Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Rainforest could be the biblical Lost Paradise immortalized in the masterpieces of John Milton

Dr Abe V Rotor

Gentle slope, and interior, of a virgin forest.

It was after dawn and smoke from nearby homesteads rose with the mountain mist in Carmen, between Davao City and Tagum, when I spotted a company of loggers carrying a wooden cage looking very much like an oversized onion crate. To my curiosity I looked into the cage and found a pair of flying lemurs locally called kaguiang in Bisaya or ninmal in Samal Moro, clinging upside down and cringing from the first light of morning.

Cynocephalus volans Linneaus, as the animal is scientifically called, is one of the rare mammals that can fly, an adaptation they share with the versatile bats. Unlike bats however, the flying lemur can only glide from tree to tree, a pair of thin expandable flap of skin and fur connecting the whole length of its front and hind legs serves as parachute and glider combined.

It was a pathetic sight. The pair was apparently captured when their natural habitat - tall trees that made the original forest were cut down for lumber, and the area subsequently converted into farmland in a most destructive system called swiden or kaingin farming.

Scientists warn us that the loss of natural habitats will result in the disappearance of organisms. This is true to the flying lemurs – and this is true to thousands of different inhabitants in the tropical rainforest, the richest biome on earth.

It is estimated that more than half the species of plants, animals and protists live in the tropical rainforests. According to a Time report, there are as many as 425 kinds of living plants that are naturally occupying a hectare of tropical rainforest in the Amazon. Similarly our own rainforest is as rich because the Philippine lies on the same tropical rainforest belt together with Indonesia and Malaysia in Southeast Asia. There are 3,500 species of indigenous trees in our rainforest.

Imagine a single tree as natural abode of ferns, orchids, insects, fungi, lichens, transient organisms - birds, monkeys, frogs, reptiles, insects and a multitude more that escape detection by our senses. The tropical rainforest must be God’s chosen natural bank of biodiversity. The “Lost Paradise” that the Genesis describes and literary giant John Milton classically wrote – Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained – is undoubtedly one that resembles a tropical rainforest.

Tropical Rainforest Profile

Let us look at the TRF profile like slicing a multi-layered cake and studying its profile. It is made up of storeys similar to a high-rise building. The “roof” or canopy is what we see as forest cover. Here and there are very tall trees called emergents jotting through the monotonous canopy like living towers.

From the air, the view of a tropical forest is one huge and continuous green blanket that catch the energy of the sun and through photosynthesis converts it into organic materials beginning with simple sugar to the most complex compounds from which useful materials are derived - wood, rubber, resin, and drugs, etc. These products are needed to sustain the life of countless organisms and the stability of the ecosystem itself.

From the forest floor, one can see only a little part of the sky, with the rays of the sun filtering through. But now and then, the trees, depending on the species, season and other environmental conditions, shed off their leaves, which can be compared to the molting of animals as they grow. Entire crowns of leaves fall and litter the forest floor. Transformation into humus continuously takes place with the aid of insects, bacteria, fungi, earthworms and the like. And this is very important because humus fertilizes the soil and conserves water acting as sponge and blanket.

This is one of the wonders of nature. Trees in a tropical rainforest have this special characteristic. They are not only self-fertilizing; they are soil builders. Through time, with the deciduous cycle repeated without end, the forest floor – even how thin the soil is, or how solid the underlying rock is – builds up, layer after layer, and it is this process that enables many organisms in the forest obtain their nutrition in order to grow.

Deciduousness allows sunlight to pour over the previously shaded plants occupying the various layers or storeys, which serve as specific habitats or niches. Occupying the lowest part of the forest, which is equivalent to the ground floor of a building, are mostly annuals, ferns and bryophytes. Next are the shrubs which occupy the lobby and second floor, followed by undergrowth trees that reach a height equivalent to the third and fourth floor, lianas and epiphytes which may reach as high as the eighth floor. It is not surprising to find emergent trees reaching up the 200 feet.

How big can a tree grow and for how long? Take the case of the Redwoods or Sequoia found growing in southern California and China. I saw a tree of this kind in southern Taiwan, recently killed by lightning. The tallest redwood, which is still growing today, is 267.4 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 40.3 feet. It is estimated to be 3,500 years old.

The analogy of the layers of a rainforest with a ten- or twelve-storey building gives us in imagination of the orderliness of nature in keeping the rich biodiversity of the ecosystem.

The true forest primeval – the rain forest – stands along the equator now reduced into a sanctuary of “living fossils” of plants and animals that once constituted the eternal green cover of the earth.

The canopy at one time or another allows the sky to meet the residents of the forest from the ground floor to the upper storeys - something that if you stand among the trees during this transformation you will find a kind of communion that, while it can be explained biologically, fills the spirit with the wonders and mysteries of nature.

The tropical rainforest is a natural menagerie where peace, music, colors, patterns, art and skill are not so well known to modern man. The high-perched artists like squirrels and monkeys are better acrobats by birth and practice than any known human acrobats. Many primates howl with electrifying, ear splitting and blood-chilling sound that breadth the land. Above plummet the masters of the sky – the Philippine eagle and hawks, spotting their preys which may be several kilometers away, or hundreds of meters below – something which our modern spotting scopes can not yet achieve with readiness and precision. Inside their tunnels the termite workers tap their way and chop the wood for their colony and themselves. The forest is composed to distinct ecosystems.

2 comments:

jasmine santos said...

hi sir! :D is the continuation of this or the part 2 of this assignment the "Food - something different to break monotony "??tnx! :D

avrotor said...

Jamine, The topic comes in three parts, other than related topics in the Blog. It would be good to open as many topics as you may find useful in our class. Merry Chritmas and a Happy New Year!