The Wet, Wild Woods
Each time, one steps into a forest, one has the feelings of having been there before. Regardless of the location and types of trees in the forests, a powerful awareness of its kinship with others around the globe arises. Forests are linked together by the same common thread-the profusion of ways in which they manage to construct communities of life under varying realities of existence. Yet each of them possesses a special and unique organisation all of its own, and remains vivid and separate in the recollection of the visitor.
One such memorable place is the South American tropical rainforest. Those who explore its green facade will find themselves lost in a green maze with unbranching trunks that soars upward, their crowns in the mist of the white clouds. Lianas and other vine creepers, some thicker than a man's body, hang like cables. The trees appear to be blooming with multitude of flowers, but most of the blossoms belongs to the aerial plants that live on the branches, wafting a heavy fragrance through the the forest when a breeze comes up.
Right: The last of these dangling "stranglers" on the tree. The National Park Board and Ministry of Environment of Singapore had initiated a "climber eradication programme" as these lianas threaten the lives of trees and retard their growth.
The impassable "jungle" of storybook legend is only found in rainforests that have been disturbed by humans or that borders stream courses and forest margins, permitting sunlight to enter and produce thick undergrowth. In undisturbed rainforests, the thick canopy of leaves deprive the penetration of sunlight even in the bright glaring mid-noon, thus suppressing most of the undergrowth. The forest aisles are relatively open between the colonnades of the trunks, and the visitor could stroll comfortably through the forests without having his feet being sunk into the thick heaps of rotting vegetation, as one would usually imagine. It only takes a few weeks for a fallen branch to decompose and disappear into the soils. Topsoil can be considered as non-existent since little humus accumulates and steady rainfall leaches out nutrients. In fact, most of the nutrients are far above the ground, on the branches.
Benny: "I stumbled over this fungi on a fallen tree in the MacRitche Nature Reserve in Singapore."
This is the land of no winter, where no splendour foliage fall can be witnessed, except for the changes of a very wet season to a dry one. Despite the apparent monotony, when the components of the forests are examined closely, they portray an extraordinary beauty and a bewildering variety of life. A survey conducted in a lowland forest of Peninsula Malaysia, on a 2 hectare plot, revealed more than 200 species of trees with diameters 0.3 metres or more. In a New England forest of the same size, perhaps only 10 species may be found. On the other hand, there are clusters of the same kind of trees in a tropical rainforest. For instance, you might not find another almendro that intrigues you with its magnificence for the next 1km.
The organisation of most rainforests is so complex that the German natural explorer Baron Alexander von Humboldt called it "a forest above a forest." If one were to divide the rainforest into different sections, increasing with height from ground, one would be able to discover that each section has its own unique "climate" that serves to accommodate its own insect and animal inhabitants.
Sad to say, the rainforest is rapid changing today. The continuous green belt that has been worn around the equator for more than 60 million years is now reduced to fragments that are subjected to the fate of disappearance by the end of this century. Its disappearing act will bring with it countless species that have existed with it to maintain a whole, complex, self-regulatory system for eons. The Amazon Basin alone supports the Earth's largest single ecosystem with an estimated 7 million square kilometres of tropical rainforest. But in one year alone, 1975, about 161000 square kilometres of it were cleared for development, mostly for beef cattle pasturage. At this rate, the rainforest will reach its grave in less than half a century.
Perhaps, we might only be able to catch glimpses of the remains of the wonderful rainforests in nature reserves, national parks, and conservation areas drafted out by some nations.
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