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Rainforests: Earth's gasbusters

Posted by Nicole Solczynski on January 29, 2015

Rainforests
Within a single hectare of rainforest, one can find as many as 42,000 diverse insect species, 807 trees belonging to 313 species, and 1,500 species of higher plants.

Tropical rainforests: The first thing that probably comes to your head is some lush, green place with these amazing animals where everyone would love to go on an adventure in (I know that’s what I would like to do, at least). But soon enough, this will only be a memory. I know, your environment-loving self must have just felt a punch in the heart.

The tropical rainforest biome is recognized as the most complex terrestrial bionetwork known to exist. While rainforests cover only seven per cent of the Earth’s land surface, they sustain more than 50 per cent of Earth’s life forms. That’s absolutely insane! Let’s break it down even further now. Within a single hectare of rainforest, one can find as many as 42,000 diverse insect species, 807 trees belonging to 313 species, and 1,500 species of higher plants.

Now let’s go back to square one and look at why we actually need tropical rainforests. They sequester carbon and maintain its levels in the atmosphere, detoxify waste, purify water and air, and act as carbon sinks by absorbing excess carbon dioxide. You could basically call them greenhouse gasbusters (like Ghostbusters… but gasbusters… *waits for laugh*). Ok, some terrible humor there. But really, this point in particular is huge, especially with all the carbon humans emit on an annual basis by driving their unnecessarily huge trucks and Range Rovers with no care.

In addition, tropical rainforests are recognized as pharmacopeias of natural products because of their ability to produce compounds useful for medicinal purposes. Even with fewer than one per cent of the plants in the tropical rainforests being tested for medical properties, 47 out of the 121 clinically-useful prescription drugs have been developed from tropical forest plant species. These include drugs used to treat arthritis, diabetes and hypertension, along with those that play roles in crucial enzymes, antibiotics, and antiseptics. And yes, you read that right. That’s just from analyzing one per cent. Imagine what the remaining 99 per cent holds. And what about cancer? Well, more than 3,000 tropical plants have been identified to hold anti-cancer properties – 70 per cent of which were found in the rainforest.

I know, those statistics alone made my jaw drop. But do you know what made me clench my jaw right back up? The fact that deforestation rates are continuing to increase at a rate of 25 million hectares per year. Aside from clear-cutting as a primary threat to the diverse number of species, mining also affects Indigenous tribes by introducing exotic diseases. You can say goodbye, not only to some of the rarest species on this earth, but also to carbon control, regulated precipitation patterns, dense vegetation, flood and erosion control, medicine for millions, and potential cures for some of the world’s deadliest diseases.

So, what can we do to help?

  • Look for the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal. This indicates the product (or the ingredients found within) originate from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms or forests.
  • Avoid products with palm oil. Palm oil (and its derivatives) are found in almost everything, including cosmetics, foods and detergents. Palm-oil growers clear rainforest land for palm plantations due to the ideal growing conditions. Look for products that have the RSPO or Green Palm labels on them (which indicates that products are made with certified sustainable palm oil) or products that are palm-oil free.
  • Decrease fossil fuel consumption. Yep, you read that right. Oil extraction in the Amazon has not only brought forth social consequences, but also huge environmental ones. Let’s not encourage the big guys. We need these rainforests!
  • Take part in sustainability programs and donate. There are several foundations out there that act to support and protect the rainforests. One great place to start is the Rainforest Foundation US. For every $5 donated, one acre of rainforest is preserved, which is enough to produce three tons of oxygen per year!
  • Be green. This helps in so many ways, and this is something UOIT’s Go Green, Stay Blue program is encouraging. This helps rainforests too, so let’s keep it up!

Links and additional reading:

References

Barrett, C. B., Brandon, K., Gibson, C., & Gjertsen, H. (2001). Conserving tropical biodiversity amid weak institutions. BioScience, 51(6), 497-502.

Laurance, W. F. (1999). Reflections on the tropical deforestation crisis. Biological Conservation, 91(2), 109-117.

Li, L. (n.d.). What is sustainable rainforest management?.

Nigh, R. B., & Nations, J. D. (1980). Tropical Rainforests. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 36(3), 12-19.

Soos, A. (2012, Sept 5). Tropical forests sustainability.

Voeks, R. A. (2004). Disturbance pharmacopoeias: medicine and myth from the humid tropics. Annals of the Association of American geographers, 94(4), 868-888.


Filed under: Ecosystems


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