Flavie Ioos provides a series of compelling arguments on why you should give more than a passing thought to the destruction of rainforests; how you are both directly and indirectly affected – part one of two.
Never has deforestation of tropical rainforests been more at the heart of preoccupations; Their extinction could pose a terrible threat not only to biodiversity, but to carbon sequestation in the fight against climate change and to indigenous tribes who consider rainforests as their home and shelter. However, this does not stop companies and nations to continue this destruction. Tropical rainforests have overcome multiple ice age crisis’, but will they overcome us?
First things first: do you know what tropical rainforests are exactly? They are defined as a warm, moist terrestrial biome with a tree canopy. They are found close to the equator, have an annual rainfall of about 400 inches a year and constantly warm temperatures – meaning that the forests do not freeze. They are host to ⅔ of the world’s biodiversity, but are facing a major extinction threat.
Warning systems exist to alert us to natural catastrophes such as tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes; but there are few indicators for biodiversity loss, especially as many species go extinct before we have even discovered them. But is it still more important to protect against natural catastrophes, than it is preventing the destruction of biodiversity? or are they one and the same?
Never has nature been more threatened than it is right now. It is thought that the rate at which species are going extinct is 1,000 times higher than before humans began to dominate Earth. We are currently in what is called the ‘sixth extinction period’, which could be causing more harm to biodiversity than the meteorite which caused the extinction of dinosaurs.
But, how is this linked to the destruction of tropical rainforests, you say? Well, tropical rainforests contain more than half of the terrestrial species, and are known to be the most biological rich of all Earth’s biomes. They contain ⅔ of the world’s biodiversity, but only cover 10% of Earth’s land surface; which makes them a scarce and valuable resource.
However, tropical rainforests also represent the most degrade biome, meaning that one of the greatest biological heritage of the world is threatened by extinction. Modification of habitat is thought to be the most detrimental of all anthropogenic activities to fauna and flora in tropical forests.
This heart-breaking video, of an orangutan trying to stop the digger from destroying its home is likely to affect you, and may make you want to reconsider your choices as a consumer. Palm oil is widely used in manufactured products, ranging from biscuits to cosmetics, and its biggest trader Wilmar International has suppliers who are actively contributing to deforestation of the Indonesian rainforest. It is having dramatic impacts on biodiversity: a well-known victim of rainforest deforestation is the orangutan: Did you know we lose about 25 orangutans each day?
Another victim of rainforest deforestation is the white-cheeked spider monkey, which lives within the Amazon forest and feeds on fruits high in the forest canopy. There is a high probability that it will face extinction, mainly because of the conversion of land for farming and road building. Many other species face extinction, such as the Brazilian bare-faced tamarin which has seen its population halve over the last 18 years.
Rainforest Provided Services
The whole biodiversity found in tropical rainforests gives us a myriad of services, which are not always acknowledged by general public. A wide range of such services exists, which include provisions in drug ingredients and prevention of flooding. Tropical rainforest can be considered as the gold mine of pharmacologists, being sometimes the only source of crucial drug ingredients. For example, the leaves from the rosy periwinkle plant – native from Madagascar – contains precious alkaloids, effective in fighting lymphocytic leukaemia and Hodgkin’s Disease.
Tropical rainforests can also prove to be of a great help when it comes to agriculture. An experiment in Costa Rica showed that bees living in a tropical forest next to a coffee plantation were of a great use. Indeed, their pollination services enabled farmers to have a better yield, and were estimated to have a value of $60,000 per year.
So it’s time to really stop and think more about these beautiful ancient, forests and how our lifestyle choices are indriectly causing their destruction.
About the Author: Flavie Ioos is a second year biology student at Cardiff University. She has a particular interest in environmental and health issues, and just started her own Facebook page ‘Healthy and Eco-Friendly me‘.
Image Credit: All photos taken by Heidi Cohen (@heidi_elena_photography)