Amazon : The World’s Largest Rainforest

By Priyanka Basu

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       “The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity ; it affords protection to all beings , offering shade even to the axe – man who destroys it.” – Gautama Buddha.

        Amazon is the largest and most popular tropical rainforest in the world , expands from a 200 mile front along the Atlantic to a belt 1200 miles wide where the lowlands meet the Andean foothills , provides shelter for 30 million people and numerous species of insects , plants , birds and other forms of life. The Amazon rainforest region is in the northern part of the South America , stretches across the countries of Brazil , Suriname , French Guiana and Guiana. With its ability to supply 20% of the earth’s oxygen , this “ lung of the world “ is the source of livelihood for thousands of indigenous groups and forest dependent people. 

Why Amazon is Largest ?

Largest in Size :

       Although 58.4% of the Amazon basin is contained within the borders of Brazil , but eight other countries including Peru , Bolivia , Colombia , Venezuela . Guyana , Suriname , French Guyana and Ecuador also share the Amazon basin. The basin encompasses 7,000,000 sq.km. area , of which 5,500,000 sq.km. are covered by the Amazon forest. Four nations have their first-level administrative regions named as “ Amazonas “ , whereas France labelled its rainforest protected area as “ Guiana Amazonian Park “.  With 390 billion individual trees and 30 million people Amazon represents over half of the earth’s remaining rainforests and comprises the largest tropical rainforest of this planet. 

Largest Biodiversity :

       Biodiversity describes the differences and variations exist between all living beings : plants , microscopic bacteria , insects , animals etc. The balance between all the components of a biodiverse system helps to keep the ecosystem and its inhabitants healthy. The Amazon is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Over 3 million species live in the forest and over 2500 tree species help to create and sustain this vibrant ecosystem. 

Flora :

       These trees of the Amazon have special features that set them apart, for example from those of temperate forests. These adaptions include : thin bark , flowers and fruits that grow directly from the trunk , also known as cauliflory. And the development of large fruits that attract animals to consume them , also assists with the dispersal of seeds. There are five different types of growth forms that tropical plant species have come to utilize as combatants for survival. To combat the lack of sunlight and nutrient poor soil , plants have adapted to be able to compete. For example , some plants have taken to living off of the branches of trees in the various layers of the forest to gain an advantage. Another form of adaption is oily or waxy coating on their leaves to shed excesses water. Many of these plants take the form of vines ; there are over 2500 species like that , that grow in the forest. Plants like Venus fly trap and the pitcher plant can produce their own energy , but have also taken to carnivory. When opportunity strikes , they can digest insects and small mammals as an alternative to photosynthesis. Other plant species have given up on being autotrophs and have become heterotrophs , meaning they no longer use the process of photosynthesis to manufacture their food and instead use alternative methods. An example of heterotroph is saprophytes , which is a plant that receives its nutrients from organic decaying matter. The plant itself cannot break down the organic matter so instead forms a symbiotic relationship with certain fungi. This adaptive nature present in the rainforest is not only restricted to the flora – plant life , however , also include the fauna – animal and fungi life.

Fauna :

       Amazonia is inhabited by 125 mammal species , 400 species of birds , 100 of reptiles , 60 of amphibians and 150 different species of butterflies. The jaguar , the biggest feline in the Americas , is at the top of the food chain in the jungle. The tapir , one of the animals the jaguar feeds off of , is the largest herbivore in the Amazon rainforest and it is a very ancient mammal. Their nose represents an elephant trunk. They eat very often , but do not digest food. Because of this the Tapir became a major player in the dissemination of plants in the Amazon region. The Anaconda , one of the longer and heavier snakes in the world could be found in Amazon. It is not poisonous but it hunts by entrapping the victim and coiling itself around it , crushing it. The anaconda is one of the highlights of the Amazon rainforest fauna. Some species of animal can be found in no other place in the world. The Pink River Dolphins of the Amazon are of pale pink colour , and are different from other dolphins in that it has a flexible neck , which allows it to move its head left and right. They were able to adopt to the water , because before the Andes formed , the river moved from east to west , and once the movement of tectonic plates occurred , the Andes rose and the river moved from west to east , which cause the fresh and salt water to mix , and over time the dolphins adapted. The insect population thrives in the Amazon. Adaptions include large pinchers that are large in size. Leaf – cutter ants are responsible for harvesting a sixth of the area’s leaves , bringing leaf fragments to their underground nests. 7500 species of butterflies in the Amazon basin are evolving at very different rates .

Largest Store of Natural Medicines :

       Indigenous people make up 9% of the total population with 60 of the groups remaining largely isolated. For millions of years , mankind has used insects and plants as the source of medicine. The indigenous tribe Yanomamo used plants for the treatment of several diseases for thousands of years , and in the modern western medicine , many of their findings have been applied. Researchers have pointed out that only 0.5% of the plant species of Amazon have been studied for their medicinal properties. Amazon may hold natural remedies for some of the many diseases of today.

Largest Source of Climate Control :

       The Amazon rainforest is responsible for 75 % of its own rainfall that feeds the nearby rivers through evapotranspiration. Researchers have asserted that rainfall in the Amazon not only affects the climate of South America but also influences the rainfall of Central and Western United States. Amazon forest exchanges tonne of water with the surrounding atmosphere and controls the local and regional climates. The water in the river flows in the ocean that maintains the ocean currents and thus controls the regional climate.

Largest Store of Carbon :

       The Amazon rainforest contains 390 billion trees that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thus prevents the global warming. Amazon forest contains over one third of all the carbon stores ( 86 billion tonnes ) in the world.

Best Place for Ecotourism :  

       The Amazon is one of the best place for ecotourism. Nowadays , $11.6 million dollar USD per year profit is made on Amazon ecotourism which not only benefits the local economy but it also educates people about the importance of conserving forests , The revenue made by the ecotourism is injected to the local people for their betterment of life. 

Preservation of World’s Largest Rainforest Amazon :

    While we proudly celebrate the International Day of Forests on March 21 every year , it is our duty to preserve the forests and save the lives of the trees for saving the human world.    Deforestation , exploitation in the Amazon rainforest due to agriculture , construction of infrastructures such as roads or dams , mining activities , urbanization leads to the destruction of biodiversity. By destroying the forests , human activities are putting the entire ecosystems in danger and placing life at threat. Soil erosion is one of the consequences of deforestation. Deforestation also leads to the climate change and contributes to the greenhouse effect. In 2019, there have been 72,843 fires in Brazil with record number of fires in the Amazon region results in the destruction of trees and biodiversity . In Brazilian Amazon , deforestation rose more than 88% in 2019 compared to 2018. Many programs and projects have been already implemented by the Government of Brazil to balance economic growth with the preservation of the Amazon rainforest. To lessen future loss of forests we must increase and sustain the productivity of farms , pastures , plantations and scrub-land in addition to restoring species and ecosystems to degraded habitats. By reducing wasteful land-use practices , consolidating gains on existing cleared lands and improving already developed lands we can diminish the need to clear additional rainforest. Measures have been taken in restoring the endangered and extinct animals. The extension of protected areas within the Amazon region is a key to maximizing survival of biodiversity. Sustainable development should be considered an underlying philosophy to be applied via policy to various agents and industries involved in the use and development of rainforest lands and resources.  

       Amazon rainforest is so large and diverse because of the climate change induced fragmentation and geographic isolation . Today , scientists believe that biological influences are more of the cause of the species evolution. Due to the fact that the Amazon rainforest is so huge , much of the wildlife has yet to be discovered. There are million of species out there that are completely unknown to the world. This shows the largeness and diversity of the Amazon rainforest. We should work hard to preserve the forests of our planet.

By Priyanka Basu, Chandannagar , Hooghly

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