The Amazon Rainforest is a massive tropical rainforest in South America, covering an area of more than 2 million square miles. Its are occupies the drainage basin of the Amazon River and its tributaries. 40% of Brazil’s land area is covered by this dense forest, which is bounded by the Guiana Highlands to the north, the Brazilian central plateau towards the south, the Andes Mountains to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The Amazon Rainforest is the richest forest in the world in terms of biodiversity, containing millions of species of flora and fauna, with many more likely to still be undiscovered by modern science.
A large section of scientists believed that the Amazon Rainforest is likely to have been formed during the Eocene Era, and therefore to have been existence for at least 55 million years. During this significant period of time in the Earth’s history, it has served as the habitat for millions of unique species of plants and animals. However, most recent studies on the history of Amazon suggest that swathes of the rainforest might have once existed as a grassland until the Earth’s shift towards a wetter climate, which occurred about 2,000 years ago and allowed for more rainforests to form. The arrival of European diseases, wiping out the indigenous farming communities in the region, could have also hastened the development of the Amazon in the 16th Century and onward. Whatever be its exact story of origin and development, ever since its formation the Amazonian jungles have played an important role in shaping the climate of the world, and have supported the evolution of millions of unique forms of life within its isolated habitats.
Currently, the Amazon rainforests perform a large number of vital functions that help maintain life on Earth in a steady state. It is responsible for filtering and reprocessing the harmful carbon dioxide generated by environmentally detrimental human activities, especially those burning fossil fuels for energy and to power machinery and vehicles. The large number of trees in this forest help to absorb the greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, from the Earth’s atmosphere. This vegetation subsequently releases the life-giving gas oxygen back into it by way of their photosynthetic cycles. It is estimated that the 390 billion trees of this forest lock up some 86 billion tons of carbon at once, more than those of any other rainforest in the world today. In the Amazon rainforest, transpiration not only creates 50-75% of its own precipitation, but also in turn feeds a large number of rivers which support the wildlife and human civilizations based along the region's rivers. It is estimated that the Amazon influences rainfall as far away as Central America and the Western United States. The rainforest is also home to 30% of the world’s species. Besides this, tens of millions of people also depend on these forests for their sources of income, from food to fuel to forestry products.
The Amazonian rainforests are extremely dense forests, with many of these vast tracts of the forest still left unexplored by humans due to their inaccessibility. The forests have the largest biodiversity among all forests in the world. According to statistical data, one in ten known species of the world, and one in five bird species of the world, live in the Amazon. Also, one in five species of the world’s fishes are found in the waters of the Amazon River, its tributaries, and its streams. To date, 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species, 427 mammal species, 400 amphibian species, 378 reptile species, and around 3,000 freshwater fish species, along with 2.5 million insect species, have been discovered in the Amazon. Large predators like the jaguar, cougar, anaconda, and black caiman all thrive within these dense forests, where prey is often in abundance. The rivers are also full of dangerous aquatic species, such as electric eels and bloodthirsty piranhas. Various species of poisonous reptiles, amphibians, and insects also inhabit these forests. Notable among them are the poison dart frogs that secrete lethal toxins through their skins.
Threats and Disputes
Today, the Amazon rainforest is facing extreme challenges in the face of often irresponsible human development. Deforestation activities are rampant in the Amazon, leading to the loss of vast tracts of this valuable forest. Besides the clearing of its lands for crop cultivation, Brazil’s booming livestock sector within the agricultural industry is also leading to vast losses of the Amazon rainforests. In fact, animal agriculture, including grazing, is held responsible for up to 91% of the destruction of the Amazon, and 136 million acres of rainforest have been cleared for animal agriculture use. Besides animal agriculture, infrastructure development activities, such as the building of roads and dams, mining activities for gold and bauxite, oil exploration and extraction, and unsustainable logging are each actively chipping away at the life and habitat of the biodiverse Amazon rainforests. In the process, they are putting in danger the climate and ecosystem balance of not only the region, but the world as a whole.
About the Author
Oishimaya is an Indian native, currently residing in Kolkata. She has earned her Ph.D. degree and is presently engaged in full-time freelance writing and editing. She is an avid reader and travel enthusiast and is sensitively aware of her surroundings, both locally and globally. She loves mingling with people of eclectic cultures and also participates in activities concerning wildlife conservation.
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