Monday, September 12, 2016

A Glimpse of Brazil's Rainforest, Sidelight of the Olympic Games

A Glimpse of Brazil's Rainforest, Sidelight of the Olympic Games 
The Tropical Rainforest could be the biblical Lost Paradise immortalized in the masterpieces of John Milton. 
Dr Abe V Rotor 
 Living with Nature School on Blog [] 
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Ms Melly C Tenorio738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday

The recently concluded Olympic Games and Paralympic Games hosted by Brazil left a vacuum, so to speak in the midst of excitements, political turmoil, and controversies - and fear of the Zika virus, Brazil being its birthplace. It was a lost opportunity to widen the call for worldwide attention and action to save the Amazon, the biggest rainforest reserve in the world. 
The Amazon makes a difference in our present world, as it has been serving our living planet. It moderates global warming, gathers Carbon Dioxide and other gases that cause acid rain, induces cloud formation and attract more rainfall, helps steer global air current, and  balances freshwater-saline water movement and distribution. 

The Amazon harbors the highest biological diversity; it is the biggest sanctuary of  wildlife, the world's center of rare and here-to-fore unknown and unidentified species of plants, animals and protists. It is home of indigenous peoples living outside our "civilized" world, yet there are more things to know about their culture. 
Collectively the reserve spreads to almost half of the South American continent that divides the world's two biggest oceans - Pacific and Atlantic - it is believed to moderate the occurrence and intensity of the El Niño phenomenon.  Today episodes are getting frequent and intense, from 7 or 10 years interval to 5 or even less years, as a result of the thinning of this great forest cover known as the "lungs of the world." 

The rainforest is Nature's soil builder, layer after layer of organic matter accumulate on forest floor.  Through years the soil flows dorn to fertilize fields and pasture, form deltas which in turn expand the forest area towards the estuaries and shores.  
The rape of the Amazon appears unabated, in fact unstoppable.  Monoculture plantations, ranches and various conversions to expand agricultural frontier and feed industries in the guise of "feeding" the world and attaining the "good life" mask the real truth in saving the Amazon at all cost. This is true with the other rainforest reserves in the world including ours in Philippines which is but a remnant now of the vast rainforest cover in the twentieth century.           

Part 1: 10 Facts about the Amazon Rainforest
By Rhett Butler Last updated 2016-Jan-23

Most people understand that the Amazon is Earth's largest rainforest, but here are ten other facts you should know about the Amazon. Click on these links if you'd like to learn more about The Amazon or tropical rainforests generally (including 10 facts about rainforests). 

1.    The Amazon is the world's biggest rainforest, larger than the next two largest rainforests — in the Congo Basin and Indonesia — combined. 

2.    At 6.9 million square kilometers (2.72 million square miles), the Amazon Basin is roughly the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States and covers some 40 percent of the South American continent. The "Amazon rainforest" — which defined biogeographically includes the rainforest in the Guianas, which technically are outside the Amazon Basin — covers 7.8-8.2 million sq km (3-3.2 million sq mi), of which just over 80 percent is forested. 
3.    The Amazon River is by far the world's largest river by volume. It has over 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are longer than 1000 miles. 
4.    The Amazon River once flowed west-ward instead of east-ward as it does today. The rise of the Andes caused it to flow into the Atlantic Ocean. 
5.    The Amazon is estimated to have 16,000 tree species and 390 billion individual trees 
6.    Nearly two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest is found in Brazil. 
7.    The Amazon is thought to have 2.5 million species of insects. More than half the species in the Amazon rainforest are thought to live in the canopy. 
8.    70 percent of South America's GDP is produced in areas that receive rainfall or water from the Amazon. The Amazon influences rainfall patterns as far away as the United States. 
9.    Cattle ranching accounts for roughly 70 percent of deforestation in the Amazon.
NOTE: A happy note.  Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has been declining since 2004, mostly due to the falling deforestation rate in Brazil. There are a variety of reasons for the decline, including macroeconomic trends, new protected areas and indigenous territories. 

Part 2: Rainforest - The Ultimate Creation  
It was after dawn, and smoke from nearby homesteads rose with the mountain mist in Carmen, between Davao City and Tagum, Mindanao.  It was at this time and place where the author spotted a company of loggers carrying a wooden cage that looked like an oversized onion crate. Curiously, he 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 the morning. 

Impressionistic painting of a forest profile, AVR
Cynocephalus volans, 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 a combined parachute and glider.
   Forest Stream, mural painting AVR

It was pathetic sight.  The pair of lemurs was apparently captured when their natural habitat, tall trees that made the original forest, were cut down for lumber, converting the area into farmland.

Loss of Natural Habitat Results in Loss of Species 

Scientists warn us that the loss of wildlife sanctuaries will cause the extinction of animal species. This is true of the flying lemurs and also of 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 Magazine, 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 as Indonesia and Malaysia in Southeast Asia.  There are 3,500 species of indigenous trees in Philippine rainforests alone.

Imagine a single tree as natural abode of plants and animals, such as ferns, orchids, insects, fungi, lichens, birds, monkeys, frogs, and reptiles. The tropical rainforest must be God’s chosen natural bank of biodiversity. The “Lost Paradise” that the Genesis describes and which literary giant John Milton identified as Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, is undoubtedly a tropical rainforest.

 Tropical Rainforest Profile 
Let us look at the Tropical Rain Forest (TRF) profile by slicing it like a multi-layered cake.  It is made up of layers similar to storeys in high-rise building. The “roof” or canopy is what we see as forest cover.  This canopy is made up of tall trees called emergents, jotting through the roof like living towers. 

From the air, the view of a tropical forest is that of one huge green blanket catching the energy of the sun. Through photosynthesis, radiant energy converts chemical compounds into organic materials such as wood, rubber, resin, and drugs.  These products are needed to sustain the lives of countless organisms and the stability of the ecosystem itself.

Looking at it from the forest floor, one can hardly see the sky. Now and then, some of the trees shed their leaves. This can be compared to the molting of animals as they grow.  Entire crowns of leaves fall and litter the forest floor and are turned into humus through the help of insects, bacteria, fungi, and earthworms.  This is very important because humus fertilizes the soil and, acting as sponge and blanket, conserves water.
Through time, with the deciduous or shedding cycle repeated continuously, the forest floor (though the soil is thin, or made of rock) builds up, with layers of nutrient-rich organic matter, enabling many organisms to survive.

Deciduousness or the seasonal falling of leaves, allows the rays of the sun to penetrate the previously shaded plants below.  Occupying the lowest part of the forest is like staying on the ground floor of a building. Here live the ferns and bryophytes.  Above this level are the shrubs, followed by undergrowth trees which can reach a height equivalent to the third and fourth floors. Lianas and epiphytes are medium-sided and may reach as high as the eighth floor of a typical building. It is not unusual to find emergent trees reaching up to 200 feet.

How big can a tree grow and for how long?  Take the case of the Redwoods or Sequoia found in Southern California and China.  The author once saw a tree of this kind in Southern Taiwan which was recently killed by lightning.  The tallest Redwood, 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 skyscraper helps us understand the orderliness of nature in maintaining the rich biodiversity of the ecosystem.

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

The tropical rainforest is a natural menagerie where peace and tranquility, colors and patterns, art and skill can be found.  The high-perched artists like squirrels and monkeys are natural acrobats better than any known human circus performers. Many primates howl with electrifying and ear splitting sounds that covers the breadth of the land. Overhead soar the masters of the sky – the Philippine eagles and hawks, scanning for prey hundreds of meters below.
 Inside their tunnels, termite workers eat their way through fallen tree trunks.  
Mass Extinction Through Deforestation 
There is possibly no other term that can appropriately describe the magnitude of man’s destruction of the forest other than ecological genocide.  The cutting down of forest trees evidently eliminates all its inhabitants.  While a number of them could escape and find shelter elsewhere, most of the residents, being habitat-specific, cannot survive outside their original abode or beyond the boundaries of their niches. 
As an ecosystem, the forest is a product of evolution. Organisms evolve with their natural habitat, acquiring traits in the process. Nature is patient so to speak, to give a chance for organisms to acquire their Darwinian fitness, otherwise they will perish. Many have gained dominance in terms of number.  Others simply are persistent, like the dragonfly which is as old as the dinosaur, and has remained a popular forest resident. Acquisition of aggressive mimicry is a result of long years of evolution showing the way for effective adaptation.  A classical example is the relationship of fig trees and the wasps that pollinate the former’s flowers.  Not even water, wind or man can effectively do the pollination process.  Each kind of fig has a particular wasp pollinator that carries out the job. And each kind of fig tree has a specific fruiting season, providing a continuous supply of food to many animals, such as monkeys and ground fowls.

We now begin to realize that reforestation will never be able to replace the original forest.  Reforestation efforts merely provide a temporary vegetative cover that cannot be compared with the structure of the original forest. Here are other premises to support this contention.

1.  Nature, not man, determines the composition and combination of species in a forest.  If man determines it, it is called a woodland, not a forest. This is where we see Gmelina, Ipil-ipil and Teak plantations.  These trees are planted for the expressed purpose of producing commercial lumber or pulpwood for paper.  

2.  The land and all that grow in the forest have developed simultaneously: geographically, geologically, and biologically.  Streams and springs are full because trees store rainwater in the ground. The roots and natural vegetative cover check erosion and siltation.  Therefore, the death of a forest also means the conversion of streams, rivers, lakes and ponds into swamps, muddy rivers, and eroded gullies.

3.   Abandoned and deforested areas continue to lose not only soil fertility but also the entire soil structure from the most fertile topsoil to the clay foundation next to bedrock.  In short, through erosion, the foothold built over millions of years could be lost permanently.

4.  The forest creates a mini-climate.  Tall forest trees attract clouds.  This transpiration enhances precipitation so that rain occurs anytime of the day, hence the name rainforest.  All this precipitation can be permanently lost with the destruction of the forest. This explains why desertification (formation of desert) usually starts at deforested areas.  Southern Cebu, in spite of its proximity to sea, is a typical example where one can observe the pathetic forest dying process.  This can be observed also on the Sierra Madre mountains starting in Bulacan, and on extensive areas along the narrow strip of the Ilocos region.

In 1960, Philippine Dipterocarp Forests occupied almost 14 million hectares.  What is left today is only three and one-half million hectares.  The average rate of decline is over 2 percent annually. What is more alarming is the annual decline in the volume of trees in the forest which is around six percent in the last 30 years.  All over the world, annual deforestation represents an area as large as Luxemburg. This means every tick of the clock is a hectare of rainforest permanently erased from the globe.

ANNEX: The Amazon is home to more species of plants and animals than any other terrestrial ecosystem on the planet -- perhaps 30 percent of the world's species are found there. Its biodiversity — the term used to describe biological richness — is astounding: a single bush in the Amazon may have more species of ants than the entire British Isles, while a lone hectare of forest (two-and-a-half acres) may have more than 500 species of trees and a single park can have more than 1,400 butterfly species.

Amazon biodiversity by the numbers:
· 40,000 plant species
· 16,000 tree species
· 5,600 fish species
· 1,300 birds
· 430+ mammals
· 1,000+ amphibians
· 400+ reptiles

A list of some of the most famous animals found in the Amazon rainforest:
· Jaguar
· Puma
· Capybara
· Sloth (multiple species)
· Giant river otter
· Giant anteater
· Tamarins and marmosets (several species)
· Spider monkey (several species)
· Woolly monkey
· Capuchin monkey (several species)
· Squirrel monkey (several species)
· Uakari monkey (several species)
· Titi monkey (several species)
· Howler monkey (several species)
· Saki monkey (several species)
· Amazon pink river dolphin
· Giant river otter
· Tapir
· Coatimundi
· Kinkajou
· Agouti
· Paca
· Hoatzin
· Macaws and other parrots (many species)
· Harpy Eagle
· Toucans (several species)
· Antbirds (antpittas, antshrikes, antwren, etc)
· Kingfishers (many species)
· Parakeets (many species)
· Flycatchers (many species)
· Woodpeckers (many species)
· Tanagers (many species)
· Manakins (many species)
· Cock-of-the-rock
· Guans (many species)
· Storks and herons (many species)
· Hummingbirds (many species)
· Oropendola
Herps (reptiles and amphibians)
· Anacondas and boa constrictors
· Venomous snakes
· Caiman (several species)
· Poison dart frogs (many species)
· Tree frogs (many species)
· Iguanas and other lizards
· Freshwater turtles

· Arapaima or Pirarucu
· Piranha
· Arowana
· Electric Eel
· Giant Catfish
· Neon tetras and other aquarium fish
· Discus and angelfish

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