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  • RAINFORESTS

    WHY THEY'RE IMPORTANT AND

    WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP

  • CONTENTS

    RAINFOREST FACTS

    Tropical rainforests where and what are they?

    Why are rainforests so important?

    Why are rainforests being cut down?

    Rainforest animals

    HOW CAN YOU HELP SAVE THE RAINFOREST?

    Sponsor your own acre of tropical rainforest

    Fundraising ideas

    Other ways to help the rainforest

    CLASSROOM AND HOME ACTIVITIES

    RAINFOREST BOOKLIST

    Useful links

  • RAINFOREST FACTS

    TROPICAL RAINFORESTS: WHERE AND WHAT ARE THEY?

    Tropical rainforests cover approximately 8% of the worlds land surface -

    an area of approximately 1.2 billion hectares - and yet contain over half

    of the earths species of animals and plants. The largest rainforest, the

    Amazon, is found in South America and spans nine nations (Brazil, Bolivia,

    Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana),

    covering a total area of approximately 600 million hectares.

    Tropical rainforests are found across the world between the Tropic of

    Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer, 22.5 north and 22.5 south of the

    Equator. Approximately 50% of the remaining tropical rainforest is found

    in tropical America, 35% in Asia and Oceania, and 15% in Africa. The

    areas where rainforests occur experience a constant climate with high

    temperatures averaging 25C all year round, an average annual rainfall of

    at least 2 metres and up to 100% humidity. Some rainforests get as much

    as 10 metres of rain every year!

    The rainforest canopy is divided into four main layers: the emergent

    layer consists of the tallest trees (emergent trees) which can grow to

    heights of 70m. These trees act as a buffer, sheltering the lower trees

    from heavy rains. Beneath this layer is the main canopy of smaller trees

    which are intertwined with climbing vines and hold flowering plants, called

    epiphytes, on their branches. Below this is the understorey containing

    young saplings and shrubs. The final layer, the dark forest floor, contains

    only a few plants, as only 2% of the sunlight reaches this layer of the

    forest, making it difficult for plants to grow.

    There are three main types of rainforest: lowland, montane and

    mangrove.

  • Lowland rainforest

    This type of forest is found at elevations of up to 1000 metres within the

    tropical belt. Due to the high rainfall and constant warm temperatures,

    they provide the perfect environment for plants and animals and so

    contain a great diversity of life. Lowland rainforests contain the tallest

    trees of all the types of rainforest, with the largest variety of species.

    Montane rainforest

    Montane rainforests are found in

    mountainous areas within the tropical

    belt. At altitudes of 1000-2500 metres

    (lower montane) and 2500-3000

    metres (upper montane; also called

    cloud forests), these forests are

    usually cooler than lowland rainforests

    and are almost constantly dripping with

    moisture from the swirling clouds

    which engulf them. The trees in cloud

    forests do not grow as high as in

    lowland rainforests due to the cooler

    temperatures, but there are more

    ferns and epiphytic plants as these

    plants like moisture.

    Mangrove forest

    Found in coastal areas, mangrove forests like saltwater and can tolerate

    periods of drought in the dry season. Mangrove trees can reach heights

    of 25 metres and are supported by stilt-like roots which raise the tree

    above the water. Mangrove forests provide shelter for wildlife in coastal

    waters and river systems, and help to aerate and cleanse the water.

    Unfortunately, vast areas of this coastal forest are removed to make way

    for shrimp farms which supply foreign markets like ours.

    Cloud forest in Ecuador. Photo:

    Murray Cooper

  • WHY ARE RAINFORESTS SO IMPORTANT?

    Plants and animals

    Tropical rainforests took between 60 and 100 million years to evolve and

    are believed to be the oldest and most complex ecosystem on land,

    containing over 30 million species of plants and animals. That's half of the

    Earth's wildlife and at least two-thirds of its plant species!

    Because most tropical rainforests grow in warm and steamy environments,

    they contain a huge variety of plants. One hectare of lowland rainforest

    may contain 1000 trees with up to 300 species. Compare this to the UKs

    forests which are likely to have only 5-10 species per hectare: thats 30

    to 60 times more species in a hectare of rainforest! These plants in turn

    provide food and shelter for many rare animals that depend on the

    rainforest for their survival. There are many more thousands of

    rainforest plants and animals species still waiting to be discovered.

    Climate

    Rainforests store water like a huge sponge. In fact, the Amazonian basin

    alone contains about a fifth of the Earth's rainwater! Rainforest trees

    draw water from the forest floor and release it back in to the

    atmosphere in the form of swirling mists and clouds.

    Without rainforests continually recycling a huge quantity of water which

    feeds rivers, lakes and irrigation systems, droughts would become more

    common, potentially leading to widespread famine and disease.

    Did you know that we also depend on trees to cleanse our atmosphere?

    They absorb the carbon dioxide that we exhale, and provide the oxygen

    we need to breathe. When trees are burned they release carbon dioxide,

    which pollutes the atmosphere and contributes to global warming.

    Even though we depend on trees in this way, we are still removing forests

    from the planet at a faster rate than they can grow back.

  • Prevention of soil erosion

    Surprisingly, soil in the rainforest is very poor in nutrients. This is

    because the nutrients are stored in the vast numbers of trees and plants

    rather than in the soil. Tree roots bind the soil together, while the

    canopy protects the soil from heavy rains. When a tree dies and its trunk

    falls to the forest floor, it decays and the nutrients it contains are

    recycled. However, if trees are removed from the forest, the nutrients

    are removed with it, along with the protection provided by the tree roots

    and the forest canopy. The unprotected soil then simply washes away in

    heavy rains, causing blockages and floods in lowland rivers, while leaving

    upland rivers dry.

    Home for indigenous people

    Many indigenous people have been living in harmony with the rainforest

    for thousands of years, depending on it for food, shelter and medicines.

    When oil and logging companies come to remove vast areas of forest, they

    bring diseases which the indigenous people have no resistance to,

    threatening their survival. Often they are also forced to move away from

    their homes to unfamiliar places.

    Rainforest pharmacy

    It may surprise you to know that more than 25% of our modern medicines

    originate from tropical forest plants. Even so, we have only learned how

    to use 1% of these amazing plants, so imagine the potential of the other

    99%!

    For example, the rosy periwinkle, found in Madagascar, is used to cure

    leukaemia, while the anti-malarial drug quinine is taken from the bark of

    the Andean cinchona tree. The rauvolfa shrub found in Asian and African

    forests is used to treat high blood pressure and mental illness.

    Rainforests could hold the cure to many more diseases if we would only

    look after them.

  • Other important forest products

    Many foods we consume today such as nuts, bananas, coffee and spices,

    and industrial products such as rubber, resins and fibres, were originally

    found in tropical rainforests.

    WHY ARE RAINFORESTS BEING CUT DOWN?

    In the past 50 years, much of the rainforest in Africa and Asia has been

    destroyed. It is estimated that 1% of the worlds rainforest (an area

    approximately the size of England and Wales) is being cut down every

    year the equivalent of 4 football pitches every minute. Unfortunately

    this means that there is a very high rate of extinction, as the wildlife

    depending on the forest dies with it. The principal reasons why

    rainforests are being destroyed are explained below.

    Cattle ranching

    Many rainforests in Central and South America have been burnt down to

    make way for cattle farming, which supplies cheap beef to the USA,

    China and Russia. It is estimated that for each pound of beef produced,

    200 square feet of rainforest are destroyed. In the past 20 years, Costa

    Rica has lost the majority of its forests to beef cattle ranching. Cutting

    and burning forest for agriculture is known as slash-and-burn and is

    believed to account for 50% of rainforest destruction. However, the land

    cannot be used for long: the soil is of poor quality and, without the

    forest, quickly becomes very dry. The grass often dies after only a few

    years and the land becomes a crusty desert. The cattle farmers then

    have to move on to create new cattle pastures.

    Indigenous people also use slash-and-burn, but on a small scale. For

    centuries they have used a sustainable system where, when they finish

    using one small patch of land, t