The Amazon Rainforest, also known as Amazonia or Amazon Jungle, is one of the world’s greatest natural resources and covers most of the Amazon Basin of South America. Because its vegetation continuously recycles carbon dioxide into oxygen, it has been described as the “Lungs of our Planet“. About 20% of earth’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon rainforest. This basin encompasses seven million square kilometers (1.7 billion acres), of which five and a half million square kilometers (1.4 billion acres) are covered by the rainforest. The Amazon represents over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests, and it comprises the largest and most species-rich tract of tropical rainforest in the world.
The Amazonian rainforest gets its name from the Amazon River, the life force of the rainforest. The main river is about 4,080 miles long. Its drainage basin covers 2,722,000 million square miles. This region includes territory belonging to nine nations. The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 60% of the rainforest, followed by Peru with 13%, and with minor amounts in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.
The canopy of Amazon rainforest is less studied than the ocean floor. Scientists believe that the canopy may contain half of the world’s species.
Competition for survival is fierce.The Amazonian rainforest is home to about 2.5 million insect species, tens of thousands of plants, and some 2,000 birds and mammals. To date, at least 40,000 plant species, 3,000 fish, 1,294 birds, 427 mammals, 428 amphibians, and 378 reptiles have been scientifically classified in the region.One in five of all the birds in the world live in the rainforests of the Amazon. Scientists have described between 96,660 and 128,843 invertebrate species in Brazil alone.
Some animals found in the canopy are the harpy eagle, which preys on monkeys, kinkajous, sloth, reptiles, and other birds. Leaf-cutter ants are responsible for harvesting a sixth of the area’s leaves, bringing leaf fragments to their underground nests. They play a critical role in the rainforest’s ecosystem by pruning the vegetation, which stimulates new growth, and breaking down the leaves to renew the soil.
The rainforest contains several species that can pose a hazard. Among the largest predatory creatures are the Black Caiman, Jaguar, Cougar, and Anaconda. In the river, electric eels can produce an electric shock that can stun or kill, while Piranha are known to bite and injure humans. Various species of poison dart frogs secrete toxins through their flesh. There are also numerous parasites and disease vectors. Vampire bats dwell in the rainforest and can spread the rabies virus. Malaria, yellow fever and Dengue fever can also be contracted in the Amazon region.
Native peoples of the Amazon rainforest have used different plants for centuries as cures and potions for their health and survival. Scientists are now discovering that many of the plants are sources for new drugs for AIDS, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s. Although 25% of all drugs are derived from rainforest ingredients, scientists have tested only 1% of tropical plants.Many medical and pharmaceutical agencies are running projects in the jungle for gaining plant knowledge and doing drug research.
Amazonian rainforest receives about 9 feet of rain every year. Fifty percent of this returns to the atmosphere through the foliage of trees. Most of the Amazon River’s water comes from the annual snowmelt high in the Peruvian Andes.
High temperatures and the amount of rain are the same throughout the year in Amazonian rainforest. The climate is warm and humid, with average temperatures around 79° F. The difference between day and night time temperatures is greater than those between seasons.
Today, more than 20% of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed and is gone forever. The land is being cleared for cattle ranches, mining operations, logging, and subsistence agriculture. Some forests are being burned to make charcoal to power industrial plants. More than half of the world’s rainforests have been destroyed by fire and logging in the last 50 years. Over 200,000 acres are burned every day around the world, or over 150 acres every minute. Experts also estimate that 130 species of plants, animals, and insects are lost every day. At the current rate of destruction, it is estimated that the last remaining rainforests could be destroyed in less than 40 years !!! Environmentalists are concerned about loss of biodiversity that will result from destruction of the forest, and also about the release of the carbon contained within the vegetation, which could accelerate global warming .