Incredible facts about Amazon rainforest, the ‘Lungs of the Planet’
The Amazon rainforest has long been recognized as a repository of ecological services not only for local tribes and communities, but also for the rest of the world. It is also the only rainforest that we have left in terms of size and diversity.But as forests burn and global warming worsens, the impact of Amazon deforestation continues to gradually undo the fragile ecological processes that have been refined over millions of years.
Ironically, as rainforest continues to disappear, scientific work from the last two decades has shed light on the critical ties that link the health of rainforests to the rest of the world.
Where is the Amazon rainforest?
The Amazon rainforest is located in South America and spreads over an astounding 5.5 million square kilometres.
It spans nine countries — Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. Brazil houses around 60% of the rainforest.
Map of the Amazon rainforest (Photo: Peru-explorer.com)
The Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and does the critical task of providing Earth with 20% of its oxygen supply. Its dense vegetation acts like a giant air purifier, constantly taking in carbon dioxide and giving out oxygen. The rainforest is so big that it comprises more than half of the world’s remaining rainforests even thought it covers only 6% of the earth’s surface. Ireland and UK could fit into it 17 times!
Here are a few incredible facts about the Amazon rainforest or the Lungs of the Planet’:
1. The extremely rich ecosystem of the Amazon houses around 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species, 2,200 types of fish, 427 types of mammals, 430 amphibian species, 380 reptile species and a staggering 2.5 million different types of insects. It shelters 10% of the world’s known biodiversity. One in five of all species of bird and fish live in the Amazon.
2. Around 400-500 indigenous Amerindian tribes live in the Amazon rainforest. Around 50 of them have their own language and culture and have never had contact with the outer world. They are nomadic hunters and gatherers and constantly need to move around.
In this August 13, 2019 photo, a female indigenous chief attends a march by indigenous women protesting the anti-environment policies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, Brazil.(Photo: AP)ADVERTISEMENT
3. Some of the animals living in the Amazon rainforest are bizarre and deadly. From pink dolphins and green anacondas to poison dart frogs, bullet ants, electric eels and flesh-eating piranhas, some of these creatures can shock you with their abilities.
4. Around 137 species of plants, animals and insects become extinct every single day in the Amazon because of deforestation and cattle ranching that have killed vast sections of the forest.
5. The Amazon River which runs through the Amazon rainforest is the world’s second longest river after the Nile. It is also the world’s largest by water volume. The Amazon River comprises hundreds of waterways which stretch across 6,840 km, and has 17 tributaries which drain 55 million gallons of water every second into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Amazon river is the second longest after Nile, and the largest river in the world.
6. When it rains on the Amazon, it takes around 10 minutes for the water to reach the forest floor. This is because the forest is so thick that the ground remains permanently in darkness. Only 1% of the sunlight makes it to the forest ground as well making it completely dark.
7. The Sahara Desert impacts the Amazon rainforest to a great extent by supplying phosphorus which is essential for fertilization. Dust containing phosphorus blows in from the Sahara via wind over the Atlantic Ocean and helps the rainforest flourish.
8. Amazon has lost 20% of its size is recent years because of deforestation to create the Trans-Amazonian Highway. A drastic amount of vegetation is cleared constantly for cattle grazing and crop production 1.5 acres are lost every second. Experts predict that the rainforest could be completely depleted in just 40 years if no action is taken to solve the problem.
Indigenous tribes of the Amazon show the deforestation in a certain section of the rainforest. (Photo: Reuters)
9. The origin of 80% of the varieties of food we get across the world origin in the Amazon rainforest. More than 3000 types of fruit which are grown in the Amazon are edible. These include oranges, lemons, avocados, coconuts, grapefruits, mangoes, and pineapples.
10. The Amazon rainforest is a carbon sink it absorbs carbon dioxide and stores it. So, it is a major player in maintaining carbon levels globally.
11. The Amazon rainforest fire raging for over 20 days in August 2019 is producing a devastating effect on the region. Amazon wildfires raging have hit a record number this year, with 72,843 fires detected so far by Brazil’s space research centre National Institute for Space Research (INPE).
Devastating Amazon rainforest fires as seen from space (Photo: Reuters)
12. Though the Amazon rainforest is the richest in forest vegetation, the land has very little mineral content making it unsuitable for sustainable agriculture.
13. One-fourth of the world’s western medicine uses ingredients from the Amazon rainforest. 70% of the plants which work against cancer cells come from the Amazon.
14. The Amazon has faced a severe drought before from 2005 to 2010 when the rainfall was very low. The Rio Negro Tributary of the Amazon rainforest went to its lowest level on record and dead wood released green house gases. This also increased the frequency of forest fires
15. Climate change could spell havoc for the Amazon rainforest as 75% of it could be destroyed with just a three degree rise in temperature. Experts even say that the rainforest could die in just a 100 years because of the global temperatures now. The impact of temperature rise will be visible to us slowly even if it is not apparent now.
The Amazon rainforest could cure you
What is the connection between the blue-green pills in your bathroom cupboard and the Amazon wildlife? The natural roots of medicine. For millennia, humans have used insects, plants and other organisms in the region for a variety of uses; and that includes agriculture, clothing and, of course, cures for diseases.
Indigenous people such as the Yanomamo and other groups of mixed ancestry (e.g. the mestizos of Peru or the caboclos of Brazil) have perfected the use of chemical compounds found in plants and animals4. Knowledge of using these plants is usually held by a medicine man (shaman), who passes on this tradition to an apprentice, a process which has been ongoing for centuries and that forms an integral part of people’s identity.
With rainforests going fast, the continuity of this knowledge for the benefit of future generations is under threat.7