Described as “The Lungs of the Planet”, the Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest natural resource being a key player in what the health of our planet is concerned. Also known as the Amazon Jungle or Amazonia, this tropical rainforest covers a vast area that comprises the biggest part of the Amazon basin. The Amazon rainforest is named after the Amazon River which is its source of life and the second longest river in the world.
This moist broadleaf forest produces about 20% of the oxygen we get on Earth and is home to the highest level of biodiversity. This is what makes the Amazon rainforest so important. Amazonia occupies 1,4 billion acres of the Amazon basin representing half of the planet’s tropical rainforests. It is contained within the French Guiana, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Suriname, Bolivia and Brazil.
It is believed that the Amazon tropical rainforest formed during the Eocene era when the Atlantic Ocean became wide enough to provide moist and warm climate to the Amazon basin. The water of the Amazon River and its numerous tributaries drain into the tropical rainforest. Every time it rains, the water falls into the Amazon basin and thus into the rainforest. And this only makes the biodiversity here be unparalleled.
The Amazon tropical rainforest is home to the largest collection of living animal species and plants. It’s where one in ten known species on Earth lives. About 2,5 million insect species are to be found in these tropical rainforests. Besides them, there are around 378 reptiles, 427 mammals, 2,200 fishes, 428 amphibians and 1,295 birds. Amazonia is the place with the highest biodiversity of plant species since one square kilometer contains more than a thousand plant species and types of trees. Thanks to the rich vegetation, the carbon dioxide is constantly recycled into oxygen.
Among the animals that live in the Amazon tropical forests, there’s the cougar, the jaguar, the black caiman, the poison dart frog, vampire bats and others. There are four layers or communities that form the rainforest. Each of them has its own plants, ecosystems and animals that are adapted to that specific system.
Trees 200 feet tall that rise above the canopy form the tallest layer. Their small leaves are covered by a waxy surface that helps them hold the water and their trunks can reach 16 feet around. Even if Amazonia rainforests have such a biodiversity, the tallest trees actually grow in a very poor soil. There are animals that live only in this layer having here everything they need to survive.
Then, there’s the canopy which is the most important layer where the drip tips of the trees’ oval leaves allow the water to flow off the leaves. This way, the growth of mosses, lichens and fungi is prevented. The leaves in this layer are so dense that they filter 80% of the sunlight. The canopy is home to many fruits, flowers and creatures.
Next is the understory which is very hot and damp and where the air is very still. The plants here aren’t higher than 12 feet and one can see the ginger, the passion flower, many butterfly and bird species, monkeys, leopards, jaguars, tree frogs, toucans and parrots.
The lowest layer is the ground layer where there are almost no plants because of the low quality of the soil. This layer is quite gloomy and dark since almost no sunlight gets here. The ground is covered with decomposing vegetation and organisms. These are broken down in usable nutrients. Among the creatures inhabiting the forest floor, there are beetles, lizards, frogs, snakes, scorpions and earthworms that turn the decomposing organisms and vegetation into a food source.
The average temperature is around 79° F and the amount of rain is the same throughout the year. There’s a humid and warm climate and the difference of temperature between night and day time is greater than the one between seasons.
The Amazon tropical rainforest contains somewhere between 90 and 140 billion metric tons of carbon. Thus, the rainforest stabilizes not only the local climate but the global one, too. Unfortunately, 20% of the rainforest has been destroyed and if deforestation goes on, we will have to deal with serious consequences around the world.
The land has been cleared because of human settlement and development. While some forests disappear because of deforestation, others are burned every day, which only leads to a greater loss. This way, 130 species of plants, insects and animals are lost daily and if things don’t get better in this matter, then it will take no more than 40 years for the remaining forests to be destroyed.
The Amazon tropical rainforest is also an important source of medicinal plants. A great number of these plants have been used by indigenous people as potions and cures for their health and as sources for new drugs for cancer, arthritis, AIDS, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
There are more than 30 million people from ethnic and indigenous groups living in Amazonia. Around 90 tribes have been destroyed in the last century and with their loss, a wealth of knowledge of medicinal plants has gone, too.