Rainforest ecosystem protection

Strategies for Effective Rainforest Ecosystem Protection

It’s important to talk about how to preserve the richness of rainforests, particularly by preserving their delicate ecosystem. It turns out that rainforest ecosystem protection is pretty important to all of us, even though we don’t live in the rainforest. Why? Because all ecosystems on earth are connected, so damage to one ecosystem is likely to harm all ecosystems. More specifically, though, rainforests provide a lot of unique benefits which cannot be found in other places. Losing the rainforest, therefore, will necessarily mean losing those benefits. Not a good thing.

 

Key Characteristics of the Rainforest Ecosystem

Before we talk about rainforest ecosystem preservation in detail, however, let’s briefly review some key characteristics of the rainforest ecosystem. First of all, rainforests are characterized by being very wet and very hot. How wet and how hot? They receive an average of 80-400 inches of rainfall each year, and the year-round temperatures average between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. For comparison, Boston, MA only receives 43 inches of precipitation per year (a mixture of rain and snow), and the average temperatures in Boston range from a low of 20 degrees Fahrenheit in January to a high of 82 degrees Fahrenheit in July. So, rainforests receive a lot more rainfall and are consistently a lot hotter than the weather we are accustomed to.

What else is special about the rainforest? The “forest” part, of course! A key feature of the rainforest is the fact that is has a “closed and continuous tree canopy,” which is a fancy way of saying that the trees form a kind of “roof” above the forest that blocks out a good fraction of the sunlight from the lower parts of the forest.

 

The Importance of Rainforests

Because of this canopy, the rainforest itself is very humid and kind of dark, which is a perfect breeding ground for mushrooms and other fungi, as well as species from every one of the kingdoms in biology. In fact, more than half of all plant and wildlife species found on earth live only in the rainforest, and more than 25% of the world’s natural medicines were first discovered in the rainforest. This is true even though rainforests only cover approximately 8% of the earth’s surface (approximately 3 billion acres). This also means that if our efforts at rainforest ecosystem preservation fail, there is going to be a disproportionately negative effect on the whole planet.

So we understand that rainforests are important, but how can they affect all of us, especially if we live far away from the Amazon rainforest which is in South America? Well, it turns out that even though the biggest rainforest is the Amazon rainforest (approximately 1.4 billion acres), rainforests are actually found on six continents (every continent except for Antarctica)! This means that rainforests are a lot closer to you geographically than you might think. There is actually a rainforest called the “North American Inland Temperate Rainforest” that is found in parts of Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

 

How to Preserve Rainforests

Now that we understand a little bit more about rainforests, let talk about how to preserve them, and why we want to preserve them. In general terms, preserving ecosystems is important, because each ecosystem has unique climates and unique species that live in each ecosystem. Harming an ecosystem, therefore, necessarily harms the species that live in that ecosystem, and destroying an ecosystem completely can cause the species that live there to become extinct. Moreover, because ecosystems are interdependent – i.e., they depend on one another for survival – harming of one ecosystem is going to affect other ecosystems as well.

Specifically, for the rainforest, harm to its ecosystem will likely have a disproportionate impact on the world’s biodiversity, i.e., the numbers and types of different species on earth. This is because, as we mentioned above, more than 50% of the currently known plant and animal species are found only in rainforests. Moreover, rainforests help mitigate climate change in general, and harmful man-made effects on the climate in particular, through their ability to consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere. Some people have even referred to rainforests as the “earth’s lungs,” because of this important function.

How can we accomplish rainforest ecosystem preservation? Our strategies for doing this can be described as counteracting the main risks to the rainforest ecosystem, both through our individual actions as well as through policy and/or governmental change. Let’s briefly discuss the main risks that rainforest ecosystems face, and then we can discuss ways to mitigate those risks.

Risk 1:

Deforestation. Deforestation, or cutting down trees, destroys the tree canopy of the rainforest, which in turn destroys the delicate climate of the rainforest and the types of species that can safely live there. People cut down trees because there is a high demand for the wood, which is used for building things, for making paper, or as a source of fuel. People also may cut down trees of the rainforest because they want to use the land for other purposes, including building homes for people (a general problem because of overpopulation), raising cattle, or developing agriculture.

Risk 2:

Climate Change. Climate change, which has been occurring at an ever-increasing pace in recent years, harms rainforests. It harms rainforests because of extreme weather events, such as droughts and wildfires, that occur more frequently due to climate change. These extreme weather events destroy some of the trees of the rainforests, harming the tree canopy. Once this tree canopy is destroyed or partially destroyed, it becomes more difficult for other species to survive. Climate change also harms the rainforest because the global increase in temperature makes it hard for some species and people to survive. Moreover, people who are affected by such increases in temperature may be more likely to cut down some of the rainforest trees in order to survive.

Risk 3:

Invasive Species. Unfortunately, invasive species, which have generally been introduced to rainforests through human action, have had significant negative effects on the rainforest ecosystem. Examples of such invasive species include the black rat, which feasts on insects that find homes in the aftermath of deforestation, and the golden mussel, which forms large aggregates that prevent other species from moving around freely.

How can we help preserve the rainforest ecosystem? By taking actions to mitigate these risks, both at the individual and organizational levels.

Rainforest Ecosystem Strategy 1:

Stop cutting down trees. Individuals can help mitigate the risk of deforestation by limiting their purchases of products that require wood or paper. They can avoid single-use items and recycle items wherever possible, particularly items made from paper or wood. Moreover, individuals can choose to buy produce and meat from environmentally responsible sources, which generally means from manufacturers that are careful to limit deforestation, and can make sure that they use energy sources that do not require wood-burning sources.

Rainforest Ecosystem Strategy 2:

Fight climate change. Any actions that slow the rate of climate change also help with rainforest ecosystem preservation. In particular, avoiding single use items and recycling wherever possible limits deforestation and also limits global climate change. Moreover, limiting the use of nonrenewable energy sources (such as fossil fuels) and increasing the use of renewable energy sources (such as solar or geothermal energy) will also help mitigate climate change. Slowing climate change, in turn, will help both the rainforest ecosystem as well as all other ecosystems.

Rainforest Ecosystem Strategy 3:

Limit invasive species. Invasive species generally get introduced through human action, such as when people bring plants, seeds, or produce into new locations. This is why airlines often have rules that prevent passengers from transporting such items internationally, to prevent unintended spread of invasive species. Nonetheless, people often ignore these rules, and can unintentionally transport invasive species as a result. One way to help advance the cause of rainforest ecosystem preservation is to follow all of these rules, even if it is inconvenient, and thereby limit the spread of invasive species.

Government and regulatory agencies can have a broader impact, on limiting deforestation, on mitigating the effects of climate change, and on limiting the spread of invasive species. These agencies can make laws that limit people’s ability to cut down trees of the rainforest, and can work to enforce these laws through national and international efforts. Moreover, government policies can slow the rate of deforestation and climate change, and making and enforcing such policies is a crucial tool for rainforest ecosystem preservation. Such policies include those that encourage the use of clean energy, discourage the use of single-use items, support recycling, and limit the use of fossil fuels. Moreover, government policies are already in place that prevent people from transporting invasive species internationally; more enforcement of these policies is needed to ensure that they have the desired impact.

Overall, the rainforest ecosystem is phenomenally diverse, unique, and beneficial to everyone. It behooves all of us to work towards preserving this ecosystem, so that we can continue to benefit from its existence for many years to come!

 

 

Author: Mindy Levine

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