The tropical rainforest has three layers. The forest floor is home to insects and large mammals and has poor soil content. The understory contains small mammals such as anteaters and lemurs. Vegetation found in the understory consists of small trees and shrubs. The canopy has trees that can reach heights of 200 feet. Birds, monkeys, and snakes can be found there.
Why are rainforests important? According to the United States Academy of Sciences, "A typical patch of rainforest, just 2.3 miles square, contains as many as 1,500 species of flowering plants, up to 750 species of trees, 400 species of birds, 150 kinds of butterflies, 100 different types of reptiles, 60 species of amphibians. The number of insects is so great that no one has been able to count them, but there may be as many as 42,000 species in as small an area." Many medicines are made from plants that grow in the rainforest. Cocoa, which is used to make chocolate, grows in the rainforest. Oranges, lemons, and grapefruit grow in the rainforest. Besides being used for food and medicine, these plants convert carbon dioxide to oxygen.
Everyone has heard that the rainforest is in trouble, but do they know why? There are more than just loggers causing problems in South America. There are problems in rainforests all over the world. Consider, for instance, non-native animals introduced to fragile habitats. These animals have caused problems on the Galapagos Islands. Goats and pigs were brought to the islands because explorers needed food to eat. The explorers let the goats and pigs roam the islands and fend for themselves. The goats then ate bushes and grasses that the tortoises needed to survive. Pigs destroyed eggs and young birds on the ground. This upset the natural balance of the Galapagos island. What do you think of when you think about farming? Farming in South America, especially around rain forests, is probably different than what most people consider to be "normal" farming. Farmers in South America are poor and they don't have a lot of fancy machinery. Farmers cut down trees to grow crops even though the soil is not good in the rain forest. Even if the soil is fertile, it is only good for two or three years because of flooding and erosion. The trees are no longer there to keep the soil in place. Another problem with farming has to do with cattle being raised for fast food restaurants. The farmers log the land to make room for the cattle to graze on.
Logging is one of the biggest problems facing the rain forests today. Modern technology has increased the logging speed and its destruction. A report of the United Nations states that, "At the present rate of destruction, all accessible tropical rain forests will have disappeared by the end of this century." Every year, 10 to 12 million acres of forest are completely destroyed. This means that 30 to 50 acres are logged every minute of every day. Logging destroys animal habitat, creates soil erosion, and breaks the food chain. How can we help? First of all, don't buy furniture made of hardwoods such mahogany, teak, and ebony because that wood probably came from the rainforest. We can also boycott fast food restaurants that serve beef that was raised in the rain forest. There are organizations that organize boycotts and you can help by supporting them financially. You can adopt an acre of rain forest. By visiting the rain forest, you can actually help out, because tourism discourages poachers and illegal loggers.
To find out more and learn how you can help, look at the following sites or visit your local library:
Rainforest Action Network
The Tropical Rainforest Coalition
"Buckaroo and Tofu"
Malasian Box Turtle
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