20 Animals And Plants That Live In The Amazon Rainforest The Amazon Rainforest: What You Need to Know

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The Amazon Rainforest: What You Need to Know

Everyone knows that the Amazon rainforest is threatened by climate change. But just what is it? How important is it? Well, that’s what I’m here in Brazil to study. I’m in the Atlantic Rainforest with my peers from Columbia University. We are being hosted by the Instituto de Pesquisas Ecological (IPE), studying forest ecology and field research methods. Our goal is to determine the best and most sustainable ways to tackle some of the biggest problems facing not just Brazil, but the entire planet.

Walking through the woods here, one can’t help but feel awe that they are breathing the air where the greatest concentration of LIFE exists. It is so heartbreaking to think that these beautiful creatures are losing their homes for just a few minutes of our enjoyment! They are so stunning and precious, such a great loss.

Spoiler alert: the effects of Amazon deforestation will reach EVERYONE, and into our lives too. But, read it because you can make a difference.

What about you!

Fast facts about the Amazon rainforest:

  • At 1.4 billion hectares, the Amazon is the single largest area of ​​tropical forest in the world. It makes up more than half of all natural rainforests on Earth

  • It is about 55 million years old

  • The Amazon rainforest consists of four layers. Each has a unique ecosystem to which plants and animals are adapted:

  • The highest is the emergency layer. Its trees reach 200 meters in height.

  • The second layer is the tent. Smooth leaves with sharp tips help easy water flow and prevent the growth of mosses and fungi.

  • The layer below it is able to receive only 5% of the sunlight. The plants here are uniquely adapted to survive.

  • The lowest layer is the forest floor. Only 2% of sunlight reaches here

Characteristic fauna:

  • 1/5 of the world’s fresh water is in the Amazon basin alone. This makes it a biodiversity hotspot

  • 1/10 known species on Earth are found in the Amazon. Furthermore, there are still millions yet to be described

  • The Amazon rainforest is the richest and most diverse biological reservoir in the world. It contains several million species of insects, plants, birds and other life forms:

  • 40,000 plant species

  • 5600 species of fish

  • 1300 species of birds

  • 430 + species of mammals

  • 1000+ species of amphibians

  • 400+ species of reptiles

  • It is estimated that about 2.5 million species of insects.

The Amazon is home to jaguars, harpy eagles, pink dolphins, manatees, tapirs, red deer, capybaras, sloths, several species of monkeys and other species of rodents. However, about 137 species of plants, animals and insects are lost every day due to rainforest destruction – or 50,000/year.

Earth:

  • About 45% is dark, 30% is clay and 25% is water

  • The topsoil is about 2.5 – 5 cm deep

  • Over 100 million years of exposure to the elements acidified the soil and stripped it of its nutrients

  • Plants are able to thrive despite poor soil quality because they recycle nutrients from dead flora and fauna (instead of taking them from the soil)

  • Terra preta is a dark, fertile anthropogenic (artificial) soil found in the Amazon basin. Indigenous peoples created this “Amazonian Dark Earth” or “Indian Black Earth” between 450 BC and 950 BC. They would mix the barren soil of the Amazon with bones, manure and charcoal. Coal, which gives the soil its color, is very stable and stays in the soil for millennia, helping it retain minerals and nutrients. Terra preta areas are usually surrounded by common soil. Deforested lands are only productive for 1-2 years. After that, farmers move to new areas and clear more land. However, terra preta is less prone to nutrient leaching caused by flooding due to its high concentration of coal, microbial life and organic matter.

Dominant vegetation:

  • 16,000 tree species and 390 billion individual trees live in the Amazon rainforest

  • The lush vegetation includes a variety of tree species. These include myrtle, laurel, palm, acacia, rosewood, Brazil nut, rubber tree, mahogany and Amazonian cedar

  • Foods found in the Amazon rainforest include breadfruit, nuts, bananas, cacao, guava, mango, berries, kola nuts, and plantains.

Climate:

The Amazon is in the “Tropical Rainforest Climate” or “Equatorial Climate”. It is warm and humid. The average temperature is about 79 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. The temperature difference between night and day is greater than that between seasons.

The large extent and great continuity of this tropical forest is a result of the high rainfall, high humidity and high temperatures that prevail in the region.

Modes of disturbance (aka what natural threats does it face?):

Like most tropical and subtropical broadleaf forests, the Amazon is particularly vulnerable to plowing, overgrazing, and burning due to vulnerable soil and climate conditions. Anthropogenic (human-caused) fires threaten habitat loss, as well as air and water quality. Considering the full range of natural disturbances, anthropogenic turnover creates significant biomass increases and a greater carbon imbalance. Warmer temperatures and less rainfall have produced droughts of historic proportions. Long dry spells increase the likelihood of forest fires. These incidents have profound effects on other aspects of the ecosystem as well

Primary use by humans:

For most of human history, deforestation in the Amazon occurred primarily by subsistence farmers who produced crops for their families and local consumption. But in the 20th century, industrial activities and large-scale agriculture significantly increased the rate of deforestation. Large-scale mining operations disrupt natural ecosystems and require large amounts of wood from the red-eye Amazon rainforest.

The Amazon basin contains deposits of nickel, copper, tin, manganese, iron ore, gold and other valuable minerals. In addition to deforestation, secondary effects of mining include the release of mercury (used to extract gold) into the local environment. Mercury poisons indigenous communities, as well as water supplies, plants and animal life.

Oil drilling in the Amazon causes deforestation. Furthermore, it leads to widespread land and air pollution, indigenous conflicts, loss of biodiversity and displacement of local populations.

Animal agriculture:

  • 1-2 hectares of rainforest are cleared per second. This is mainly for industry

  • 70% of the deforestation in the amazon is to make room for cattle ranches

  • Corporations in the meat industry are systematically clearing large tracts of land from native forestry and replacing them with soy crops to feed livestock. They use the land until it is completely degraded. At this point, they repeat the process elsewhere.

  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of all deforestation in the Amazon
  • The construction of hydroelectric dams disturbs the ecosystem. Studies predict that this could submerge a significant portion of the Rainforest

  • Timber corporations also remove valuable wood from the remaining forest

  • 136 million hectares have been cleared for animal agriculture

  • 26 million hectares of rainforest have been cleared for palm oil production. However, palm oil receives much more attention from the media and consumers. Let’s be honest, it’s easier to be passionate about causes that don’t require you to change your lifestyle. No one wants to hear that the real problem is the beef on their plates!

Storage issues:

30 million people live in the area. The increase in industrial activity has affected many indigenous tribes. They suffer displacement and exposure to disease. For example, mortality rates are rising among many tribes that had little contact with the industrial world and did not develop certain immunities.

  • Amazon forest loss accounts for 5-8% of global greenhouse gas emissions

  • 1100 activists have been killed in Brazil in the last 20 years. 150 since 2012. Recently, a farmer shot 73-year-old American nun and activist Dorothy Stang. She had campaigned for 30 years to save the Amazon and its indigenous farmers from the interests of wealthy landowners. The ruling initially declared the attacker ‘not guilty’, but recently ordered his arrest and retrial. Fewer than 100 of these men have gone to court. About 80 convicted suspects were hired gunmen for powerful farmers and loggers. The legal system found only about 15 of the killers guilty. Currently, none of them is serving a sentence

Thanks for sticking with me!

Furthermore, thank you for being a conscientious, caring and engaged citizen. I hope this piqued your interest. If you want to learn more about the connections between environmental issues and food, I recommend watching ‘Cowspiracy’ on Netflix. Additionally, you can check out this fact sheet, which provides an overview of how our diets affect the environment. I will be publishing even more of my work over the summer as I conduct research.

On another note, I’m not sure what format would be most interesting to all of you. If you have a minute, please let me know in the comments below whether you prefer academic research essays, bulleted fact sheets like the one above, or more personal posts. After all, I feel very passionate about this topic. Sign up to stay informed and share this post with your friends.

This is happening at an alarming rate. Consequently, every single person and every single effort counts!

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