Last Updated 05 Mar 2020

Natural Resources and Energy in the Rainforests

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The beauty, majesty, and timelessness of a primary rainforest is indescribable. It is impossible to capture on film, to describe in words, or to explain to those who have never had the awe-inspiring experience of standing in the heart of a primary rainforest. Rainforests have evolved over millions of years to turn into the incredibly complex environments they are today. Rainforests represent a store of living and breathing renewable natural resources that for eons, by virtue of their richness in both animal and plant species, have contributed a wealth of resources for the survival and well-being of humankind.

These resources have included basic food supplies, clothing, shelter, fuel, spices, industrial raw materials, and medicine for all those who have lived in the majesty of the forest. However, the inner dynamics of a tropical rainforest is an intricate and fragile system. Everything is so interdependent that upsetting one part can lead to unknown damage or even destruction of the whole. Sadly, it has taken only a century of human intervention to destroy what nature designed to last forever. The scale of human pressures on ecosystems everywhere has increased enormously in the last few decades.

Since 1980 the global economy has tripled in size and the world population has increased by 30 percent. Consumption of everything on the planet has risen- at a cost to our ecosystems. In 2001, The World Resources Institute estimated that the demand for rice, wheat, and corn is expected to grow by 40% by 2020, increasing irrigation water demands by 50% or more. They further reported that the demand for wood could double by the year 2050; unfortunately, it is still the tropical forests of the world that supply the bulk of the world's demand for wood.

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In 1950, about 15 percent of the Earth's land surface was covered by rainforest. Today, more than half has already gone up in smoke. In fewer than fifty years, more than half of the world's tropical rainforests have fallen victim to fire and the chain saw, and the rate of destruction is still accelerating. Unbelievably, more than 200,000 acres of rainforest are burned every day. That is more than 150 acres lost every minute of every day, and 78 million acres lost every year! More than 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest is already gone, and much more is severely threatened as the destruction continues.

It is estimated that the Amazon alone is vanishing at a rate of 20,000 square miles a year. If nothing is done to curb this trend, the entire Amazon could well be gone within fifty years. Massive deforestation brings with it many ugly consequences-air and water pollution, soil erosion, malaria epidemics, the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the eviction and decimation of indigenous Indian tribes, and the loss of biodiversity through extinction of plants and animals. Fewer rainforests mean less rain, less oxygen for us to breathe, and an increased threat from global warming.

But who is really to blame? Consider what we industrialized Americans have done to our own homeland. We converted 90 percent of North America's virgin forests into firewood, shingles, furniture, railroad ties, and paper. Other industrialized countries have done no better. Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil, and other tropical countries with rainforests are often branded as "environmental villains" of the world, mainly because of their reported levels of destruction of their rainforests.

Why should the loss of tropical forests be of any concern to us in light of our own poor management of natural resources? The loss of tropical rainforests has a profound and devastating impact on the world because rainforests are so biologically diverse, more so than other ecosystems (e. g. , temperate forests) on Earth. Consider these facts: •A single pond in Brazil can sustain a greater variety of fish than is found in all of Europe's rivers. •A 25-acre plot of rainforest in Borneo may contain more than 700 species of trees a number equal to the total tree diversity of North America.

A single rainforest reserve in Peru is home to more species of birds than are found in the entire United States. •One single tree in Peru was found to harbor forty-three different species of ants - a total that approximates the entire number of ant species in the British Isles. •The number of species of fish in the Amazon exceeds the number found in the entire Atlantic Ocean. The biodiversity of the tropical rainforest is so immense that less than 1 percent of its millions of species have been studied by scientists for their active constituents and their possible uses.

When an acre of tropical rainforest is lost, the impact on the number of plant and animal species lost and their possible uses is staggering. Scientists estimate that we are losing more than 137 species of plants and animals every single day because of rainforest deforestation. Surprisingly, scientists have a better understanding of how many stars there are in the galaxy than they have of how many species there are on Earth.

Estimates vary from 2 million to 100 million species, with a best estimate of somewhere near 10 million; only 1. million of these species have actually been named. Today, rainforests occupy only 2 percent of the entire Earth's surface and 6 percent of the world's land surface, yet these remaining lush rainforests support over half of our planet's wild plants and trees and one-half of the world's wildlife. Hundreds and thousands of these rainforest species are being extinguished before they have even been identified, much less catalogued and studied.

The magnitude of this loss to the world was most poignantly described by Harvard's Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson over a decade ago: "The worst thing that can happen during the 1980s is not energy depletion, economic collapses, limited nuclear war, or conquest by a totalitarian government. As terrible as these catastrophes would be for us, they can be repaired within a few generations. The one process ongoing in the 1980s that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly that our descendants are least likely to forgive us for. " Yet still the destruction continues.

If deforestation continues at current rates, scientists estimate nearly 80 to 90 percent of tropical rainforest ecosystems will be destroyed by the year 2020. This destruction is the main force driving a species extinction rate unmatched in 65 million years. As human beings continue on the quest to find more efficient and economical ways of creating a better life, the world at large is feeling the effects. Searching for new land to build and to grow crops on has created a predictable disturbance to the biogeochemical cycle in rainforests.

The biogeochemical chemical cycles in a rainforest rotates through both the biological and the geological world, this can be described as the biogeochemical process. Of course a rainforest takes hundreds of thousands of years to become lush and tropical, while it takes big business a matter of hours to demolish the land and begin building, farming or drilling oil wells on. The plants and animals in rain forest either remain undiscovered, become extinct or are lost to the destruction of the heavy machinery used to clear the land.

This has an immense effect on the biogeochemical cycles in the rainforest. Reservoirs are affected and the trees of tropical rain forests are unable to bring water up from the forest floor that would naturally be evaporated into the atmosphere. This is a cycle that is necessary for the whole planet. Oxygen is released into the atmosphere by autotrophs during photosynthesis and taken up by both autotrophs and heterotrophs during respiration. In fact, all of the oxygen in the atmosphere is biogenic; that is, it was released from water through photosynthesis by autotrophs.

It took about 2 billion years for autotrophs (mostly cyanobacteria) to raise the oxygen content of the atmosphere to the 21% that it is today; this opened the door for complex organisms such as multicellular animals, which need a lot of oxygen. (McShaffrey, 2006) This is typically the responsibly of trees in a rainforest to carry chemicals from the land into the atmosphere. Human beings are having a major impact on this action being completed.

During the clearing of these rainforests, humans burn the area to be excavated and the carbon cycle in the area is then disrupted. Fossil fuels release into the atmosphere excess carbon dioxide. More carbon dioxide is then released into the air and the oceans eventually causing a common condition called global warming. Global warming simply means that the carbon dioxide produced in the atmosphere is permitting more energy to reach the Earth’s surface from the sun than is escaping from the Earth’s surface into space.


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