The Canopy Layer: The Roof of the Rainforest

Located right underneath the top layer of the rainforest, known as the emergent layer, is the layer known as the canopy. A canopy is a kind of covering; in this case, the rainforest canopy provides shelter and shade for the two rainforest layers beneath it. The canopy is also called the roof of the rainforest. This is because of the dense, or thick tangle of trees, vines and leaves that are found there and the very tall trees, some of which stand anywhere from 100 to 150 feet tall.

But the canopy demands a lot in return. Almost 80 percent of the sunlight is absorbed by the trees and plants in the canopy layer; this leaves little sunlight for the plants and trees that live in the lower levels of the rainforest. The canopy also receives most of the moisture from the tropical rains that fall.

Monkeys and baboons are just a few of the many species that live in the canopy
But all that rain and sunlight make for plenty of food in the form of leaves, fruits, seeds, flowers and nuts for the many different animals that make their home in the canopy. Many different species of mammals, birds, reptiles and insects live in the canopy layer. To get from tree to tree, the animals who live here need to be able to hop, jump or fly in order to make their way. Many animals have no need to go to the forest floor because everything they need is in the trees. The dense foliage of the canopy also helps to protect animals from predators.

Scientists are fascinated with the rainforest canopy but for many years had trouble reaching the high places. But thanks to modern technology scientists are now able to more easily reach the canopy layer and study one of the most fascinating places on earth.

Something to Think About: Why might the canopy be of special interest to scientists who study the rainforest?

Want to Learn More? Visit the Rainforest pages at the California Institute of Technology and the Rainforest Canopy page at Mongabay

Rainforest Kids Science Curriculum Connection: Unit 1: Chapter 1; Lesson 3; Grades K-5

To access full course

Already subscribed? Click here