Rainforests host over 80% of terrestrial plant, animal and insect species known to man. The Brazilian Atlantic rainforest is one of the five most diverse places on Earth, with a large population of endemic species -found nowhere else. There are many different host ecosystems: mangrove swamps, oceanic islands plus deciduous, araucaria and coastal forests.
Rainforests: past and present
Lying on the Earth’s tropics, consistent humid conditions have allowed biota to evolve and diversify in a favourable environment. These biodiversity hotspots have developed into self-sustaining mature ecosystems.
The immense species development is also governed by the species-area relationship. The larger the area, the more total species present due to more available resources. 500 years ago, the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest covered 1.3 square kilometres. Today, it covers just 8.5% of this.
Since the mid-20th century, rainforest loss has occurred exponentially. In 2018, 3.6 million hectares was lost from the Amazon rainforest, an area equivalent to the size of Belgium. 2017 was the second-worst year on record for most rainforest loss ever; one football pitch sized area was lost each second.
The underlying benefits the rainforest provides:
The importance of processes such as regulated climate and pharmaceuticals from medicinal plants often go unrecognised. The remaining Atlantic Rainforest is highly-fragmented. Large, connected areas have been divided into smaller, isolated fragments through deforestation. The fertile land left dries becoming desert– as plants that shaded soil are removed. The reduced carbon storage from tree loss contributes to 12% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate regulation involving cloud formation and carbon storage in trees prevents desertification and increased global warming effects. In addition, 70% of 3000 plants endemic to the rainforest recovered by the U.S. Cancer Institute had possible chemotherapeutic properties. The compound, vincristine, can be isolated from the Madagascan periwinkle (Vinca Rosa) used in cancerous lymphoma/tumor treatment. Plant species with medicinal potential may be destroyed before ever being discovered.
Therefore, all individuals are affected by deforestation to an extent, rainforests being responsible for reducing the global warming effect and beneficial to maintaining human health. Individuals across the world can make a difference by choosing the more sustainable option.
Unsustainable rainforest resources we use:
We face trade-offs everyday; either choosing the immediate, easily-available option or the long-term option more beneficial to society. For example, supermarkets likely stock palm oil products. This includes cosmetics, soap, body creams and foods including packaged bread, chocolate and margarine. WWF’s palm oil scorecard found UK retailers stocking certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) products include Boots, M&S, Morrisons and Sainsburys.
However, even CSPO is sourced from deforestation and not purely plantations; Iceland manager Richard Walker explains, therefore refusing to stock palm oil products. Sustainable alternatives include palm oil-free products. By choosing sustainable local/palm oil-free products instead of the easily-available option in supermarkets you can indirectly help preserve the rainforest.
Further choices YOU can make
Currently, in the UK, 78% of paper is recycled, higher than the European average 70.4%. However, deforestation is still used for paper manufacture. Responsibly sourced products include Kleenex/Purex recycled toilet paper with the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) stamp. Buying recycled/second-hand gold reduces demand for rainforest mining which destroyed over 170,000 acres of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest from 2013-2018. Recycled gold has no degradation in quality either. Small lifestyle changes made through well-informed decisions can help reduce deforestation effects. As individuals we often feel helpless when we are geographically distant. However, changes made now will preserve rainforests for the next generation and we can continue to live with the natural benefits they provide.
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