores, right? That's a pretty simplistic explanation of the food chain. But, if you look closer, you will see how each animal depends on another for survival. Once a large carnivore kills an animal like an elk, small animals will sometimes share in the kill once the large carnivores have had their fill. There are times that larger animals will prey on smaller animals instead of working so hard to bring down an elk or deer. Get the idea? The food chain or web is not always straightforward, is it?
Birds in the rainforest eat snakes, but sometimes the reverse is also true - sometimes snakes eat birds. The largest carnivores such as alligators will mostly prey on smaller animals and a few larger ones, but now and then they will prey upon a larger carnivore. Can you imagine a snake killing and eating an alligator? It has happened in the rainforest. Of course, babies and older members of any species are more susceptible to be eaten by animals not necessarily in their direct food chain.
The bottom of the food chain consists of insects, larvae, plankton, and spiders among other things. Herbivores eat these organisms and then the herbivores are consumed by small or large meat-eating animals or possibly even by animals that eat both meat and plants. The food web continues until an animal dies or decomposes, which means the decaying matter goes back into the soil or bottom of the food chain and the entire process begins all over again.
The plants in the rainforest play an important role in the rainforest food chain as well. The lowest critters on the food chain eat decayed plant matter to survive - without this, the smallest of species wouldn't be able to exist, which means the other species on the food chain would be negatively affected. There are over 700 different species of trees within the rainforest - each provides something important for the animal species that live there. The trees provide fruit, shelter, bark for food, leaves for food, and much more. Again, do you see how it's all connected?
Every species is connected to another in several different ways! Pretty interesting isn't it? So what happens when a species within the rainforest food chain is endangered or becomes extinct? The delicate balance of interdependence is disrupted and can sometimes be permanently damaged or changed.
Why is this important? The rainforest is home to an estimated 50% of the world's animal species! Estimates of the different species are around 150 species of butterflies, 125 mammal species, 100 reptile species, 1500 species of unique flowering plants, 60 amphibian species, and nearly 400 different species of birds. These are just the ones that have been discovered!
That's pretty amazing considering that the rainforest covers a mere 7% of the globe! The reason the health of the environment is so critical to the well being of the animals in the rainforest is because it's all interconnected - if one plant or animal is destroyed, the rest suffer.
When natural habitats are destroyed or unduly affected by outside factors such as air pollution, water pollution, logging, irresponsible ranching practices, oil spills, and pesticides, the animals and plants are the ones who suffer directly. Human beings have the ability and the power to control the damage sustained by the rainforest and its inhabitants!
The list of endangered or extinct species of the rainforest is growing, not decreasing. It's so vital that people take action to protect these amazing animal and plant species of the rainforest or we may find someday soon that we are destroying the very essence of our world's ecosystem.