Rainforests are the richest terrestrial ecosystems on earth. This vast untamed wilderness is home to thousands of unique species of plants, animals and insects. Imagine spectacular shows of colorful birds, monkeys swinging high in tree canopies, exotic amphibians, slinking reptiles; or crystal-clear waterfalls and striking vegetation with all shades of green.
Rainforests are mysterious. Rainforests hide hundreds of previously unseen animals and plants with miraculous properties. Many remote corners of the jungle have not yet been explored, but our health and wellbeing depends on the essential services rainforests provide, such as climate stabilization, water purification and medicinal properties.
To learn more about the importance of these unique ecosystems, we put together these ten interesting facts about the world’s remaining rainforests. So let’s get lost together in the jungle.
There is nothing like the thrill of walking through the jungle looking for a tiger and knowing they could be watching you already.— Ashlan Gorse Cousteau
10 Facts everyone should know about rainforests
#1 There are two different types of rainforests
Everyone has heard of tropical jungles, but did you know that there are also temperate rainforests?
As the name suggests, rainforests strive in rainy areas of the world with around 100 inches (2,500 mm) of rain throughout the year. This means that they can be found on every continent except the ice-covered Antarctica.
Temperate rainforests can grow anywhere between the tropics and the polar circles. In the past, they covered pretty much all continents. Today only half of these ancient forests remained in South-Eastern Australia, New Zealand and North America .
The largest temperate rainforest spreads along the Pacific Northwest coast of North America from the Prince William Sound in Alaska all the way to Northern California. The ecosystem is characteristic for its large coniferous trees, such as Douglas fir, Western red cedar and Sitka spruce covered with moss and ferns on the ground. In the United States, you can visit for example the Olympic National Park in Washington, which is a home to temperate lush rainforests in the Quinault, Queets, Hoh, and Bogachiel valleys.
Tropical rainforests, on the other hand, lie in the tropical regions. They are found in tropical areas of Asia, Africa, Central America and the Pacific Islands. It is believed that these rainforests are the oldest ecosystems on earth that have been evolving over more than 60 million years. This slow process of evolution probably facilitated the great biodiversity of plants and animals that live in the tropical rainforest .
#2 Rainforests contain high biodiversity of species
The favorable climate of tropical rainforest creates perfect conditions for a great variety of species. Abundant rainfall combined with higher temperatures are the main reasons why forests stay green all year long, providing plentiful environment for many living creatures.
Even though rainforests cover in total only six percent of the earth’s land surface, more than half of all plant species, animals and insects depend on the tropical rainforest ecosystem. According to estimates, that is around 30 million species . The majority of them cannot live anywhere else because they have evolved in the specific habitat only rainforests can provide.
Examples of some other iconic rainforest species are: orchids, lianas, palm trees, chameleons, jaguars, gorillas, sloths, turtles, macaws, anacondas, anteaters, capybaras, and piranhas.
In fact, the whole variety of species inhabiting this vast ecosystem still remains a mystery up to this day. No one knows how many species of animals live in the rainforest. As WWF states: every three days a new species is being discovered in the depth of the Amazon rainforest.
#3 Tropical rainforests are important sources of useful medicines
Approximately 25 percent of all Western medicines have come from rainforest plants, including those that treat inflammation, rheumatism, diabetes, muscle tension, malaria, heart and skin conditions, arthritis, glaucoma, cancer, and many more.
For example, you may have heard about Lapacho, herbal tea made from the inner bark of the Pau d’arco tree. Lapacho is known to help treat infections, allergies, diabetes, asthma and bronchitis.
The full potential of rainforests to find powerful cures to many of our serious diseases is undeniable. According to the Nature Conservancy, only around one percent of plants hiding in the depth of our rainforests have been examined for their medicinal properties. The healing potential of the remaining 99 percent is yet to be discovered .
If we could estimate how much medicine comes from the rainforest and what value it really has for our health, rainforests would most likely be protected and closely watched.
#4 Rainforests are important to our food supply
Not many of us realize this, but around 80 percent of important and beloved foods in our daily diets originally come from the tropical rainforests .
Examples of some staples of our modern, balanced diet are:
How dull our daily menus would be without many of these culinary gifts from our world’s rainforests!
#5 A lot of people’s livelihoods directly depend on rainforests
Many parts of the tropical rainforests are inhabited by indigenous people, who have been living in the jungle for millennia without any contact with the rest of the world. About 250,000 indigenous people call Amazon rainforest their home [1,5]. They have built their culture around the deep respect and traditional knowledge of the rainforest and its riches.
The Enawene Nawe are one of them. A tribe of approximately 500 people lives in the Amazon rainforest of Mato Grosso state in Brazil. The tribe is known to master a great fishing technique, when they build wooden dams across small rivers to catch large amounts of fish. Unfortunately, the livelihood of these people is now endangered by the extensive plans of the Mato Grosso’s government on building hydroelectric dams across their rivers.
But rainforests are not only home to indigenous people. Around 90 percent of the world’s poor people (more than 1.2 billion) rely heavily on rainforests to meet their daily needs.
For example, Greenpeace states that just in the Brazilian part of the Amazon live over 20 million people, whose livelihoods are closely linked with the rainforest. The majority of these people live in surrounding villages or cities, but they still get their food, tools, and medicine from the forest.
#6 Rainforests affect the global rainfall pattern
Did you know that rainforests play a critical role in the water cycle? They do this by “breathing out” large amounts of water vapor into the atmosphere. How does that happen?
When it rains, thick vegetation of the rainforest acts as a sponge – trees absorb large amounts of rainwater through their roots. Water is then distributed through their trunk into the branches and leaves for food. Excess water is released in the form of vapor back into the atmosphere . This process is called transpiration.
The released vapor contributes to the formation of rain clouds, which create new rainfall again. It is estimated that more than half of rainfall in the Amazon comes from the plant transpiration.
According to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), moisture coming from the Amazon is one of the global drivers of the water cycle. You can even see the clouds of water vapor appearing above the rainforest and being carried away by the wind currents on the satellite images from the space. The images show that the vapor originating in the Amazon rains down on the ground as far as Texas .
Similarly, the rainforests in Southeast Asia bring rain to Southeastern Europe and China. So, the rainforests actually affect the amount of rainfall we get even thousands of miles away from them.
#7 Rainforests regulate global temperature
Rainforests help to regulate the world’s temperature and weather patterns. They stabilize the climate in a number of ways:
- absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing the carbon in their vegetation;
- creating rainfall as mentioned above;
- cooling down the air temperature when transpiration happens;
- producing oxygen during the photosynthesis.
These are essential functions for our wellbeing on the planet. If rainforests ceased to exist, the earth would be much hotter and drier with extreme weather swings.
This is not just a theory. There is a historical evidence of such radical changes of climate that has wiped out a whole advanced civilization.
By cutting down the rainforest around their expanding cities, the Maya have brought upon themselves very long periods of extreme droughts that destroyed their crops and led to the doom of their civilization.
#8 Rainforests are important carbon sinks
Rainforests play an important part in the earth’s carbon cycle. According to scientists, around 230 billion tons of carbon is stored in the dense vegetation of tropical rainforests. This is the equivalent of approximately 30 years of carbon emissions from fossil fuels .
Rainforests absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during the process of photosynthesis when plants use the atmospheric carbon to form their body.
During photosynthesis, oxygen is released back into the atmosphere – that’s why rainforests are also called the “lungs of the planet”. The all-year-long green vegetation from rainforests helps to refresh the air and supply oxygen to the atmosphere.
#9 Rainforest destruction is contributing to climate change
As increasing demand for resources rules our modern lifestyle, ancient rainforests across the world keep disappearing to satisfy our needs. From the original 6 million square miles of tropical forest, we are left with just one third of it .
Lush and dense vegetation of tropical jungle is being replaced with cattle farms, soy or palm oil plantations. But with the trees gone, the carbon stored in their bodies is released back into the atmosphere.
According to the data from 2012, scientists estimate that rapid deforestation in the tropics has led to a release of 1.14 billion tons of carbon per year and accounted for 6 to 17 percent of global carbon emissions .
So, yes, rainforests are one of the largest reservoirs of carbon storage on the planet and have the ability to reduce the greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, but their continuous destruction is also capable of speeding up climate change and making climatic conditions even more fierce.
#10 Rainforest destruction hides in our clothes
Did you know that tropical rainforests are cut down and replaced with vast monoculture plantations of eucalyptus and acacia to make our clothing? Around 2.4 million acres of the Indonesian rainforest is cleared each year to make way for pulp wood production .
Pulp is used to make rayon and viscose, fabrics found in a variety of clothing items such as T-shirts and dresses. The apparel is often sold to consumers from the United States, Europe, Asia – far away from the rainforest.
Our health, lifestyle, choice of food and even economy is linked to rainforests in every aspect. Yet, the level of their destruction is worrying. The future of many animals, plants and people is currently being shaped by our decisions to seize more land and transform it from a lively jungle to the exhausted, overexploited plot.
Instead, we should strive to protect our beautiful rainforests so that they will be there for future generations on this planet as well as for our own sake!