"Save the Rain Forests! Save the Rain Forests!" is the battle cry of the modern conservation movement. But, what really is a rainforest? It is a world filled with sounds and dappled light and moisture and a complicated structure of living things that are interconnected and dependent on the system as a whole.
What makes a rain forest? Heat, humidity and rain. Rain forests get their name from the 80 to 400 inches of precipitation they receive every year. Two hundred years ago rain forests circled the equator in an almost unbroken necklace of green which included South America, Africa, southern Asia and Australia. Tropical rain forests then made up 20% of the world's land mass. Today they cover only 6%, yet rain forests still harbor over half of all the living species on Earth!
The complex world of the tropical rain forest can be divided into four distinct habitat zones. This allows different species to co-exist without competing for food, and defines the forest in very specific ways. The lowest zone is the forest floor, where many species of plants and animals live among the bases of trees and amidst the soil and low vegetation. The next zone, the understory, is the layer beneath the canopy that includes small trees, shrubs, herbs and the animals that dwell there. The third zone, the canopy is the layer formed by the crowns of tall trees, typically flat-crowned trees about 65 to 100 feet tall. The final zone, the emergent layer, consists of slender trees with umbrella-shaped crowns that grow to be more than 200 feet tall.
Rain forests are a celebration of life. They are the most diverse ecosystems on Earth - covering only 6% of the land surface and yet they are home to well over 50% of all plant and animal species. Rain forests are so diverse because of their incredible combination of nearly constant heat and humidity - they are nature's green house - full of life at all levels.
Of all the wild places animals inhabit, the rain forests are by far the most diverse. But they are also among the most fragmented and under pressure. Human needs and forest diversity go head to head in a daily battle. It is a world filled with resources that turns these forests into a treasure chest for the plundering. But what happens when we've used the last of these green worlds? And fall the forests do. According to recent estimates, we are losing an area the size of a football field every single second, and an area the size of the state of Pennsylvania every year. Conservationists and animal lovers alike struggle with the "loss of biodiversity" that occurs as forests are cleared or burned. That biodiversity in question is the total web of living things, plants and animals within an ecosystem.Related: Cheetas Habitat Energy n Climate
Some experts say that all the forests will be gone in 75 years; but hopefully, this won't occur. Despite the gloom and doom predictions, there are shining examples of people who are working like wild in the tropics to help protect the remaining forests. And there are lots of ways all of us can help. The Nature Conservancy coordinates an important program called "Adopt-an-Acre" that you could support. Or you could also visit these valuable treasures. Costa Rica, Belize, or the Yucatan in Southern Mexico aren't that far away, and there is nothing like seeing things with your own eyes to get you going. Remember, everyone can do something to solve even the biggest problems. As Edmund Burke, the British statesman and orator, said, "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.
The green frontier of the rain forest canopy is where most new species are being discovered. Researchers spend their days and nights in these incredibly hot, humid and lush treetops. It’s important to note that by destroying our rainforests, we our destroying our species. Some of these animals include the cotton-top tamarins are highly endangered, small monkeys endemic to the forests of Northwest Colombia. They are the size of a squirrel, weighing about one pound. Cryptic coloration personified, butterflies demonstrates the amazing diversity of living things in tropical forests. Insects make up the majority of living species on Earth.
The highest number of species on Earth is found in the tropical rain forests circling the equator, living in the vast variety of habitats formed where the high mountains drop into the lush green tropical river valleys of the world. The sum of all of these parts results in a world filled with birds and animals and insects and plants and reptiles and amphibians, all living on or above or under the canopy of trees which make the rain forest ecosystem so unique, so rich and, yet, so fragile in today's world.
Some products can be harvested from the forest without cutting trees down. Balata, a rubber-like substance found in trees, is used in fancy golf balls. A very popular toy is a ring-tailed lemur is made from sisal, an abundant plant in the forests of Madagascar.