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Amazon Rainforest - The Largest Forest in the World

By: C.M.Shorter
Amazon Rainforest
Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon Rainforest is not only the largest forest in the world – it is often called the “Lungs of the World”.  This evergreen woodland Rainforest infrastructure, distinguished by a continuous leaf canopy interwoven into to tropical forest layers, covers over 3.7 million square miles.  Rainforests are one of Earth’s oldest continuous ecosystems and play a significant part in the health of our global environment by digesting and converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.  Rainforests have a very small cumulative percentage of overall topography worldwide, yet they hold the highest number of plant and animal species in the world by far.   Tropical Rainforests are home to an estimated 50 to 70 million different unique life organisms.

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The Amazon Rainforest is so vast its span reaches throughout 9 countries:  Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guinea, French Guinea, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.   In size, it is Brazil that supports the largest part of this Rainforest benefiting from the bounty of the Amazon River with over 60% of Brazilian terrain covered by Rainforest territory.  The biodiversity of this equatorial Rainforest, formed by millions of years of evolution, supports an incredible rich and diverse collection of flora and animals including amphibians, birds, insects, mammals & reptiles.  Some well-known inhabitants are Anacondas, Caimans, Chimpanzees, Gibbons, King Cobras, Jaguars, Sloths, Tamarins, Toucans and elusive Vampire Bats!    

The “Rain” forest was so named for its high humidity but it does not always rain!   Like the self-sustaining ecosystem of the Florida Everglades, there is a rainy season. The  high heat and humidity under cover of this water filled equatorial canopy make the constant cycle of evaporation and dissipation that creates the jungle paradise of the Rainforest.   Ancient living Rainforest organisms, verified by fossil records, have been active now for 70-100 million years.  Rainforest origins arose during the Cretaceous period, survived the mass extinction of the Dinosaurs, and continued evolving into the Paleocene period (Greek for “paleo” old & “ceno” new).  Rainforest specimens thrive in near constant year round temperatures of 80 degrees Fahrenheit and receive anywhere from 160-400 inches of rain a year.  Scientists believe it was these properties that protected the Rainforest during the mass extinction of the Dinosaurs 65 million years ago. It is also the reason for the abundance and wide variety of species that flourish in this environment.

Many would conclude that such a rich and diverse ecosystem would have rich soil – but that is not so!  In fact the nutrient quality of the soil here is extremely poor.  The bulk of the Rainforest nutrients – almost 80% in fact are held within the plants and leaves themselves.  It is for this reason many of the flora epiphytic (aerial root system) species, including Bromeliads, ferns and native Orchids thrive in this tropical canopy.   Amazingly, reproduction of these epiphites is achieved by airborne disbursement of spores to new hosts. These aerial plant specimens form not a parasitic relationship but a symbiotic one, and make a fine example of organisms ability to adapt to their environment supporting Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. 

Deep within the often impenetrable layers of Rainforest canopy maze of brush, foliage, vines and waterways you will find old growth trees reaching to the sun achieving spectacular heights of 120-200 ft.   Unfortunately, it is these very specimens that tempt its destruction. Like the immense Giant Sequoia and Pacific Redwood stands of trees in the temperate Olympic Rainforest of the Pacific Northwest, now mostly protected, these massive hardwood specimens attract commercial logging for profits resulting in deforestation.  Ongoing conservation efforts are underway and progress is made everyday to educate people as to the tremendous values of the Rainforest to mankind, and to the benefit of our whole planet.  Together we can learn the value of protecting & preserving pristine Rainforest wilderness. 

Rainforest deforestation through commercial logging, selective-logging, and clear cutting to make way for cattle ranching and agricultural use, particularly soybean farming, is having a detrimental effect on the whole of the Rainforest infrastructure.  Urban growth is also taking significant portions of the world’s Rainforest and destruction occurs daily at alarming rates.  It is estimated that more than one-and-a-half acres of Rainforest is being lost every second of every day which equates to the permanent destruction of thousands & thousands of acres annually.

Next: Layers of the Rainforest >>
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Also: Rainforest Territory of the World | Bio-Prospecting in the Rainforest | People of the Amazon Rainforest

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