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Reports & Essays: Science - Earth

"AND""OR"

Rain Forest
Simply stated the word "ecology" means the relationship of living things to their surrounding and to each other. The rainforest is on of the biggest and best examples of a flourishing ecosystem. With the almost unlimited amount of species found within the rainforest something new is bound to be found every time one is looked at. In this essay I hope to outline and explain the various species of plants, animals, people and others that make up the structure of a rainforest. Obviously with species in these numbers it is literally impossible to explain every detail there is to know about a rainforest, but hopefully I will have given you a better understanding in the end. A rainforest is a complicated structure which is put together from an unlimited amount elements that all work together. A hole anywhere in this system can cause a breakdown that effects the entire structure. The bottom of the rainforest is the soil upon which everything must grow. Wherever rainforests are found, sandy red coloured soil can be found as well. This soil contains few nutrients, which is why attempting to grow any sort of crops would be futile. On top of this soil is a thin layer of humus, which simply said is the compost made from the millions of dead animals and plants of the forest. When things such as leaves and animals die their remains are quickly broken down by a limitless amount of tiny organisms. Some insects that do just this sort of thing include: beetles, ants, termites and a host of others. With all of this death happening so quickly you would expect a sort of rotten smell to be in the air. This, however, is not the case. This is simply because everything that is dead in the forest is broken down so fast. One example of how true this is would be to kick a fallen tree. Chances are it would crumble to pieces because termites had chewed, and knawed there way through it in a matter of hours. All living things requires three things in order to survive. They are food, moisture, and warmth. These things are provided in abundance in the rainforest. This explains why anything that has been dead for more than an hour is well on it's way to being broken down. The result of this is a brown, pleasant smelling compost containing seeds and other remains which makes up the thin layer of topsoil from which all plants in the forest grow. This layer is only a few inches deep and as soon as it rains, which happens often, this thin topsoil is washed away into the nearest river. This results in a loss of many seeds which have been released from larger plants. Those not lost in the rain can be eaten by such species as agoutis, weevils and other animals. All of these things paint a picture of how hard it is for a seed to germinate and grow into a mature plant. The plants of a rainforest take up such an incredible amount of space, that trying to identify them all would be like to trying to name every person in Toronto. It just can't be done. Of the approximate THIRTY MILLION plants, and animals in the world about TWO THIRDS are only able to survive in the rainforests. When you think of a rainforest, the first thing that most likely comes to your mind is a green steamy hell that is miles away from anything that you are used to. However we tend to forget how much of our daily lives involve the rainforests. Such common items as Mahogany, coffee, and peanuts all originally made their homes in the jungle. Another obvious example of this comes in the form of fruits. Tropical fruits are everywhere. Bananas, Mango's and Avacado's just to name a few, line the shelves our stores and supermarkets. The jungle does not just provide a source of food though, it also contributes to something of much greater importance. The field of medicine owes a lot to the enormous "gene bank" that the rainforest supplies. Treatments for such things as Leukaemia (Madagascar Periwinkle), AIDS (Catanospermine) gives new hope to these terminal diseases. Perhaps the most noticeable life form within the forest are the trees themselves. Most trees in the rainforest are evergreens however some, such as the wild Kapok are deciduous and will shed their leaves. Many of the trees and plants found within the forest have adapted to the environment around them. A good example of this is the leaves of rainforest trees. They typically have leaves which possess drip dips which are used to channel falling water to the roots below. This ensures that the roots get enough water, and also prevents the leaves from rotting in such a wet atmosphere. One of the more interesting plants which has adapted to it's environment is the bromeliad. These plants begin life as a small shrub growing on the branches of larger trees. They use these branches as a form of support to reach sunlight at the canopy. Eventually aerial roots begin to grow and will inevitably reach the ground. Once this happens many of the roots will cross and enclose the trunk of the host tree. When you picture this in your mind you may get the impression that this plant begins to strangle it's host to death. This is not the case however as it causes no harm. When considering the rainforests environment one could assume that seeds from trees will germinate quickly, where there is sufficient light, grow quickly, flower, produce seeds, and die in a fairly short period of time. This is not always the way of the trees within a rainforest though. Studies in such countries as Malaysia have shown tree ages ranging from 60-500 years old. The oldest tree found in that area comes in at 800 years old. This evidence shows that plants can live a long life if they occur in the right environment. On the jungle floor finding flowering plants is rare seeing as only about one to two percent of the light at the top of the canopy reaches the forest floor. This is why we must look to the life above to find most of the forest's plant life. Once the path of vision has been directed upwards towards the canopy, the rainforest takes on a whole new shape. The canopy of a rainforest is what makes the forest work, for it is here that the trees can photosynthesise in the sunlight, without which they could not survive. It is the busiest part of the forest but the importance of the system below, on the ground cannot be forgotten. The canopy of a rainforest is packed with birds, insects, animals and other forms of life. This is in response to the amount of fruit and flowers everywhere. An important thing to realize about that canopy is that all the tops of the trees do not combine with each other. The boundary of each tree top stops a short distance from the leaves of a nearby tree. This natural occurring event is known as crown shyness and is thought to be a defense against leaf munching caterpillars. The world of plants within a rainforest is every bit as fascinating and complicated as the animals around them. This brings us to the exiting and abundant world of animals within the rainforest. Rainforests are beaming with animal life. Almost all of the animal groups are represented here. The only group which is almost lacking are the large mammals. One of the most common and active animals found in the forest are monkeys. There is a whole range of them to be found. With this range in type also comes a difference in size. Some of the larger ones are located here, as well as the smallest in the world. The pigmey marmoset is so small is could easily fit into a coffee mug, with room left over for sugar and milk. Most of these monkeys make their home, and get their food high up in the treetops. Here they make use of branches and loose vines as there way of travel. Often times monkeys will fall the equivalent distance of a three story building to get where they are going. If they miss a branch on the way down they will simply grab the next available one. A close relative of the monkey is the lemur. This creature is best known for it's ringed tail, and although it also makes its home in the forest, a greater amount of time is spent on the ground. This makes them a lot easier to observe, but in contrast makes them an easier target for predators. Monkeys are not the only forest creatures which live their life high in the trees, there is also an abundant amount of bird life. While this form of life is both beautiful and plentiful, most are hard to observe because they are hidden from the ground. Some species such as the Heron can be seen from the ground quite easily, because they love water and will flock to it. The appearance of birds in a particular area is seasonal and is dependant on the availability of food. A tree that is just coming into bloom will attract birds from miles around because of the source of food. One of the more enchanting bird's of the rainforest is the Hummingbird. The general outlook on these birds is that they are small. This is true in most cases, however the largest of it's kind the "Giant Hummingbird" is as big as a sparrow. In comparison the sword billed hummer is one of the smallest birds, but's it's beak is larger than it's body. Beaks on hummingbirds come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each one made for the particular bird's need for obtaining nectar. Although the hummingbirds main source of food is the nectar from flowers, it can also feed on the many insects of the forest. Hummingbirds are the only birds with the ability to fly backwards and when in flight their wings will beat anywhere from fifty to two hundred times a second. The energy required for this causes the hummingbird to continuously feed throughout the day. Another bird of the forest that cannot be forgotten is the Parrot. Their loud calls and tendency to stay in groups makes them easy to spot. Parrots are most commonly loved for their brightly coloured plumage (feathers). With all of these animals found in the treetops, there are also a numerous amount on the ground. One of the more riveting animals to be found on the ground is the tapir. These strange looking beasts resemble giant pigs and range in colour from brown to black and white. This peculiar animal was even used in a Sherlock Holmes adventure in " The Giant Rat of Sumatra " which involved a tapir that went around savagely killing people. In actual fact tapirs are harmless vegetarians. They do however have massive teeth that they use to rip apart the leaves that make up their diet. Not all creatures that roam the ground are giant pigs though. Two other types of animals that find their home on the jungle floor are the millipede, and the centipede. Both invertebrates average approximately 10-13 cm in length. The two are often mistaken for each other, but are dramatically different from one another. The millipede is a harmless vegetarian that feeds on various plant life found on the forest floor. The centipede on the other hand is vicious carnivore that runs like crazy and has the ability to inject a poisonous venom into it's prey. The largest of it's kind, the Giant Centipede can reach lengths of up to thirty centimetres, and is not an animal that is toyed with. From creepy crawlers to cats, the rainforest hosts a variety of wild jungle cats. The largest of them being the tiger, although not far behind in size is the jaguar. The jaguar has a tendency to be more aquatic than the tiger, which is not surprising considering it's habitat in the Amazon jungle is as much water as it is land. Snakes make up another portion of the wild life and are generally a mistaken species. After learning about them you tend to wonder why so many people fear this animals with such a passion. Of the world's snakes only ten percent are venomous, and of these most would prefer to leave you alone as long as they are not provoked. Snakes are one of the hardest species to spot in the rainforest as they have the perfect camouflage for the forest, and thus makes them excellent predators. One of the more commonly overlooked aspects of the ecology of a rainforest is humans. It is typical for people to think that humans have little or no role in the rainforest. In reality over there are over two hundred million tribal people in the world, most of which make their homes in the rainforest. Many of the people around us seem to think that these people are ignorant, when in fact the opposite is true. "Forest Dwellers" as they are commonly called are brilliant naturalists, mainly because of their great knowledge, and use of, the plants and animals within their environment. The greatest use and perfection of this combination has to be given the Pygmies. The Pygmies are a West African tribe that are said to have the greatest ability to use what is around them, from their peers and others. They seem to have a special knack for this skill, which is often times attributed to "Magic" and the "Gods". They are, surprisingly the smallest tribe in physical height in the world. The largest of their people measures in at a mere five feet tall. A common way for hunting in the forest is through the use of poison tipped arrows, and blow darts. When firing either of these at it's prey a native will take a considerable amount of time because of the work involved in creating one. Making a fine quality arrow, or dart complete with poison can take several hours. The poison is used with the weapon so that the animal will not merely be injured (allowing it a chance to escape) but killed. Another popular way to kill prey is through a method called "noosing" in which a rope resembling a noose will be made from vegetable fibres. When the victim steps into the noose it is suspended in mid-air with the noose tied tightly around it's body. The natives do not only rely on animals as there only source of food though. The many plants of the forest including fruit are used in their ever day diets. This is done increasingly when animal game is scare. The people of the forest will use anywhere from about 80-100 percent of the plant life around then when needed. They do realize however, that they must conserve the environment that they live in and will only do this when necessary. These plants that are found around then will also be used for the various cures, and treatments needed for the sick around them. Natives are regarded in the highest respect as botanists because of this amazing ability to use the plants of the forest for medical purposes. The reasons above clearly show why the native people of the rainforests play such an important role in the continuing ecosystem of the rainforest In summary it can be said that a Rainforest is an ecosystem with an abundant amount of differing species that rely on the things around them to go on living. All of these species in some way or another either directly, or indirectly influence each other. A hole or damage in this system will then in turn effect the entire system in one way or another. The rainforest hosts an almost unlimited amount of species, and within these species includes over two thirds of the entire plant population. This is so because these plants can only survive in the conditions provided by a rainforest. As well as plants the rainforest contains numerous amounts of animal life ranging from something as small as and harmless as a Hummingbird to something as large and ferocious as a tiger. Along with all these plant and animal species comes something that is commonly over looked in the rainforest, and they are humans. There are over two million tribal people living in the world and a great deal of them live within the rainforest. They use the materials found here to supply there food, make their weapons and cure their sick. All of these things come together to form one of the most complicated ecosystems of the world, and this form comes in the shape of the ecology of a rainforest.

 



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