Science - Nature
By: - at June 27, 2015

15 Fascinating Facts about the Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon Rainforest is a forest that covers nearly all of the Amazon Basin in South America. This Basin equates to more than 2,700,000 square miles, and more than 2,100,000 square miles of that is covered in rainforest and natural life.

Amazonian Rainforest, Peru
Amazonian Rainforest
By Shao via Wikimedia Commons

The Amazon is in fact a territory that crosses nine countries, and most of the forest can be found in Brazil. It is thought that this huge rainforest was initially formed and began growing during the Eocene era, and was a result of the reduction in the temperatures of tropical areas on earth. Once the Atlantic Ocean had become wider enough to provide a warm and wet climate at the Amazon basin, trees began to flourish, creating the huge natural landscape that today provides us with the air that we breathe.

Amazon Rainforest, Brazil
Amazon Rainforest
By lubasi via Wikimedia Commons

This amazing part of the earth is home to a huge proportion of the wildlife and animals we know to exist on earth, and is one of the least explored places on the planet, due to the sheer size. We have listed the 15 most interesting facts about this natural wonder of planet Earth.


15)  There are Indigenous Tribes
In the Amazon, there are hundreds of indigenous tribes that still live and thrive there. These indigenous groups can be found across Southern America, and despite many still existing, a large amount have also disappeared or been driven away from their natural land by colonization, labor, war and other human activity.

tribal people

For a great deal of time, the rainforest was left untouched by the Western world for the first half of the 1900s. As soon as technology allowed, however, the Western world began exploring the rainforest and using the resources that were available, legally and illegally. The Amazon rainforest is used legally by many, but it is also the source of wood, drugs and other products from illegal dealers and traffickers.

rainforest tribal people

Today, there are more than 200 indigenous groups left within the vast rainforest, and among these tribes, more than 180 languages that we know of are spoken. Each tribe also has their own unique cultural heritage too. The cultural diversity in the rainforest is large, and combining it with the natural diversity of the place, it is one of the most culturally and biologically rich places on earth.


14)  The Emergent Layer
In the rainforest, the emergent layer is the very top layer where the minority of trees are able to reach. The canopy is found just below the emergent layer, as this is where most of the trees finish. Occasionally. One tree will have the nutrients and sunlight available to grow a little higher, and it is here that trees can grow as tall as a skyscraper. The tips of these trees appear much like umbrellas, stretching as wide as possible to obtain as much light as possible.

Emergent Layer

These trees are of course the ones that get the most light, which means that they are able to continue growing once they pass the canopy. However, due to the fact that they will also experience the most wind, the leaves will usually have a thick layer of wax surrounding them for protection.

Emergent Layer is What is Seen From Above
Emergent Layer

The emergent layer is also home to a number of animals. On this very top layer of the rainforest, it is not uncommon to find butterflies like the Blue Doctor, Brown Peacock, Blue Borpho and Tiger Swallowtail. As for birds, the Macaw, Harpy Eagle, Lovebirds and Blue Headed Parrots will frequent the branches of these incredibly tall trees.


13)  The Canopy
The canopy is the second-highest layer of the Amazon rainforest. This is the very top of the trees in the rainforest, not counting the few trees that manage to emerge through and create their own layer. This canopy creates a ‘roof’ over the rainforest, stopping most light from getting through and lighting up the rainforest floor. The canopy will often be as high as 100 feet, and it is the busiest part of the whole rainforest. It is here that trees will thrive, thanks to the copious amounts of light available. Flowers and fruit will grow here with ease thanks to the abundance of light, providing the perfect food for insects, birds, monkeys and a range of other animals.

canopy

The canopy has a number of purposes, one of which is protecting the ground from the rain. A very heavy shower will get to the ground, but otherwise, the animals and plants on the very bottom of the rainforest will stay dry.

View of the Canopy
Canopy
By lubasi via Wikimedia Commons

Most of the leaves on the trees in the canopy will be pointed. This is an evolutionary tactic, as it allows water to run off the tips of the leaves. This means that the leaves remain free of mold and relatively dry at all times.


12)  The Understory
The understory of the Amazon rainforest is where the air is still, and the atmosphere is hot and damp. This part of the rainforest can be found beneath the leaves, but not directly on the ground. This is the part of the rainforest where you will find the young trees, small plants and the many shrubs that just about manage to stay alive with such little amounts of light appearing through the canopy.

understory

Due to the lack of light in the understory, small plants use ingenious methods that have been developed through evolution in order to stay alive. The leaves on these plants are very large compared to the leaves of the taller trees, meaning that the plants can take in as much of the light as possible. Due to the lack of light and resources, however, it is rare that these plants ever grow more than 12 feet in height. However, should any of the larger trees die or fall, the gap in the canopy will allow for young trees to grow quicker and fill that space.

Many plants that we would consider houseplants, like the Prayer Plant, Zebra Plant and the Peace Lily will be found at this level in the rainforest. There is also a wealth of wildlife to be found in this part of the Amazon rainforest, including Poison Dart Frogs and Passion Vine Butterflies.

Prayer Plant
Prayer Plant
By Cliff via Wikimedia Commons


11)  The Forest Floor
The forest floor of the Amazon rainforest is the very ground of the rainforest. This is where the insects of the forest live, and where the dead plants and leaves fall. Regardless, the floor is far from crowded. Here, there is barely any sunlight at all, and it’s an incredibly warm and humid place throughout the year. Plants here won’t need much light to grow due to the nutrient rich soil, and the way that they have evolved.

Rainforest Floor, Daintree Rainforest, Queensland
Rainforest Floor
By Thomas Schoch via Wikimedia Commons

One of the largest trees that can grow from this soil is the Kapok tree, which is known to grow anywhere up to 200 feet tall. This kind of tree has developed a specific kind of roots, known at buttress roots. These roots can grow up to 15 feet tall, and the tree depends on them to survive. The roots are also necessary to ensure that the tree does not tip over when there are strong winds, due to the sheer height.

Ceiba or Kapok Tree in Honolulu
Kapok Tree
By Tbc via Wikimedia Commons

Also on the forest floor are a number of mammals, reptiles, snakes and other varieties of wildlife. As well as insects and bugs like army ants and scorpions, it is also common to find giant lily pads, Matamata turtles, anteaters, caimans and jaguars.





10)  The Pharmaceutical Value
The Amazon rainforest is often referred to as the pharmacy for the world, due to the fact that a great deal of our medicine has come from the biology of the Amazon rainforest.

Amazon Rainforest
Amazon Rainforest

Currently, the rainforests on earth provide around half of the medicines that we use. These don’t just include medicinal medicine, but also pharmaceutical, and for this reason, it’s immensely important that we take care of the rainforests and ensure that the biodiversity of life there can be maintained. It has been estimated that around 50,000 species per year are being lost in the rainforest due to human activity. This could potentially mean that we are missing out on the medicinal values of species that we don’t even know exist yet.

amazon
By Jorge.kike.medina via Wikimedia Commons

Today, around 90% of people living in the developing world rely on natural remedies for their medicine, and around 25% of prescriptions in the United States use ingredients that are taken directly from plants. We obtain most of these chemicals from the Amazon rainforest, giving the rainforest its title of ‘pharmacy for the world’.

Giant Leaf Frog - Tree Frogs are Most Threatened Species
giant leaf frog
By en:User:Cburnett via Wikimedia Commons


9)  The Temperature
The temperature of the Amazon rainforest can vary pretty wildly. During the daytime, the average temperature, throughout the year, is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the fact that this huge rainforest runs through nine separate South American countries, it is Brazil that is home to most of the forest. In Brazil, temperatures go as high as 90 degrees, but only on occasion reach as high as 100 degrees. Even though this is already very warm indeed, the humidity makes it feel even warmer.

amazon
By Neil Palmer via Wikimedia Commons

During the nighttime, the temperature can drop around 30 degrees Fahrenheit to roughly 50 degrees. It can also feel a lot cooler because of the frequent rainfall. Temperatures will be at their lowest during the winters, but being so close to the equator, the seasons do not affect the temperature of the rainforest an awful lot.


8)  It has a Specialized Ecosystem
The Amazon rainforest is a specialized ecosystem, and one of the most diverse ecosystems to exist on the earth – if not, the most diverse on the planet. The rainforests cover around 6% of the earth’s surface today, and to stay alive, there is a specialized ecosystem that ensures plants can grow and animals can live.

Rainforest Distribution
rainforest

The earth is rich in nitrates and nutrients, which means that plants are able to grow. When the rainforest first began, it was simply a collection of small plants that began growing due to the humidity and readily available nutrients, sunlight and water. As time went by, the trees grew taller, and the nutrients in the soil were replaced by the leaves dying, trees falling, rainfall bringing nutrients from other parts of the land, and indeed from dead animals and their feces.

Marching Army Ants
Marching Army Ants
By Smartse via Wikimedia Commons

This specialized ecosystem remains today, where everything that dies rots into the soil, thanks to the help of bacteria and insects, and the nutrients are recycled. The trees grow even taller from these nutrients, and the animals live off the leaves and fruits that are produced. All of this is maintained thanks to the regular rain in the rainforest. Without the water, the rainforest would simply shrivel up and die.


7)  It’s Huge!
One of the most mesmerizing facts about the rainforest is its size. The whole rainforest, spanning nine countries, is twice the size of India. It is thought that the rainforest spans roughly 6.7 square kilometers. The Amazon is also the largest remaining tropical rainforest in the whole world, and it has at least 10% of the biodiversity found on earth. This means that one in 10 animals, plants or insects on earth will originate or live in the Amazon, proving the area to be rich with life. This life includes not just animal life, but also flora and fauna.

Princess Flower
Princess Flower

In this huge mass of life, there are around 30 million people alive, and 9% of these are thought to be the indigenous tribes that we know to exist in these forests.

Jaguar
Jaguar
By en:User:Cburnett via Wikimedia Commons


6)  Glacial River Water Runs Through the Rainforest
The Amazon rainforest is not only home to biodiversity, but also to one of the largest rivers on earth. This huge river is classified as the second longest river in the world, but it has the largest water flow in the world. There are around 209,000 cubic meters of water flowing through the river every second. The Amazon River also has the largest drainage basin in the world, and here you will find 20% of all the river flow in the world.

amazon river
By Kmusser via Wikimedia Commons

The river has a number of systems stretches through Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. The furthest source of the river was first discovered in 1996, and it is a glacial stream found on the top of Nevado Mismi, in the Andes. Since then, scientists have agreed that the flow of the River Amazon is coming from a gradual glacial melt coming from the Peruvian Andes, which will continue for the foreseeable future. The official source of the Amazon is known as das Aguas.

Amazon River
Amazon River
By Chico75 via Wikimedia Commons

The mouth of the river, however, is often disputed. The mouth is where the river ends and meets a larger body of water, usually the ocean. The Amazon and the Para are connected by a number of channels, close to the town of Breves. The dispute over the mouth of the Amazon comes in the form of a measurement disagreement, as people cannot agree whether the mouth should be measured from Ponta do Tijoca to Cabo Norte. If this were the measurement, then the mouth would be 202 miles long. However, other scientists believe that the mouth of the river is in fact 110 miles wide, if it were to be measured from the Araguari River’s mouth to Ponta do Navio.


5)  It’s Always Raining
The Amazon rainforest experiences more rain throughout the year than any other place on earth. This huge amount of water allows for the huge trees to continue to grow, and to provide life for the rest of the wildlife found in the forest.

In the Amazon rainforest, there is no dry season. This means that there is rain throughout the year, and even if the temperatures change, the rainfall can be guaranteed. While there is certainly a season where it rains more, there is not a season where it doesn’t rain at all. In a good season for the Amazon, there will be between 60 and 180 inches of rainfall. However, in other seasons, there will be between 30 and 100 inches of precipitation.

Climate of Brazil
Climate of Brazil
By Alvares via Wikimedia Commons

The weather varies wildly across the rainforest, given that it is so large. The most rain can be expected in January through to May, and then during the summer months, precipitation will be about half as frequent. In places like Manaus, November to May will see the most rain, and here the water can rise up to 20 meters. Turning the rainforest into swamps, lakes and a generally inhospitable place for humans.

Manaus
Manaus
By CIAT via Wikimedia Commons

The regular downpour of water is essential for the rainforest, and this was shown to be absolutely true in 2005, when the rainforest had its worst drought in a century. This resulted in numerous forest fires, burning down the natural environment for animals, birds and insects, and in turn destroying large portions of the forests.


4)  Oxygen Production and Heat Absorption
One of the primary reasons why the rainforests are so important to humans is because of the supply of oxygen we receive from them. The rainforests are not only known as the pharmacy for the world, but also the lungs of the planet. The plants and trees in the rainforest breathe in the carbon dioxide that humans and animals breathe out, and release oxygen for us to breathe. This is called the clean air cycle, and more than 20 percent of the oxygen in the world comes from the Amazon rainforest. When you take all the other rainforests of the world into consideration, that number rises to 40 percent.

greenhouse gas
By Robert A. Rohde via Wikimedia Commons

Not only that, but the density of the forests means that a great deal of the heat that is emitted from the sun is absorbed into these forests. The thousands of trees and plants that are found in these regions absorb the heat for photosynthesis, and stop heat from being reflected back into the atmosphere. If we did not have these forests, then the heat would be reflected back into the atmosphere, causing a greenhouse effect. This would be significantly worse than what we are experiencing today as a result of carbon dioxide emissions from industry.

Greenhouse Effect
Greenhouse Effect
By Robert A. Rohde via Wikimedia Commons

In short, without the Amazon rainforest, we would not have enough air to breathe, and the planet would be too warm for us to have comfortable lives, or even live at all.


3)  Human Activity is Threatening the Rainforest
The Amazon rainforest is certainly far too huge for us to completely destroy it with ease, but human activity is having a large impact on the Amazon rainforest, and this causes a number of problems.

The activities of humans in the rainforest have resulted in acres of natural land being lost every year because of logging, mining, farming and other human attempts at using the land. These activities are damaging to the natural environment, and could potentially cause the rest of humanity serious problems in the future.

Satellite Image Depicting Deforestation in Bolivia
Deforestation

Deforestation is one of the most significant problems facing the Amazon rainforest. The once covered around 145 of the surface of the earth, but today, they cover just 6%. Scientists believe that if we do not slow down the speed at which we cut down trees in the Amazon rainforest in the next 40 years, then there will be next to nothing left of it for us to use. This would be disastrous for, not just those who live in South America, but for the whole world.

Deforestation in Sumatra, Indonesia for Oil Palm Plantation
Deforestation
By Aidenvironment via Wikimedia Commons

The problem isn’t just deforestation for the purpose of using wood, however, but for farming as well. Land is being cleared to make way for cattle and other animals being farmed by humans, and between the years 1991 and 2000, the amount of land cleared in the Amazon rose from 415,000 square kilometers to 587,000.


2)  The Most Animal Diversity
An amazing fact about the Amazon rainforest is that it is home to the greatest animal diversity in the world. Tropical rainforests in general are the most diverse ecosystems to ever exist, and in just four square miles of the Amazon, hundreds of species of animals can be found. In particular, there will usually be more than 120 species of mammals, around 400 bird species and 100 reptile species. There will even be around 60 species of amphibians.

Toucan
Toucan
By Daph Cloe via Wikimedia Commons

The reason for this level of diversity is that these forests have existed for millions of years. Over these millions of years, there have been many events that have caused mass extinctions. For instance, the expansion of the north and south poles, and the ice ages, never hit the tropical rainforests. This means that, for all this time, the forests have been growing and the animals have been evolving, resulting in the amazing biodiversity we see today.

Yellow-banded Poison Dart Frog
Yellow-banded Poison Dart Frog


1)  Plant Diversity is Still a Mystery
The number one fact on our list has to be that scientists still do not fully understand how so many species of plant exist in the rainforest, and why they do in the first place. The Amazon rainforest is one of the few remaining places on earth that has such an incredible diversity of plant life, and even though it is being threatened by human activity, it is still mostly unexplored.

Plant diversity
By Gregorik via Wikimedia Commons

Studies over the last 10 years have considered the biodiversity in the Amazon, and time and time again, scientists have been astounded to find even more diversity than they originally thought possible. To date, humans have collected more than half a million specimens of plants that are found in the Amazon, but this has barely scratched the surface.

Hoh Rainforest and Maples Covered with Epiphytic Moss
Hoh Rainforest
By WolfmanSF via Wikimedia Commons


Conclusion
The Amazon rainforest is mostly unexplored, and remains one of the most fascinating places on earth for scientists in a range of fields. As we continue exploring the rainforest, we will find new species of mammal, and perhaps even find cures for diseases that we currently understand little about.

Nature often offers solutions, and if we continue damaging the rainforest, we could soon see opportunities slipping away. For this reason, it is important that humanity is able to moderate the amount of resources that are taken from the rainforest. It is hoped that scientists will eventually be able to understand the rainforest a great deal better, and obtain specimens of all species that exist.



 

 

 

 

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