North American Rainforests

The rainforests of North America are diverse. They range from temperate to tropical. Some experience a short dry season while others receive constant rain. Rainforests in North America primarily occur in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, islands of the Caribbean, and within the Central American countries (Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama.) Small patches of temperate rainforest also occur within the Appalachian Mountains of the United States.

The Pacific Northwest Rainforest is the temperate rainforest of North America. It extends along the northern Pacific coast from northern California to Canada and into Alaska. These are lowland coniferous forests that generally do not freeze and temperatures seldom reach 80°F. Very little higher elevation rainforests occur, due to the colder temperatures. These forests receive heavy rainfall and epiphytes are numerous. The tall trees form a medium density canopy allowing light through. Rivers flowing down from the mountain ranges to the east heavily bisect these forests. The Pacific Northwest Rainforest is heavily degraded. Logging and urban development are the largest threats.

As you move south, you reach the tropical and subtropical rainforests of Central America. These rainforests are slightly seasonal, meaning they tend to exhibit a short dry season, which decreases as you move south. These forests are special because they offer migratory homes for species moving between the continents. The lowland rainforest trees can reach 40 meters or higher with dense canopies. Unlike the Pacific Northwest Rainforests, these rainforests will stretch into higher elevations and produce montane and cloud forests. Within the higher elevation rainforests, tree height decreases the higher you go. Canopies will become broken and a cloud of fog permanently hangs in the air. The largest threats to these forests are logging, agriculture and human expansion.

The island rainforests remaining within North America are tropical moist forests. While each island has its own characteristics, some general trends occur.  The most destruction has occurred in the lowland, coastal regions, where villages, resorts, and industry have encroached. Therefore the most intact rainforest are in the higher elevations. Many of the islands are volcanic and have rugged peaks. The rugged, less-accessible terrain has helped to keep the forests safe from development. Diversity is not as high as most mainland tropical rainforests, but endemism is high due to the isolation. Forests are typical jungle environments, with tall trees and moist understories. Vines, lianas and epiphytes are numerous, and more flowers are present. The island forests are more susceptible to harsh elements such as sulfur gases and hurricanes. The largest threats to these island rainforests are human encroachment and urban development, invasive species and agriculture.

To learn more about a country and its different rainforests and species, click on the links below:

US/Canada Mexico Costa Rica

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