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Biological Communities

Just as each environment supports a characteristic plant community, each plant community has characteristic wildlife adapted to it.

The trees of a tropical rain forest are like a skyscraper, providing food and shelter for many different animals. A rain forest supports more species than a desert can with its low and scattered vegetation.

 Most of the animals in a rain forest are arboreal, meaning tree-dwelling. Brightly colored birds, bats and other small mammals and a huge variety of caterpillars, beetles and bugs feed on leaves, fruit, and flowers high in the tree tops. For a mammal, small size and light weight are advantageous when moving through trees. Although food is plentiful, it often grows at the ends of branches that cannot support the weight of large animals and thus the high canopy is beyond the reach of most predators. 

Many members of the primate family, such as colobus monkeys, live here. The hair of many mammals is long and thick to help keep them dry from the perpetual rains.

 Although carabid beetles are usually found on the ground, many kinds of beetles make the tree canopy their permanent home. Some have broadened leg segments with dense hairs and comb-like apical claws that allow them to hold securely on to leaf surfaces while searching for prey. 

The large, ground-dwelling herbivores of a rain forest are browsers, eating fallen fruits, twigs and leaves, underground roots, and occasionally grazing in clearings. There are relatively few of these animals, as there is not as much food available, compared to the canopy. They are solitary, and do not live in large herds. Many are nocturnal or secretive (hidden).

The color of okapis, a ground-dwelling herbivore, is designed to blend in with the shadowy understory. Not many grazers (grass-eaters) live in the rain forest, because little grass grows on the forest floor. Unlike the savanna, there are no large, swift runners (such as the impala) as it is difficult to maneuver quickly between trees. Okapi, buffalo, bushbuck, elephant, bush pig and other, small, mammals are ground-dwelling residents of the rain forest.

No fossorial (burrowing) animals live here.  Perhaps the soil is too wet or there is not enough food available due to rapid decomposition of plant material by moisture and fungi. However, there are great numbers and kinds of ants present in the forest. 

Most ants nest in the ground, in decomposing wood, or in the trees, but the army ant colony has no permanent home. Instead, they frequently change their nest site, probably to avoid over exploiting their food resources - other ground-dwelling insects.

The animals that inhabit the deciduous forest and scrub are similar to the animals of the savanna. There are proportionately more browsers than grazers, however, in the forest and scrub. The trees and bushes provide abundant leaves and twigs, the food of browsers. The savanna has less trees, but more grass, and therefore has a higher number of grazers. Many browsers, such as the giraffe and okapi, have pointed muzzles to reach into foliage and a long tongue to help tear off leaves and twigs. Grazers have broader muzzles. A good example of this type of adaptation is found in the two species of rhinoceros in Africa; the black rhinoceros and the white rhinoceros. The black rhinoceros is a browser and has a narrow face. The white rhinoceros is a grazer and has a wider face. In fact, the name "white" is a misinterpretation of the name given to it by the Boers, from their word wyt which means "wide", referring to the rhinoceros's muzzle. Actually. the white rhinoceros is gray in color.

Many of the animals are nocturnal. Defense strategies are different for open versus closed habitat dwellers. Small solitary antelopes, such as the dik-dik, find protection and food within thickets. They do not form large herds for protection as do the larger antelopes of open grassland. A herd of small animals would not pose a deterrent to a large, hungry predator. Instead, they live alone in tangled thickets to hide from predators. Elephant, giraffe, rhinoceros, buffalo, and lion are also found in deciduous forest and scrub.

The savanna supports a wide variety of herbivorous mammals. The grass grows quickly after a rain and is immediately eaten by grazing animals. Different groups of animals have adapted to feed on the different types and layers of the vegetation found in savannas -- hence the large number and diversity of herbivores the savanna can support.



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