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 rainforest animals and plants, notes Virginia Tech. According to Montclair State University, tropical rainforests once covered 20% of the land surface of the planet, however, they cover less than 7% today. Conservation efforts are trying to save the rainforests before this great pool of biodiversity is lost.
Biodiversity in Rainforests
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 these types of forest habitats are disappearing rapidly, some rainforest animal and plant species are becoming endangered.
In many parts of the rainforest, species are exclusive to particular areas. According to The City University of New York, for example, 80% to 90% of the plants and animals that live on Madagascar are unique to that island. Destruction of rainforest habitat in Madagascar would threaten the survival of thousands of species of plants, mammals, reptiles and amphibians that only live in that specific place.
The animals that thrive in these forests are losing their habitats forever when rainforests are destroyed. Loss of rainforest biodiversity would threaten the health of planet Earth and all the plants and animals that live on it – including humans – as we are all part of an interconnected web of life on the planet.
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 (the 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 for malaria. Tropical rainforests are home to 70% of the plants identified by the United States National Cancer Institute that may be effective for treating cancer. Scientists are continuing to collect and study the medicinal value of rainforest plants.
Rainforest Fruits as Food
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. Destruction of rainforests threatens food and economic security across the globe.
Important Materials from Rainforests
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 supply diverse raw materials that are used in a wide variety of essential industries.
Maintains Weather Patterns
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 and helping to moderate severe weather patterns.
About the Author
Debashree Sen is a technical writer and has written for non-profit organizations. She has been regularly contributing to eHow since 2009. She is a member of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). She has a master's degrees in professional writing and English literature.
Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images