Lesser known facts
0. It’s true that when we hear the biome ‘rainforest’, our mind takes us to South American landscapes, with green-hued images filled with vibrant wild animals. Nonetheless, it is an often-overlooked fact that rainforests exist on every continent but Antarctica, and thus, are not always tropical in nature. Temperate rainforests, found in countries like Canada, New Zealand, and Bulgaria, have similar damp conditions as their tropical counterparts, and are not often acknowledged or thought about in the same way.
1. Likewise, specific criteria must be met in order to be considered a rainforest. Geographically, tropical rainforests exist between 0 to 23.5 degrees latitude in either direction from the Equator. Accordingly, these zones are categorized by a much hotter climate and high humidity levels. Principally, a region can only be classified as one if it receives over 150 cm of annual precipitation. However, when distinguishing between temperate and tropical rainforests, the latter receives up to 2.5 times more rain than the former. Both types of biomes have epiphytes, which are plants that grow above the land. In temperate situations, they include ferns and moss versus the orchids or bromeliads in tropical conditions.
2. Disregarding their specific differences, both sets of rainforests are incredibly intricate in their construction. It is through their unique presence of multi-layered components: the forest floor, the understory, the canopy and the emergent, that makes the ecosystem so distinctive. Within and between each level, a variety of flora and fauna mingle and co-exist. While each level is the recipient of a different proportion of light, water and air, they are simultaneously independent and symbiotic with one another.
3. Compared to all other ecosystems in the world, tropical rainforests hold a high percentage of biodiversity. Well over 50% of the world’s living plant and animals live in one. When keeping in mind that only 6% of the world’s land mass is comprised of the unique features necessary to become a rainforest, this figure is even more shocking. What’s more is the differentiation between similar animal categories. Taking primates into account, we can see that there is large variation between and within those that exist in South America, African and Asian rainforests respectively. While howler and spider monkeys thrive in Central and South America, one would find gibbons or orangutans in Asia. Within Africa, the chimpanzees and gorillas found on the mainland are distinct from the lemurs that populate Madagascar.
4. Throughout the decades, film directors and animators have created art that depicts a stereotypical nature of tropical rainforests. It is not uncommon to see cartoon monkeys or large snakes as main characters in plots. Moreover, the tropes of uneducated tribal folks and the hazards of these mystical ecosystems often overshadow their immense and overwhelming natural beauty. Some cartoons, such as the Australian FernGully have attempted to highlight the importance of conserving these environments. However, most issues with conservation are dealt with in real-time news stories.
5. As wonderful as rainforests sound, there are imminent dangers to their wellbeing. A major player in the demise of this precious ecosystem is deforestation. Thousands of acres of land are being clear-cut to create space for cultivation purposes. In particular, these areas are being used primarily as grazing areas for cattle or for raising crops, like soy. Equally, logging for raw materials is also contributing to the rapid destruction of these tree-filled areas. It is through the loss of these trees, that we can see an increase in soil erosion and the loss of animal life.
6. A question that often arises in people’s minds when they learn about the devasting loss of biodiversity is “Why is nothing being done to protect them?” While the protection and the conservation of rainforests is a valid sentiment, it is met with the denial of its need by those in charge. To best illustrate this apathetic viewpoint, let’s look at some statistics from the Amazon rainforest. As 60% of the Amazon lies in Brazil, this country had set a goal to reduce its annual forest loss to under 4000km by 2020. However, upon a shift in presidential power in 2018, Brazil saw some of the highest levels of deforestation in recent history, with over 7500 km of tree loss for mining and agriculture in that year alone.
7. At the going rate of change, it is difficult to remain positive and optimistic that our grandchildren and future descendants will see the rainforests in their lifetime. With callous political agendas that counteract their survival, immediate action must take place on a global level. Some conservation strategies that have been discussed are the installation of protected areas to prevent deforestation and species preservation for endangered and threatened wildlife. That said, smaller and localized efforts such as blacklisting companies that use materials from these forests or promoting ethically farmed soy or beef can also be a means to an end. Regardless of the level of action taken, an all-hands on deck approach is crucial.