The Amazon Rainforest is a tropical forest that covers 1.7 billion acres of land within Brazil, Peru, Colombia,
Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana of South America. The Amazon
Rainforest is also known as Amazonia. The Amazon was named after the Spanish explorer Francisco de
Orellana fought a tribe along the river. Historians think that either the women of the tribe fought alongside the
men, or the fighters were men with long hair and grass skirts. Thus, the idea of the Amazon women found itself
in South America.
Rainforests lie in the ―tropics‖ (area near the equator) where the sun is very strong. Rainforest receive at least
80 inches of rain per year. Large amounts of water evaporates due to the strength of the sun and as the air heats,
it rises, and as air rises it cools and water condenses to form rain which is why the tropics are wet.
Rainforests have an abundance of plants and animals because they are located in tropical regions; they receive
large amounts of sunlight. This sunlight is converted to energy by plants through the process of photosynthesis.
This energy is stored in plant vegetation which provides food for many animals. Rainforests have a high level
of biodiversity, many life species. Biodiversity is the name for all living things—like plants, animals, and
fungi— found in an ecosystem. Scientists believe that about half of the plants and animals found on earth’s land
surface live in rainforests. The Amazon is home to 2.5 million insect species, tens of thousands of plants, and
2,000 birds and mammals. At least 40,000 plant species, 3,000 fish, 1,294 birds, 428 amphibians, 427
mammals, and 378 reptiles have been classified.
There are four main levels of a rainforest. The first level is the emergent layer. The emergent layer is the
highest level of the rainforest. Giant trees reach to the sky. It is not uncommon for the rainforest trees to reach
an amazing 180 to 200 feet in height. The emergent layer of the rainforest is the brightest layer receiving the
most sunlight. From the rainforest treetops you can see the rolling mist of condensation as it forms into clouds
dissipating from the dense layers beneath.
The second layer is the canopy, which is the layer of
branches and leaves formed by closely spaced rainforest
trees. Most of the plants and animals in the rainforest
live in the canopy. The canopy may be 100 feet above
the ground. In a rainforest the canopy blocks the
sunlight from reaching the ground, thus the undergrowth
in a rainforest is minimal at ground level. Many
epiphytic plants, commonly called ―air plants‖ like
bromeliads and orchids grow in the canopy layer. The
roots of these plants do not reach the ground or live in
soil. Instead they thrive by absorbing moisture and
nutrients through an aerial root system by attaching
themselves to a host.
The understory layer is directly underneath the canopy layer and on top of the forest floor. Growth here is very
dense. The understory layer is a dark, sometimes almost impenetrable natural habitat entwined with vines, shrub
and broadleaf trees. Trees here average 12-15 feet in height and have exceptionally large leaves to compensate
for the lack of sunlight. The leaves are so large that just one single leaf could be used for an umbrella. The
understory layer teams with life.
Since the above layers block out the
majority of sunlight it is possible to walk
through the forest floor. Where light is able
to penetrate the ground beneath it is soon
filled with a dense, tangled growth of vines,
shrubs, and small trees called a jungle.
Otherwise the forest floor is walk-able. The
forest floor is where decomposition takes
place. Decomposition is the process by
which decomposers like fungi and
microorganisms break down dead plants and
animals and recycle essential materials and
nutrients. In spite of the vegetation in a
tropical rainforest, the soil quality is very
poor. Rapid decay of dead plants prevents
the collection of humus (organic material on
the surface of the ground that creates fertile
soil). Most trees have roots near the surface as there are not many nutrients below the ground; most of the trees
minerals come from the top layer of decomposing leaves and animals.
The Amazon River, the second longest river in the
world, carries 20% of the world’s fresh water and
flows through the Amazon Basin. The Amazon and its
tributaries serve transportation and communication
networks. The waterways serve as a trade route for
major trade centers on the Amazon River (Iquitos,
Peru and Manaus, Brazil). Rainforest products are
traded for outside goods. The rivers serve as ―roads‖
as there are few roads within the Amazon basin. The
Amazon River also provides food for the local people
as fish is a key dietary component. When rivers flood
they create fertile farmland. Some of the fish within
the Amazon River find themselves sold into aquarium
shops around the world as well.
The Amazon Rainforest provides a home to many plants and animals. It helps maintain a water cycle - the role
of rainforests in the water cycle is to add water to the atmosphere through the process of transpiration (where
they release water from their leaves during photosynthesis). This moisture contributes to the formation of rain
clouds. It is also a source for medicines and resources – one in every four medicines contain compounds that
originally came from rainforest plants. Medicinal plants are being researched in hopes of producing a wide
range of new medicines that may cure diseases like cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer. The rainforest also provides
wood (furniture, flooring, and sculptures), rubber, nuts, fruits, bauxite (used to make aluminum), gold, iron, and
diamonds. It is home to indigenous people like the Yanomami and is a great source of tourism.
Every year an area of rainforest the size of New Jersey is cut down. The plants and animals that used to live in
these forests either die or must find a new forest to call their home. Why are rainforests being destroyed?
People are not cutting down the rainforest because they enjoy destroying it; they cut it down because there is
economic benefit to it. Humans are cutting down rainforests for many reasons, including:
- For resources (as mentioned above)
- Agriculture purposes
- Grazing land for cattle
- Road and building construction
Deforestation is the conversion of forested
areas to non-forested areas. Human settlement
and development of the land are the main
reasons for deforestation in the Amazon.
Farmers use a slash and burn method. The soils
in the Amazon are productive for a short period
of time; farmers are then forced to new areas
and clear more land. The cleared land then
turns into grassland for cattle. Brazil is one of
the leading beef producers in the world. Today
Brazil is the second-largest global producer of
soybeans. The soybeans are used to make
ethanol which provides for energy needs for the
people of Brazil, some of the ethanol can be
exported to other countries. In order to get the
resources of wood, beef, and soybeans roads have to be built, which in turn destroys sections of the rainforest.
Cutting down the rainforest can lead to the extinction of plant and animal specials. Indigenous people’s lives
are being ruined by ―outsiders‖ invading their home. We should not take over people’s lands, this has already
happened too many times throughout history. The
indigenous people will be displaced from their homes
and their lives will be ruined and they will lose their
culture as they will be forced to change their ways
because of globalization. By cutting down the
rainforest today, our children will not be able to
enjoy the rainforest in the future.
Cutting down parts of the rainforest make
opportunities available to better people’s lives.
Opening the rainforest will help create jobs for
- Creation of farmland and grazing land in
order to make money (soybeans and beef)
- Logging jobs
- Construction jobs
Opening the rainforest will allow scientists and
researchers access to remote parts of the rainforest
that they would not have had the opportunity to
study. By cutting down parts of the rainforest tourist
activities can be brought in which in turn brings
many to the local people, but the money can also be
used to help preserve the rainforest. When some
areas of trees are cut down, reforestation occurs.
This is a process of planting trees in order to replace
those that were cut down.