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10 Rainforest Facts

10 Rainforest Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

Often we think of the rainforest as an abstract idea, far from where we are with little or no link to our daily lives. This is far from the truth, below you will see how deeply you are impacted on a daily basis by the rainforests around the world.  You will see what they do for you and will realize why its so important that you return the favor and do some thing for them.

Sidenote: Coffee grows best in the shade of the rainforests, but to produce enough for demand coffee farmers tend to clear cut the forests for coffee plantations. Coffee is affecting the deforestation of the rainforests.

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Facts about Rainforests

Do you know how many tropical rainforest plants have been identified as having anti-cancer properties? Or how many continents around the world contain rainforests? And just how quickly are the world’s rainforests disappearing?

Facts about the Rainforest as Part of our Global Environment and Well-Being

  • Rainforests act as the world’s thermostat by regulating temperatures and weather patterns.
  • One-fifth of the world’s fresh water is found in the Amazon Basin.
  • Rainforests are critical in maintaining the Earth’s limited supply of drinking and fresh water.

Rainforest Facts You Probably Don’t Know

  1. There are two kinds of rainforests, tropical and temperate. The tropical rainforests are the ones we think of when we hear “rainforest”, they are located closer to the equator.  There are large expanses of tropical rainforest in Africa, South East Asia, and the Middle East, but the largest by far is the Amazon Rainforest in South America.  Temperate rain forests exist in climates farther from the equator both in the northern and southern hemisphere. Some of these places are the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Japan, Southern Australia and New Zealand.
  2. Once a large tract of the rainforest have been cut down it is very hard to reestablish any thing similar to what had been there.  One of the reasons for this is that there is very little nutrients in the topsoil of rainforests.  All of the leaf litter and other debris that falls to the forest floor is quickly utilized by the many critters that live there. Because of this there is not much organic matter for new seeds to establish in, or for new roots to take hold.
  3. The rainforests are being destroyed for a multitude of reasons, the main two being lumber and agriculture. Vast tracts of woods are sold off for pennies on the dollar to supply the international demand for exotic hard woods.  Even those that are “sustainably” harvested can have devastating impact on the forest leaving logging roads scaring the landscape.  Some areas are being entirely cleared of trees in a method that is known as “slash and burn”.  All the vegetative matter that is left after trees are cleared is burned leaving a thin layer of ash on what was once a forest floor.  On this land cattle are grazed or crops are planted, often for the export market. Leaving local people with no forest and no food. Because the soil has only limited nutrients after only a few growing seasons the land becomes infertile and is left to bake in the hot sun, a dry cracked, lifeless patch of dirt.
  4. Tropical rainforests are an amazing source of medicines. Some two thousands plants have been discovered to have anti-cancer properties. Around 25% of modern pharmaceuticals are derived from tropical plants. Sadly some of these plants are already extinct, including one that quadruples the rate of survivability for childhood leukemia. There are surely many more potential medicinal plants out there with these amazing properties as only 1% of the plants have been analyzed.  Let’s just hope they don’t go extinct before we find them.
  5. The lungs of the planet are how the rainforests are often described. Taking in carbon dioxide and cycling out  oxygen, the Amazon alone is responsible for at least 20% of the oxygen we breath. Rainforests cover only 6% of the Earth’s surface today where as only 50 years ago they covered 15%. We we are quickly loosing a crucial component to a clean atmosphere.  As the consequences of our non stop spewing of green house gasses become irrefutable, we will  realize how reliant we are on these natural filters for clean fresh air.
  6. There are four main layers of life in the rainforest, the floor, the understory, the canopy and the emergent layer.  Much of the life which exists in the rainforest is above the forest floor. Most animals in the rainforest never even touch the ground there whole lives, some never even leaving one tree. The upper layers of these forest are often so dense that very little light ever reaches the forest floor.
  7. Rainforests are the most densely biodiversity place on the earth. Over half the earth’s species are living in the rainforests and who knows the number of yet undiscovered plants and animals that are living in there.  It is estimated that every day 50,000 species go extinct, many of which have never even been ‘discovered’.
  8. Many of the foods we commonly see today in or local stores or grow in our own communities are originally from the rainforest.  Some estimates put this as high as 80%.  Some items are obvious and to this day only grow in rainforest-like surroundings such as chocolate, coffee, vanilla, mangos, and bananas.  Some however may surprise you as they did me, such as black pepper, corn, winter squash, potatoes, and yams. Another item that is not on the food side of things but is indispensable in our daily lives is rubber.  The rubber tree, originally from South America is now grown in tropical regions from Africa to South East Asia.
  9. Rainforests are home to thousands of people, no matter what part of the globe. Entire tribes of people call the rainforest home and live sustainably off the bounty it provides. Whether they build their houses in the tops of trees or clear a little space out of the dense forest, these people are entirely dependent on the forest and the things it provides. They know all the plants, animals, sources of food and medicine. These people are as endangered as the forest themselves. As they disappear so do their cultures, languages, and histories.
  10. We know that the rainforests of the world are in danger, but the statistics are jaw dropping. Every second a football field of rainforest is cut down, in the time in takes you to read this one section we will have lost 5 more acres of rainforest. At this rate some estimates give our rainforests only 40 more years. What we will have lost will be irreplaceable, the damage to our environment irreversible.  Our grandchildren will know only stories of once great forests, only recordings of the call of monkeys echoing though the dense growth, only photographs of the thousands of species of butterflies.

From WorldWildLife.org:

The Amazon is a vast region that spans the border of eight rapidly developing countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, an overseas territory of France.

Threats: The Amazon is systematically being torn down and devalued for short term gains. Unsustainable expansion of agriculture and cattle ranching, construction of roads and dams, and extractive activities including illegal logging and climate change are the biggest drivers of deforestation and river degradation. At current deforestation rates, 55% of the Amazon’s rainforests could be gone by 2030.

If your heart is breaking, as mine did when writing this piece, know there are ways you can take action to protect our environment both locally and globally. There are many organizations you can join or donate to. Or learn how a simple change in coffee drinking can help. This is a great project to involve school children in because deforestation is very easy concept to grasp at younger ages.

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Coffee Affects Rainforest Deforestation

Learn How Coffee Affects Rainforest Deforestation

An incredibly complex ecosystem, rainforests are a powerhouse of living and breathing renewable natural resources that for years and years provided a wealth of resources for the survival and well-being of humankind.

A short list of examples include basic food supplies, clothing, shelter, fuel, spices, industrial raw materials, and medicine. However, the inner dynamics of a tropical rainforest is an intricate and fragile system, damage to one part has a devastating domino effect.

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More than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen comes from the Amazon Rainforest.

Stream under a canopy of trees in rainforest.

From National Geographic:

In Brazil, which houses 30 percent of the remaining tropical rain forest on Earth, more than 50,000 square miles of rain forest were lost to deforestation between 2000 and 2005. Biologists worry about the long-term consequences. Drought may be one. Some rain forests, including the Amazon, began experiencing drought in the 1990s, possibly due to deforestation and global warming.

In 1950, about 15 percent of the Earth’s land surface was covered by rainforest. Today, more than half is gone. Rainforests cover a mere 6% of the globe now and experts estimate that the rest could be consumed in less than 40 years if we continue doing what we’re doing. The rainforest is being cleared for logging timber, large-scale cattle ranching, mining operations, government road building, and hydroelectric schemes, military operations, and the subsistence agriculture of peasants and landless settlers. Unbelievably, more than 200,000 acres of rainforest are simply burned every day.

Deforestation also contributes to climate change. Rainforest soils are wet; without the protection from sun-blocking trees, they dry out. Trees also perpetuate the water cycle by returning water vapor back into the atmosphere. Without trees to fill these roles, many former forest lands quickly become barren deserts.

Removing trees deprives the forest of its canopy, a critical blanket that blocks the sun’s rays during the day and holds in heat at night. Blasting sunlight leads to extreme temperature swings harmful to plants and animals.

Fewer forests means larger amounts of greenhouse gasses entering the atmosphere—and increased speed and severity of global warming. Trees are the world’s lungs. They absorb all those dangerous green house gasses so we don’t have to.

Cup of Coffee on Coffee Beans

Massive deforestation brings with it many ugly consequences – air and water pollution, soil erosion, malaria epidemics, the release of carbon dioxide, the decimation of indigenous Indian tribes and the loss of their traditional medicinal knowledge, and the loss of biodiversity through mass extinction of plants and animals. Fewer rainforests mean less rain, less oxygen for us to breathe, and an increased threat from global warming.

While you sit there with your cup of coffee, contemplating this sad tale, but really wondering how you can do anything about it, look down into your cup. Coffee is the most popular beverage in the world next to water. Over 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year, making coffee the 2nd largest commodity industry in the world, with 10 billion dollars in profits annually.

Every cup of coffee consumed destroys roughly one square inch of rainforest, making your morning stop at Starbucks a leading cause of rainforest destruction.

Young woman drinking a cup of coffee, unaware of its affects on the rainforest.

Because of the global demand, coffee farmers feel pressured to produce massive quantities of beans. To do so, large scale coffee farms clear cut forests, destroying all of the flora and fauna dependent on that habitat. Coffee ranks in the top three most heavily pesticide sprayed crops in the world and  the processing is a major cause of water contamination making it a very toxic drink.

Hot cup of coffee

Worst of all? Coffee grows best in the shade.

Arabica coffee has the highest yields under 35 to 65% shade. Growing coffee under shade also discourages weed growth, reduces pathogen infection, protects the crop from frost, and helps to increase numbers of pollinators which results in better fruit. Shade grown coffee requires less pesticide and less water. It also tastes better. Demanding shade grown producers also practice organic farming gets your daily dose of caffeine even closer to eco-friendly status.

Preserve the rainforest one shade-grown, organic cup of coffee at a time.

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