Tropical Rain Forest
FYA: For Your Awareness
Tropical Rain Forests are the Earth’s oldest living ecosystem and cover approximately 6% of Earth’s land surface, produce 40% of Earth’s oxygen, and are home to more than half of all the world’s plant and animal species! Nearly 57% of all remaining rain forests are located in Latin America.
What is a Tropical Rain Forest?
A tropical rain forest is a forest of tall trees found on/near either side of the equator in a region of year-round warmth and heavy rain. The average temperature ranges from 68 °F (20 °C) – 93 °F (34 °C) with an average rainfall of 100 inches a year with humidity levels between 77 – 88%.
There are two types of Tropical Forests: Tropical Rain Forests (diverse evergreen plant community) and Tropical Broadleaf Forests (mostly deciduous species, but some evergreens). Tropical rain forests are divided into four layers.
1. Forest Floor
The forest floor tends to be dark since the sun has difficulty penetrating the dense leaves of the understory and canopy layers. There are few plants found here. With the high humidity and lack of sun the leaves decay at a very fast rate. Gorillas, anteaters, armored armadillos, forest floor frogs, wild pigs, spiders, and insect armies make the forest floor their home.
The understory layer is the next layer of the tropical forest and is often dense with trees reaching only 12 feet tall. The trees often grow large leaves in an attempt to reach the sun which doesn’t always penetrate to this level of the forest. The understory is home to jaguars, leopards, chameleons, tree frogs, hummingbirds, lizards, snakes, birds and lots of insects.
The Canopy layer forms the primary layer protecting the understory and forest floor. The canopy forms a maze of trees and branches. Trees found in the canopy often have smooth, oval leaves that can be pointed. Food is abundant under the canopy making it a desirable home to many animals and birds such as sloths, spider monkeys, gibbons, squirrel monkeys, sugar gliders, toucans, snakes, green iguanas, tree frogs, and more.
The Emergent layer has the tallest trees found in the rainforest of up to 200 feet above the forest floor. Their trunks can be as large as 16 feet in diameter. Trees are broad leaf hardwood and evergreen serving as habitats for macaws, parakeets, lorikeets, king vultures, eagles, bats, marmosets, colobus monkeys, tree kangaroos and blue morpho butterflies. These trees are are often targeted to cut down for lumber because of the high price that can be obtained for their wood.
Where are Tropical Rain forests located?
The rainforest is located in five main regions:
Latin America represents over half of all of the existing rain forests with Brazil accounting for 1/3 of the world’s supply. The Amazon Rain Forest is approximately the size of the 48 contiguous states of the U.S. and goes through the countries of Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.
Why are rain forests important to protect?
Tropical rain forests are extremely important to protect because they are so biologically diverse and contain the largest diversity of wildlife on Earth – nearly half of all the species in the world live in the rain forest. Even though the jungle soil is only 4 inches deep, trees that grow there are some of the tallest in the world and serve as habitats for a host of animals living in its own special place from the tips of the trees to the forest floor. There are as many as 200 species of trees growing in the rain forest.
Many fruits (avocados, coconuts, figs, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, bananas, guavas, pineapples, mangos and tomatoes), vegetables (corn, potatoes, rice, winter squash and yams), spices (black pepper, cayenne, chocolate cinnamon, cloves, ginger, sugar cane, turmeric, coffee and vanilla) and nuts (Brazilian nuts and cashews) come from the rain forest. Plant research programs are constantly being conducted by pharmaceutical companies to discover new drugs or cures for viruses, infections, cancer and even AIDS from plants only found in the rain forests.
Rain forests also influence the carbon cycle and have a deep effect on rainfall. Most importantly, green plants from these forests absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and produce carbon-containing sugars (by means of photosynthesis) which then oxygen is released as a by-product into the air thus, providing and producing enough oxygen to keep us alive and breathing.
Did you know almost all the oxygen you breathe comes from green plants? Did you know that the Amazon rain forest has been described as the “lungs of our planet” because it provides more than 40% of Earth’s oxygen?
When are rain forests under threat?
Rainforest are being threatened constantly – especially by humans. The main threats are erosion of habitat through logging, mining and clearing land for ranches, farms, and plantations. In many countries, the trees are being cut down and not being replaced or replanted.
When large areas of rain forests are cut down, the soil erodes through rainfall and the nutrients needed to grow tall trees no longer exists. Once the soil composition changes, animals and trees do not return and habitats are altered forever causing plant and animal species to become endangered. It is estimated that if deforestation continues at the currently rate, nearly 80 – 90 percent of tropical rain forest ecosystems will be destroyed by the year 2020.
Did you know every single second an area of rain forest the size of a football field disappears?
Who is protecting and preserving the rain forests?
Even though non-profit organizations, corporations and governments are helping to protect & preserve our rain forests, the destruction continues. Unfortunately, tropical rain forests are located in some of the poorest countries on Earth. Sustainable forest management and development practices have been introduced to teach them how to manage and protect their natural resources for long term profits while still managing to service their debts, but more needs to be done to guard the long term health of the forest.
There are organizations and private groups that have made it their mission to preserve the rain forest by buying the land for conservation. The most successful programs are those that provide an opportunity for the locals to earn money in other industries that don’t destroy the environment. One such example is Guayaki who grows Yerba Matte in rain forests, employing locals thus providing them a decent standard of living while contributing to land use planning and conservation efforts.
Governments are beginning to take note that by preserving their rain forest they are investing in their country’s long term future. They know that there is more to gain by preserving rain forests than by cutting them down. Companies that have a vested interest in protecting and preserving rainforests have found viable business models for products and services providing to offset the financial benefit of cutting down the trees.
There are many organizations that are preserving and protecting the rain forest. Pachamama Alliance works with indigenous people in the Amazon to protect the rain forest from being decimated from oil drilling activities. They also collaborate with other organizations such as Amazon Watch to join forces in standing up for saving the rain forest. Additional organizations and environmental groups making a difference include: Rain Forest Action, Tropical Rainforest Coalition, Rainforest Alliance, Mongabay, World Rainforest, Rainforest Rescue, Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, Amazon Watch, World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Greenpeace, and many more.
How can we protect the rain forest?
There are many ways an individual can help protect and restore the rain forest. First, donate money to organizations that are protecting and preserving the rain forest. Next, educate the public and peers about forest loss and how it’s contributing to global warming, local drought/flood cycles, erosion and further impoverishment. Get involved by supporting companies that are engaged in planting trees on land where forests have been cut down. Sign petitions and post on social and new media sites that are demanding these special places become parks and preserves. Create awareness for deforestation of tropical forests in your local community and discuss the importance of losing these ecological treasures. Become a watchdog for companies and corporations that are not becoming accountable for their actions and blog about it. Understand that when forests fall we all lose.
Conservation and restoration are both important activities. You can be conservation minded when consuming products. When purchasing wood products ensure that the wood is responsibly harvested. Be a conscious consumer and environmentally responsible. When purchasing products such as coffee and chocolate from Central or South America make sure they are “fair trade” certified which means that the farmers that produced these products produced them sustainably and received a living wage. When people are paid a living wage for their efforts they are less inclined to pillage the forests and other natural resources. Lastly, have respect for our planet, people and all the plants and animals that exist on Earth. We are all interconnected and depend on each other for our survival.