Tropical Rainforest Ecosystems: Why Are They Important?

ecosystem tropical rainforest
Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Alenka Skvarc

Tropical rainforests are bursting with fascinating flora and fauna, and as the green lungs of our planet, the ecosystems of tropical rainforests play an important role for the world’s climate.

Rainforests can be found in tropical areas of Australia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and South and Central America. As the name implies, the ecosystem of a tropical rainforest is ruled by the rain. Some typical characteristic of rainforest climates are:

  • high humidity of 77% to 88% all year round 
  • fog (because more rain falls than can evaporate)
  • temperatures between 70-85˚F
  • no seasons
  • diverse flora and fauna
  • canopies (different levels) 

How Does the Ecosystem of a Tropical Rainforest Work?

ecosystem of rainforest
The soil in rainforests is poor in nutrients because the plants absorb them before they can seep into the earth. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pexels - David Riano Cortes)

Ecosystems of tropical rainforests are among the most diverse in the world. Despite the fact that the soil is extremely poor in nutrients, a built-in highly efficient recycling system allows the system to work. 

The ecosystem of a tropical rainforest forms an almost closed nutrient system. Within it, nutrients circulate constantly. Most nutrients are stored in plant biomass such as leaves, branches, or trunks. When these fall to the jungle floor or die, they are quickly decomposed, which releases the nutrients they contain back into the environment.

When it rains, nutrients like phosphorus and calcium are released from the leaves of the trees by osmosis, and then are partially reabsorbed by perching plants (epiphytes). The remaining rain falls on fungal communities called mycorrhiza, which is a very thick layer of foliage, roots, and fungi. Thanks to them, the nutrient-rich water doesn’t immediately seep into the soil and can be absorbed by the plants.

Despite the almost perfect nutrient cycle, nutrient losses occur during very heavy rainfall. The rain washes the nutrients out of the soil and into nearby rivers, which transport them away. These losses are partially compensated by trade winds, which carry nutrients with the Saharan sand as far as the Amazon. 

The Importance of Tropical Rainforests

ecosystem in rainforest
Through heavy deforestation practices, we are essentially removing a lung from our planet. No matter where you live in the world, you benefit from the tropical rainforest ecosystem. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay - Robert Jones )

Biodiversity is one of the reasons tropical rainforest ecosystems are so important. According to Greenpeace, over 3 million species live in the Amazon rainforest alone. Not only that, but approximately 180 indigenous communities still live in rainforests. Slash-and-burn practices, often illegal, threaten their homes and their livelihood.

The ecosystems of tropical rainforests stabilize the climate, which plays an important role in climate protection. Tropical rainforests are the green lungs of the earth because they absorb very large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into oxygen. The resulting carbon is stored by the rainforest in plants and soils – in huge quantities.

The Amazon rainforest currently covers an area of 2.72 million square miles, making it the largest contiguous rainforest area in the world. Unfortunately, more and more of it is being destroyed. From August 2019 to July 2020 alone, 4,281 square miles of rainforest were cut down in Brazil. That’s an area the size of Jamaica!

The disappearance of tropical rainforest ecosystems will have dramatic consequences for biodiversity, the planet, and the human race. 

Protecting the Rainforest Ecosystem

ecosystem tropical rainforest
Protecting the rainforest is absolutely crucial to the survival of diverse species of flora, fauna, and the human race. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pexels - Quang Nguyen Vinh)

There are many changes you can make in your everyday life that will help protect tropical rainforest ecosystems:

  • purchase recycled paper with the FSC seal 
  • avoid buying furniture made out of tropical wood 
  • read the labels: palm oil production contributes significantly to the destruction of the rainforest.
  • try switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet or at least reconsider and limit your meat consumption: large areas of rainforest are cleared for soy production to produce animal feed 
  • donate to an environmental NGO or non-profit
  • buy from businesses that support reforestation and sustainable practices

In this way, you can protect the rainforest ecosystem in your everyday life and contribute to climate protection.

This article has been translated from German by Karen Stankiewicz. You can view the original here: Ökosystem Regenwald: Darum ist es so wichtig für uns

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