What Is a Rainforest?
The term rainforest refers to a specific type of ecosystem that is dominated by forest land and receives a higher than average amount of rainfall every year. The rainforest ecosystem is considered one of the oldest types of ecosystem in existence today. Rainforests around the world can be divided into 4 specific climate types: boreal, temperate, subtropical, and tropical. This type of ecosystem supports a wide range of biodiversity in both the plant and animal kingdom. In fact, over half of all living plant and animal species in the world today inhabit rainforest ecosystems. Because rainforests are located in a variety of places around the world, the wildlife within also varies greatly. This article takes a closer look at just how much of the surface of the earth is covered by rainforests.
How Much of the Earth Is Covered by Rainforests?
The measurement of rainforest coverage found across the world is not exact and actually depends on how researchers identify a forest. The act of defining what constitutes a forest takes into account several factors, including: number of trees, density of trees, canopy coverage, and height of trees. Additionally, the climate of a particular area may affect if a specific habitat is considered a forest or not. This defining factor is variable because significant tree coverage in an arid, desert-like region would be considered a forest, whereas in a more temperate region, the same amount of coverage may not be considered a forest.
Researchers estimate that the world is home to anywhere between 6.8 million square miles and 5 million square miles of tropical rainforest. This estimate means that only 2.5% of the surface area of earth is covered by rainforests, or approximately 8% of the land on earth consists of rainforests.
Just over half of the rainforests found across the globe are located in the Americas (around 53% to be exact). This is followed by 27% of the rainforests in Africa and the remaining 20% in Asia and Oceania.
Rainforests are considered the lungs of the world because they work to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, which, in turn, fights global climate change by reducing temperatures. When humans cut down or burn the trees in these ecosystems for the timber industry or to make room for agriculture, a significant amount of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. Increased concentrations of these gases lead to increased temperatures around the globe.
Researchers have reported that humans are destroying around 31,000 square miles of tropical rainforests on an annual basis. This area is believed to be the equivalent of approximately 5 billion trees lost each year. Some recent data suggests that the majority of this rainforest destruction is occurring in the following countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Because of the importance of rainforests to maintaining a healthy global climate and because of this rapid rate of destruction, several organizations and governments around the world have been committed to conserving these ecosystems by preventing logging and by educating the public about their importance.