Why is The Amazon Rainforest important? The Amazon is at risk of reaching an irreversible tipping point. Between 1985 and 2021, the Amazon lost an area of rainforest and other native vegetation equivalent to three times the size of the UK. The pressures on the Amazon are intensifying. We need to act now. Without the Amazon, we lose the fight against climate change.
Why is The Amazon Rainforest important?
South America’s Amazon contains nearly a third of all the tropical rainforests left on Earth. Despite covering only around 1% of the planet’s surface, the Amazon rainforest is home to 10% of all the wildlife species we know about – and probably a lot that we don’t know yet.
Our research shows that, on average, a ‘new’ species of animal or plant is being discovered in the Amazon every other day. However, tragically, because huge parts of the rainforest are being destroyed so fast, we may never know all the riches it holds.
The Amazon is of vital importance because people around the world, as well as locally, depend on the rainforest. Not just for food, water, wood and medicines, but to help stabilise the climate—150-200 billion tons of carbon is stored in the Amazon rainforest. The trees in the Amazon also release 20 billion tonnes of water into the atmosphere per day, playing a critical role in global and regional carbon and water cycles.
The Amazon is under siege like never before. Deforestation and fires remain dangerously high, and protected areas and Indigenous lands face increasing threats. It needs our help more than ever. We cannot tackle the climate crisis without the Amazon’s vital life-sustaining role.
Its Abundance of Animals
From pond-hopping poison frogs to spotted jaguars slinking around in the dead of night, the Amazon rainforest is important because it houses some of the world’s most charismatic plants and animals. It’s one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world—home to 10 percent of the world’s species, according to the World Wildlife Fund. There are more than 2.5 million species of insects that scuttle through the leaf litter. It contains roughly 1,300 bird species, 3,000 species of fish, and approximately 430 species of mammals, according to National Geographic.
These animals play an important role in keeping the rainforest healthy. For instance, important nutrients from the carcasses, feces, and food scraps deposited by mammals leech into the forest floor. This nutrient influx helps soil microbes better store carbon instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.
Its Wide Variety of Plant Life
More than 40,000 plant species have been found in the Amazon rainforest. Many of them have important medicinal uses or are found in the foods we eat. Chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, pepper, and coffee are grown in the rainforest. Rubber trees produce a sticky, white latex sap that is used in rubber processing and provides a source of income for indigenous communities living in the rainforest.
The Amazon’s plants play an active role in regulating the ecosystem. As plants in the Amazon photosynthesize, they create their own weather. Through a process called transpiration, plants release water vapor from pores along the underside of their leaves. This moisture influx sustains life by seeding thick bands of clouds that keep water locked in the lush forest and flowing into rivers that supply communities downstream.
This phenomenon doesn’t just impact weather in the Amazon. As the rain falls over the forest, warm air rises high into the atmosphere, pulling even more moisture in from the ocean thousands of miles away.
The Amazon River’s Riches
The Amazon River is the second-longest river in the world, next to the Nile. Its winding waterways cover roughly nearly 4,000 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Amazon has the highest rate of rainfall in the world, according to National Geographic. More than 3,700 cubic miles of rainwater fall from the sky each year.
Biodiversity along the Amazon River and its surrounding wetlands is incredibly rich. The winding river is home to numerous species, including red bellied piranha, pancake stingrays, bull sharks, black caiman crocodiles, and the endangered pink river dolphin. A recent study suggested that wetlands in the Amazon hold over 53 percent of the more than 6,727 tree species counted in the Amazon.
Its Carbon and Oxygen Cycle
The Amazon rainforest plays an important part in regulating the world’s oxygen and carbon cycles. It produces roughly 6 percent of the world’s oxygen and has long been thought to act as a carbon sink, meaning it readily absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
But when trees are logged and the forest is burned, that carbon is released into the atmosphere at alarming rates. Recent research has suggested that these forests might actually be emitting more carbon dioxide than they’re absorbing. Luckily, if we’re able to conserve large parts of the fragile ecosystem, scientists believe we may be able to restore its status as a carbon sink.
Water and the Hydrological Cycle
The Amazon River is the second longest on earth, moves the largest volume of water, and carries 20% of the earth’s freshwater to sea 5. Flowing through Peru, Colombia, and Brazil, it is over 4,000 miles long, covers 2,720,000 square miles and includes over 1,100 tributaries.
While the Amazon river is born in the Andes and flows east, a second, equally magnificent river flows above it in the opposite direction. This is the so-called “River in the Sky,” a huge current of moisture in the atmosphere that moves from the Atlantic to the Andes. This sky river nourishes the forest with rain and then the water evaporates off plants through evapotranspiration, replenishing the clouds with moisture.
This incredible cycle means that the Amazon generates at least half of its own rainfall 6 and regulates rainfall in agricultural breadbaskets halfway across the world, including Britain and the American Midwest 7.
- The length of the Amazon River is equivalent to the distance between New York City to Rome.
- The Amazon River flows from west to east and begins in the high Andes, at an elevation of 5,598 m.
- The Amazon river delivers approximately 55 million gallons of water onto the Atlantic Ocean every second.
- The brown waters of the Amazon River can be seen as far as 100 km out to sea from the mainland, well before the continent is in sight.
- Anacondas live in the shallow waters of the Amazon. They are one of the biggest snakes in the world and occasionally attack animals larger than themselves.
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