Tropical rainforests are home to the greatest diversity of plants and animals on land. Rainforests are also essential to humankind as they yield many important materials such as rubber, which originated from rainforest plants. Additionally, many medicinal plant substances from the rainforest are finding use in modern medicine. Human activities such as mining, logging, road building and agriculture are responsible for the destruction of rainforests. According to the World Conservation Monitoring Center, one million acres (400,000 hectares) of Amazon rainforest are cut down annually. Conservation efforts are trying to save the rainforests before this great pool of biodiversity is lost.
The rainforests are home to the largest number of plant and animal species on land. This makes these ecosystems rich in biodiversity (variety of life). Since the forests are disappearing rapidly, some plant and animal species are becoming endangered. The animals that thrive in these forests are losing their habitats. Loss of biodiversity would threaten the health of planet Earth.
Storehouse of Medicinal Plants
According to Diane Jukofsky in “Encyclopedia of Rainforests,” approximately one-third of the plants used in the research and development of pharmaceutical drugs are found in rainforests. Numerous drugs used in modern medicine are derived directly or indirectly from chemicals taken from rainforest plants. These include life-saving cures obtained from Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle) that has been synthesized in a medicine used to treat leukemia; and cinchona bark, which yields the compound quinine that was once the treatment of choice malaria. Tropical rainforests are home to 70 percent of the plants identified by the U.S. National Cancer Institute for treating cancer. Scientists are continuing to collect and study the medicinal value of rainforest plants.
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Many rainforest fruits provide food for people around the globe. These include bananas, cacao, pineapples, yams, avocados and coconuts. Export of rainforest fruits earns billions of dollars each year. Tropical nuts, including Brazil nuts, cashew nuts and macadamia nuts are also an important source of revenue for the Amazon rainforests.
Provides Important Materials
Logs from rainforests are transformed into furniture, packaging, fax paper and barbecue charcoal. Rainforests also provide natural plant materials such as oils, latex and waxes. Latex is the raw material for industries that manufacture rubber and chewing gum. Waxes obtained from the Brazilian wax palm are used for manufacturing lipsticks. Natural dyes, aromatic oils and perfumes are also derived from rainforest plant materials.
Rainforests help in maintaining local and global weather patterns. According to Edward Parker in “Rainforest Trees and Plants,” the rainforests are absorbing approximately half of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by human activities. As a result, the rainforests are helping to reduce the effects of global warming.