Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forest Ecoregions

Swamp forest in the Kerinci-Seblat National Park.  / ©: WWF-Canon / Mauri RAUTKARI
Swamp forest in the Kerinci-Seblat National Park.
© WWF-Canon / Mauri RAUTKARI
Generally found in large, discontinuous patches centered on the equatorial belt and between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, Tropical and Subtropical Moist Forests (TSMF) are characterized by low variability in annual temperature and high levels of rainfall (>200 centimeter annually). Forest composition is dominated by semi-evergreen and evergreen deciduous tree species.
These trees number in the thousands and contribute to the highest levels of species diversity in any terrestrial major habitat type. In general, biodiversity is highest in the forest canopy which can be divided into five layers: overstory canopy with emergent crowns, a medium layer of canopy, lower canopy, shrub level, and finally understory.

These forests are home to more species than any other terrestrial ecosystem: Half of the world's species may live in these forests, where a square kilometer may be home to more than 1,000 tree species. These forests are found around the world, particularly in the Indo-Malayan Archipelagos, the Amazon Basin, and the African Congo. A perpetually warm, wet climate promotes more explosive plant growth than in any other environment on Earth.

A tree here may grow over 75 feet in height in just 5 years. From above, the forest appears as an unending sea of green, broken only by occassional, taller "emergent" trees. These towering emergents are the realm of hornbills, toucans, and the harpy eagle.

The canopy is home to many of the forest's animals, including apes and monkeys. Below the canopy, a lower understory hosts to snakes and big cats. The forest floor, relatively clear of undergrowth due to the thick canopy above, is prowled by other animals such as gorillas and deer.

All levels of these forests contain an unparalleled diversity of invertebrate species, including New Guinea’s unique stick insects and bird wing butterflies that can grow over one foot in length. These forests are under tremendous threat from man. Many forests are being cleared for farmland, while others are subject to large-scale commercial logging.

An area the size of Ireland is destroyed every few years, largely due to commercial logging and secondary impacts. Such activities threaten the future of these forests are the primary contributor to the extinction of 100-200 species a day on average over the next 40 years (exotics on islands and loss of island habitats are other major factors)

At the current rate of deforestation, more than 17,000 species will go extinct every year, which is more than 1,000 times the rate before man arrived on this planet.

Manu National Park Lowland rainforest along the edge of lake Cocha Otorongo, an oxbow lake of Manu ... / ©: WWF-Canon / Andre BARTSCHI
Manu National Park Lowland rainforest along the edge of lake Cocha Otorongo, an oxbow lake of Manu river Peru.
© WWF-Canon / Andre BARTSCHI
Among the 13 terrestrial major habitat types, the largest number of ecoregions by far falls within the TSMF (50 ecoregions or 35% of all terrestrial ecoregions). The high number of ecoregions within this major habitat type reflects the biological richness and complexity of tropical moist forests.

Although there are more TSMF in the Indo-Malayan Biogeographic realm (17) than in the Neotropics (12), this is partly due to the archipelagic distributions of Asian tropical moist forests and their characteristic biotas1). Four of the Asian TSMFs are small island systems, and the original extent of all of the Asian ecoregions fit easily within the area covered by western Amazonian moist forests.

The most diverse terrestrial ecoregions occur in the Western Arc forests of the Amazon Basin, with close rivals in the Atlantic Forest ecoregion of Brazil, the Chocó-Daríen ecoregion of northwestern South America, and Peninsular Malaysia and northern Borneo forest ecoregions. The montane forest biotas of the Northern Andes are remarkable for their globally high rates of beta-diversity and extraordinary local endemism2).

The forests of the Guayanan region and Cuba are remarkable for their endemism and unusual biogeographic relationships3). The Congolian coastal forests are likely the most diverse in the Afrotropics, although diversity information is scarce for several ecoregions in the central Congo Basin4). The Guinean moist forests support many species not found in the Central African region5).

Hikers crossing the Rio Taco on a trail built for ecotourism in the Alejandro de Humboldt National ... / ©: WWF-Canon / Michel ROGGO
Hikers crossing the Rio Taco on a trail built for ecotourism in the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park in the mountains of the Nipe-Sagua-Baracoa area. Part of the Greater Antillean Moist Forests, Cuba.
© WWF-Canon / Michel ROGGO
The Albertine Rift montane forests are extremely rich for some taxa, such as birds, and have a high degree of endemism6). The distinctiveness of the Eastern Arc Montane and East African Coastal Forests is attributable to their great age and isolation7). Madagascar forests and shrublands are also highly distinctive at global scales, even at higher taxonomic levels8). Tropical moist forests of New Guinea and New Caledonia are highly distinctive at global scales9), although Australian moist forests do share many affinities with New Guinea.

The forests of Sulawesi are noted for the regionally high degree of endemism in a range of taxa, a phenomenon also seen in the Philippines moist forests10) and in the Lesser Sundas Semi-evergreen Forests11). The Western Ghats and southwestern Sri Lankan moist forests are distinctive due to their isolation and long history. Tropical moist forests on oceanic islands are often highly distinctive due to high rates of endemism, extraordinary radiations of taxa and adaptive radiation, and relictual or unique higher taxa12)

Biodiversity Patterns
These habitats may display high beta diversity, particularly between isolated montane areas and along altitudinal gradients; local and regional endemism can be pronounced in some regions.

Minimum Requirements
Large natural landscapes required in some regions because larger vertebrates track widely distributed seasonal or patchy resources; water sources and riparian vegetation important for wildlife in drier regions.

Sensitivity to Disturbance
These fragile habitats are highly sensitive to plowing, overgrazing, and excessive burning due to their challenging climatic and soil conditions; larger vertebrates sensitive to even low levels of hunting.

In this habitat are the following ecoregions:

Afrotropical
(1) Guinean Moist Forests
(2) Congolian Coastal Forests
(3) Cameroon Highlands Forests
(4) Northeastern Congo Basin Moist Forests
(5) Central Congo Basin Moist Forests
(6) Western Congo Basin Moist Forests
(7) Albertine Rift Montane Forests
(8) East African Coastal Forests
(9) Eastern Arc Montane Forests
(10) Madagascar Forests and Shrublands
(11) Seychelles and Mascarenes Moist Forests

Australasia
(12) Sulawesi Moist Forests
(13) Moluccas Moist Forests
(14) Southern New Guinea Lowland Forests
(15) New Guinea Montane Forests
(16) Solomons-Vanuatu-Bismarck Moist Forests
(17) Queensland Tropical Forests
(18) New Caledonia Moist Forests
(19) Lord Howe-Norfolk Islands Forests

Indo-Malayan
(20) Southwestern Ghats Moist Forests
(21) Sri Lankan Moist Forests
(22) Northern Indochina Subtropical Moist Forests
(23) Southeast China-Hainan Moist Forests
(24) Taiwan Montane Forests
(25) Annamite Range Moist Forests
(26) Sumatran Islands Lowland and Montane Forests
(27) Philippines Moist Forests
(28) Palawan Moist Forests
(29) Kayah-Karen / Tenasserim Moist Forests
(30) Peninsular Malaysian Lowland and Mountain Forests
(31) Borneo Lowland and Montane Forests
(32) Nansei Shoto Archipelago Forests
(33) Eastern Deccan Plateau Moist Forests
(34) Naga-Manupuri-Chin Hills Moist Forests
(35) Cardamom Mountains Moist Forests
(36) Western Java Mountain Forests

Neotropical
(37) Greater Antillean Moist Forests
(38) Talamancan and Isthmian Pacific Forests
(39) Chocó-Darién Moist Forests
(40) Northern Andean Montane Forests
(41) Coastal Venezuela Montane Forests
(42) Guianan Moist Forests
(43) Napo Moist Forests
(44) Río Negro-Juruá Moist Forests
(45) Guayanan Highlands Forests
(46) Central Andean Yungas
(47) Southwestern Amazonian Moist Forests
(48) Atlantic Forests

Oceania
(49) South Pacific Islands Forests
(50) Hawaii Moist Forests



1) Whitmore 1986, 1990, Whitten et al.1987ab, 1996, Wikramanayake et al. in prep.
2) Terborgh & Winter 1983, ICBP 1992, Hamilton et al. 1995, Wege & Long 1995
3) Hedges 1986, Whitmore & Prance 1987, Borhidi 1991, Dinerstein et al. 1995, Steyermark et al. 1995
4) Oates 1996, Kingdon 1997, Burgess et al. in prep.
5) IUCN/UNEP 1986a, IUCN 1990, Martin 1991, IUCN 1992b
6) Collar & Stuart 1988, Kingdon 1989, WWF/IUCN 1994
7) Hamilton & Bensted-Smith 1989, Lovett & Wasser 1993, Hamilton et al. 1995, Burgess et al. in prep.
8) Nicoll & Langrand 1989, Preston-Mafham 1991, WWF/IUCN 1994
9) Brooks 1987, Flannery 1990, 1994, WWF/IUCN 1994, Mittermeier et al. 1996, Wikramanayake et al. in prep.
10) IUCN/UNEP 1986b, BirdLife International 1996, Wikramanayake et al. in prep.
11) IUCN 1991, ICBP 1992, Wikramanayake et al. in prep.
12) Dahl 1986, IUCN/UNEP 1986c, Mitchell 1989, Johnson & Statterfield 1990, Flannery 1994, Kay 1994, WWF/IUCN 1994, Wagner & Funk 1995

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