Forests as habitat

Although the ocean was the original home of all life on Earth, forests, as they themselves evolved, quickly became home to a vast majority of land based creatures including early humans.
Herd of African forest elephants eating mineral-rich mud in the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, ... rel=
Herd of African forest elephants eating mineral-rich mud in the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, Central African Republic.

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A home for countless species

Today, the vast amount of diverse life that can be found in forests is evidenced by the startling statistics that accompany any analysis of a rainforest.

Although only covering 6% of the planet's surface, these lush green, often tropical masses contain around 50% of Earth's plant and animal species. In one square km of rainforest, you can often find more types of life than can be found in an equivalent 1,000 km2 in colder, more northern climes.
Bromeliaceae Flowering Bromelia Espírito Santo, Atlantic Rainforest Brazil / ©: WWF / Michel GUNTHER
Bromelia (Bromeliaceae), Atlantic Rainforest.
© WWF / Michel GUNTHER
Forests support diverse life...

A forest can provide three of the ingredients key to a species' survival: water, food, and shelter.


All forests are great collectors and storerooms of water. Their root structure holds together the soil, and their leaf litter gets broken down and combined with minerals to form the equivalent of gigantic sponges - slowly releasing water into surrounding areas at a dependable rate.


A forest is home to many types of plants, which are the food source for many animals, which in  turn, are sources of food for other animals.

As these animals and plants die, they in turn become food sources for the plants.

This circle of life, the links between all animals and all plants, is often referred to as "the web of life" - a reference to the common dependencies between all life in an ecosystem.
 / ©: Rouse / WWF
Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) walking in forest, Mahale National Park, Tanzania.
© Rouse / WWF

Shelter is the last of the triumvirate. Trees take on the worst (and the best) of the elements: wind, sun, rain.

Under their cover they can lessen the impacts of too strong a sun, destructively heavy rainfall, sudden changes in temperature and strong winds.

In providing so many benefits, a plethora of both plants and animals alike have adapted to and taken shelter underneath the protective canopies of trees.

Forests as homes for life are disappearing

Considering so much life depends on and lives in forests, the fact that forest cover is now a fraction of what it used to be even a few hundred years ago, it stands to reason that there is less space for this diversity of life to live in, and increasingly greater contact with encroaching humans.

Increasing human-wildlife conflicts

Animals that normally live within the boundaries of a shrinking forest are forced to come out and look for food.

This often brings them into conflict with human settlements that are often situated near forests (because forests provide food and water).

Important to recognize dependence of other life forms on forests

For this reason, reports are increasing of conflict between humans and animals.

Forests are important not just to us, but to billions of other creatures and species as well. We have to recognize that these leviathans of the plant world are not just an economic resource to be plundered, but a whole mosaic of interlocking demand and supply on which a vast amount of life depends.

With careful management of what remains of our planet's forests, it has been shown that forests can be used sustainably, without them being destroyed - and this is what WWF is working towards.
... and under their protective canopies, forests provide shelter to innumerable species.
Chameleon ... / ©: WWF / Edward PARKER
Chameleon in the Rainforest near the city of Andapa, Madagascar. There are more than 300 species of reptile in Madagascar, including the chameleons.
© WWF / Edward PARKER

Greater Mekong - a very special habitat

The mysterious forests of the Greater Mekong region are home to significant species such as tiger and rhinoceros. However, these forests still hold many secrets and new species are discovered each year.
In 2009 a total of 145 new species were described by Science in the Greater Mekong region.

This included 96 plants, 26 fish, 6 amphibians, 10 reptiles, 5 mammals and 2 birds.

New Species Discovered in the Greater Mekong

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