WHAT THREATENS BIODIVERSITY IN THE RAINFOREST?

In protecting and preserving rainforests, we are merely preserving our future.  The year is 2070. Kids are on an expedition to a part of the Amazon rainforest and are clueless when their teachers throw around words such as "Spider monkey" and "Harpy eagle". What else could they be, for, they have never heard about these erstwhile creatures that became extinct well before their time? Back to the present. Today, in 2022, did you know that about 17 % of the Amazon rainforest, the largest in the world, has been destroyed over the last five decades? It is time to wake up and smell the forest fire.

Rainforests are home to some of the most biologically diverse and important ecosystems in the world more than half of Earth's plants and animals are found in them. June 22 was World Rainforests Day, and doesn't it make sense that one of our most important natural resources has a day dedicated to it? In a bid to raise awareness and encourage action to protect the world's rainforests, the first World Rainforest Day was celebrated on June 22, 2017, by the Rainforest Partnership, an international non-profit.

Fear factor

 So, how serious is the threat to rainforests? In an interview, Gabriel Labbate, head, United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEPS) Climate Mitigation Unit, shed some light on the issue. "There are worrying signs that some of these systems may be close to tipping points. For example, an article I read in the last six months documented clear signs that the Amazon was losing resilience. The Amazon is like a gigantic recycler, a water pump. Water may be recycled up to five times as it travels from the southeast to the northwest of the Amazon. When rain falls on trees and vegetation, part of it is absorbed, and part of it goes back up into the air following evapotranspiration. You stop this water pump and the whole system may transform into a savannah because there is not enough water left to sustain a tropical forest. There will be a cascade of impacts following the disappearance of an ecosystem like that."

While Labbate has spoken specifically about the Amazon Rainforest, the danger to other rainforests is just as real. Many of them have suffered from heavy logging for their hardwoods, slash-and-burn cultivation, and forest fires, throughout the 20th century. Consequently, the area covered by rainforests around the world is shrinking, and large numbers of multiple species are being driven to extinction

Almost 90% of West Africa's rainforests have been ravaged, as have two-thirds of Madagascars. In fact, the situation turned so dire that several countries, most specifically Brazil, declared deforestation a national emergency, and it was instrumental in slowing down the damage from 2004 to 2012. deforestation reduced by about 80 % in the country.

While it is arduous to completely reverse the effects of rainforest destruction, here are a few steps you can take to tackle the problem:

  • Start by reading more about it and teach others about the importance of the environment and how they can help save rainforests.
  • Try and restore damaged ecosystems by planting trees on land where forests have been cut down.
  • Encourage people to live in a sustainable manner, one that won't harm the environment.
  • While not all of us have the resources financial or otherwise to protect) rainforests and wildlife on a large scale, it is possible to support organisations that help minimise damage to the environment. The time is ripe. Spread the word.

Picture Credit : Google 

WHAT ARE RAINFORESTS?

Rainforests are regions that consist of several tall trees, most of which are evergreen ones, and receive a large quantity of rainfall. They play an important role in taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and so, are often referred to as the lungs of the planet. They host an impressive variety of wildlife, and also influence weather patterns elsewhere in the world. All continents except Antartica house rainforests. The Amazon in South America is the world's largest rainforest.

Tropical rainforests are home to 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, all squeezed into a narrow strip of equatorial land. They are also home to millions of human beings that have been a part of forest ecosystem for thousands of years. While tropical rainforests are perhaps the most iconic, temperate rainforests are equally diverse and beautiful. Together, rainforests offer a gallery of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring places and creatures on Earth.

Since the beginning of history, humans have relied on rainforests, finding in them a steady supply of wood, plants, and animals, as well as fruits, fibers, grains, medicines, cloths, resins, pigments, and other materials. As millennia passed and many human communities moved farther away from the forest, our reliance on the forests did not weaken. Major trade routes, and even empires, developed to control the flow of the rainforest’s treasures.

Today, most of the industrialized world senses little connection to the rainforest, living in large, busy cities far away from these fertile ecological powerhouses. We forget that the forest regularly saves our global food supply by offering new, disease-resistant crops. We forget about the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of trade in timber, non-timber forest products and forest-derived pharmaceuticals. We forget about things that are ultimately beyond value: the livelihoods of millions of forest communities, a stable and livable climate for us all, the existence of most of our fellow species, and simple things we take for granted, like regular rain and clean air.

In tropical nations, many developing and debt-ridden, the forest is cleared in the hope of securing an economic future. Huge industrial interests—such as timber, agriculture, and mining—see an endless, profitable supply of cheap resources just waiting to be taken. Meanwhile, family farmers and loggers feel they have no option but to deforest in order to feed their families. However, innumerable studies and recent history show that little security can be found in tropical deforestation.

Thus far, our human family has erased half of our original endowment of rainforests. Our world is now facing a sixth mass extinction—the greatest extinction crisis since the fall of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The future of over half of Earth’s plants and animals—and hundreds of human cultures—will be determined within the next few decades. Since our lives are so dependent on the forest’s bounty, our future is at stake as well.

Credit : Rainforest aligns 

Picture Credit : Google 

What are the major threats faced by the rainforests of the Nicobar Islands? Name some protected areas in the islands.

Have you ever wondered how difficult it would be if wild animals invaded your cosy little house? What if they started living in it without your consent?

Rainforests are to plants and animals what homes are to us: a refuge, a shelter, and a peaceful place to eat.

Rainforests are cleared extensively to create space for cultivating essential crops. Trees are cut for fuel, cattle are grazed in forests, and large areas are burned to grow better grass for cattle feed. Exotic plants and animals are hunted for the pet and ornament market. Such conversion of natural habitats to suit Man’s needs defines the gravity of destruction caused to the rainforests.

Thankfully, Nicobar Island was declared as a biosphere reserve by the government in 1989 and was later included in UNESCO’s biosphere programme. Today, about 57 per cent of the island’s total area has been protected, the most important being the Campbell Bay National Park and the smaller Galathea National Park.

The Campbell Bay National Park received its status in 1992. It is located on the Great Nicobar Island and forms part of the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve, a perfect ambience for the growth of various endemic species.

The Galathea National Park is separated from the Campbell Bay National Park by a 12 km wide forest buffer zone. The Park has substantial tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, and its notable fauna species include the Giant robber crab, the Nicobar pigeon, and Megapodes, which are chicken-like birds. This Park is also home to the Shompens, a vulnerable tribal group of hunters and gatherers that survive on forest resources alone.

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What are some of the endemic species of the Andaman Islands' rainforests?

Sometimes, ‘small’ can be ‘big’. The Andaman island rainforests may be much smaller in area when compared to the Western Ghats or the North-eastern rainforests of India. They do not have a rich distribution of large-sized animals either. But this should not be used as a measuring stick to determine the species abundance of the land.

Endemism is truly remarkable in this region, be it birds, reptiles, amphibians, or mammals.

Birds highly indigenous to this particular ecosystem are the Andaman crake, the Andaman serpent-eagle, the Andaman coucal, Andaman woodpecker, Andaman scops owl, Andaman drongo, and Andaman treepie.

Among the 45 reptiles recorded, 13 species are natives of this ecoregion, the most striking of which is the bright green, slender lizard called the Andaman day gecko. Seven out of the 12 amphibians listed are also indigenous to these islands.

As for its mammals, five small species are indigenous and listed as Vulnerable or Threatened under the IUCN Red List. They are the Andaman spiny shrew, Jenkin’s Shrew, the Andaman rat, the Andaman horseshoe bat, and the white-toothed shrew.

Sadly enough, the Andaman rainforests are prone to natural calamities such as cyclones and tsunamis. Artificial destruction resulting from clearing lands for agriculture and human habitation has also adversely impacted this beautiful land’s rich endemism.

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What are the rainforests of Nicobar Islands known for?

The Nicobar Islands find their place across the Indian Ocean, lying between Sumatra to the South and the Andamans to its North. Believed to have been formed by volcanic activity, these islands have existed in isolation from the mainland for years. Hence, flora and fauna are diverse and primarily endemic.

Tropical moist broadleaf trees sketch the Nicobar Islands rainforests. The south-west and the north-east monsoon winds control these rain forests’ average temperature by causing heavy showers for many months. Cyclones and thunderstorms also frequent these islands.

A majority of the mammals are small in size. The Nicobar flying fox, the Nicobar tree shrew, and Miller’s Nicobar rat are the small-sized currently threatened and vulnerable species. Among the larger mammals are the Asian elephants, the spotted deer, and the endemic Nicobar wild pig.

The endemic birds include the Nicobar sparrow hawk, the great Nicobar serpent eagle, the Nicobar parakeet, and the sizeable Nicobar pigeon, closely related to the extinct dodo. The white-sand beaches that border the rainforests serve as nesting sites for green turtles, hawk bills, and leatherbacks.

Picture Credit : Google