Tropical Forests

What's all the Fuss?

Essential Roles

  • Tropical forests are guardians of natural resources: wildlife, plants, and plant products.
    • Equatorial forests provide homes to an incredible diversity of organisms. The forests, in turn, are dependent on insects, birds, and mammals. Many are vital to the continuance of this complex plant community. Mobility allows animals to sustain the forest by pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds as they travel throughout.
    • Just as forest plants and animals are interdependent on one another, humans are also dependent on these prolific forests. Numerous food plants, domestic animals, and medicines originated in these luxuriant wonderlands, and many local people still call them home.
    • Some familiar forest products include rubber, waxes and lubricants, nuts and fruits, and bamboo and rattan.
  • Equatorial forests protect the land by regulating rainfall. The foliage and limbs slow down torrential rains so that the protected ground can absorb water. Groundwater can then reenter soil layers without displacing topsoil.
  • Tropical forests stabilize the world's climate. The trees reabsorb rainwater through their roots and then return vast amounts of moisture to the atmosphere through transpiration to form new rain clouds. These vapor blankets reflect heat into space to maintain a constant temperature below. (Think about deserts which have little cloud cover and experience extreme temperature fluctuations.)


Losing Ground

  • Over half of Earth's tropical forests have disappeared or been altered by people. This year alone, an area about the size of the state of Florida will disappear.
  • When the trees are removed for any reason - fuel, wood products, mineral extraction, agriculture, or ranching - all the nutrients stored in the vegetation are lost and the thin soils wash away.
  • Disruptions in the water cycle have already caused climatic and land changes. Heavily populated countries such as India and Malaysia sustain extensive deforestation. With no protective forest cover, rain runs off exposed ground, eroding away soils, flooding neighboring lands, and silting streams.
  • Habitat loss and degradation counteract many conservation efforts to slow down extinction of Earth's flora and fauna. For example, decline of South American rain forests has contributed to the loss of winter habitat for many North American migratory birds.