Rainforests are being destroyed at a rate of 6,000 square miles (15,540 square kilometers) per year. Selective logging causes most of the destruction, and cattle grazing takes the second spot. Loggers who illegally cut down trees focus on certain woods, such as mahogany, because these bring the most money when sold.
Loggers may add money to their companies' coffers but may not realize how much their actions can affect the global ecosystem. Rainforests help regulate the world's weather patterns. They affect rainfall, cloud formation (by enhancing air moisture) and help to moderate temperature. They also help filter CO2; trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen as they "breathe" out. The Amazon Rainforest produces almost a quarter of the world's oxygen [source: Save the Amazon]. Cutting down the rainforests filters less air, leaving more CO2 in the ozone.
Deforestation is actually producing CO2, too. The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation estimates that the decomposition of deforestation debris (such as branches, pieces of wood and disturbed soil) has increased CO2 in the area by more than 25 percent [source: The Guardian].
But the ecosystem is about more than just what is above us; the plants and animals that thrive in rainforests are critical to the Earth's biodiversity. Of the estimated 10 million living species in the world, more than 50 percent call a rainforest home [source: Rain Tree]. As people cut down trees, the animals migrate or die. Changes in animal life also affect the ecosystem by disrupting the food chain and the relationships between species. Animals moving or leaving an area change their patterns of pollination and affect the lives of plants outside the rainforest as well.
Rainforests are crucial in one more way: They are home to some of the last uncontacted tribes in the world. In the Brazilian Rainforest alone, there are at least 67 tribes that live in complete isolation. As deforestation progresses, the lives and customs of these tribes' members will be affected. The tribes rely on hunting and gathering for survival. As the forests are razed, the balance of animals and plants near the tribes' villages will change. These changes will filter down the food chain and affect the land and its inhabitants.
Rainforests are considered the cradle of all life on Earth.
- The rich diversity of plant and animal life in a rainforest is a valuable source of medicinal herbs, providing more than 25 percent of known medicines. The cure for cancer, AIDS and other fatal diseases may well lie in rainforests.
- More than 3,000 fruits and plants like coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, potatoes, rice, black pepper and corn originated in the rainforests.
- The thick canopy of rainforests absorbs heat from the sun, significantly cooling the Earth's atmosphere.
- Rainforests also affect wind patterns and rainfall, regulating the global climate and weather conditions.
Many tropical trees have stilt roots as a mechanism to counter the shallow, loose soil of the tropics.
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