The Virtual Rainforest
A Neotropical Rainforest
Rainforest Research


Tree Seedlings

Forest Flowers



Army Ants

Bullet Ants
Leafcutter Ants

Rhinoceros Beetle

Swallowtail Butterfly



Keel-billed Toucan

Howler Monkeys

White-faced Monkeys

Three-toed Sloth
Baird's Tapir
White-lipped Peccary
Reptiles and Amphibians:
Red-eyed Tree Frog
Poison Dart Frog
Helmeted Iguana
Eyelash Viper
Terciopelo Viper
Spectacled Caiman
American Crocodile
Human Systems:
Rainforest Boy
Rainforest Girl
Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Rainforest Research

About the Authors





When a tree falls in the forest:
The cycle of life for seeds, seedlings and trees.

Trees are the foundation of the tropical rainforest, but this foundation is always changing. Adult trees die of old age, fall down in wind storms, or are struck by lightning, leaving an open spot called a "GAP". The competition to be the next tree in that spot is an intense process.



giant tree falls, opening up a giant hole in the canopy. This starts a new cycle of life in the Ormosia Seedsrainforest, where seeds become seedlings and struggle to grow into trees.

The process started long before the adult tree died. Hundreds of species of trees have been dispersing their seeds around the forest.

If the seeds are lucky enough to not get eaten by an Agouti or Paca, they germinate (like hatching) and grow into small seedlings. This begins the greatest struggle for survival in the rainforest.

HSeedlingsUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of tiny seedlings try to find patches of light, but often have to survive in the dark understory of the forest. They are six inches tall. Some die from lack of light.

TENS of THOUSANDS grow slowly until they find a tiny patch of light that gives them enough energy to grow a bit faster. They are twelve inches tall.

White-lipped Peccary near Monkey Point, NicaraguaA White-lipped Peccary comes along and eats half of them. A THOUSAND survivors grow and are two feet tall.

A branch falls and kills some more. The last HUNDRED survivors are three feet tall.

A tapir eats most of the young trees. The only TEN survivors grow to five feet tall. Now we call them "saplings."

The saplings all start to grow rapidly in the sunlight. Some grow VERY fast, but not very strong. Others grow very strong, but not very fast. One or two grow all the way to the canopy and close off the light gap. They have made it. The ones that didn't make it have to wait in the shade again.

Treefall Gap Viewed from Above CanopyThe circled part of the picture is where a treefall gap has ocurred. Smaller trees within the gap are growing to take the place in the canopy

Below is a video showing "A Day in the Life of a Seedling."



The Virtual Rainforest

Back to the Rainforest

Copyright Gerald R. Urquhart
Michigan State University

Students and teachers have permission to quote text and use images from this website in class assignments. Images may be used in classroom and academic presentations with notification of author. All other use should request permission.


Virtual Rainforest development supported by grant #0815966 from the
National Science Foundation

Center for Global Change and Earth Observation

Michigan State University