The rain forests of the world are an important resource. They store carbon and produce oxygen. They regulate weather around the globe and keep erosion and flooding in check. Over 50 percent of the animal species found on the planet are sustained by the rain forest habitat. Rain forests once covered 12 percent of our planet's surface, according to Mongabay.com; today rain forest comprises less than 5 percent of the surface of the Earth.
The largest rain forest left is in the Amazon River basin in South America. Some of the other rain forests are located in Indonesia, the Congo Basin, Nigeria, Madagascar, Vietnam and French Guiana.
The largest factor of environmental danger to rain forests is deforestation. Mongabay notes Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations statistics that show 10.4 million hectares of rain forest are destroyed every year. The FAO defines deforestation as "the conversion of forest to another land use or the long-term reduction of the tree canopy cover below the minimum 10 percent threshold."
Logging and clear-cutting for farming (often referred to as slash-and-burn) both destroy rain forest permanently. In addition, some trees are removed to make way for roads, dams and mining operations. Because of the economic conditions of the countries where many rain forests are located, the people turn to these practices as a way to make money. In many cases, the money earned from a harvested field of soybeans or a truckload of mahogany will feed families and provide needed clothing and shelter.
Degradation is also very damaging to the rain forest, but there is a possibility that areas affected to this degree can be converted back into forest. Logging practices such as selective logging, where companies come in and choose only one or two tree species, are considered degrading. This practice damages the rest of the area because the large trees that are cut down often crush other trees as they fall. Large areas are opened up, allowing more sunlight to penetrate the forest. This dries up plant life and kills organisms that feed the trees.
Habitat fragmentation is another example of degradation in the rain forest. Even when patches of rain forest are left in between deforested regions, the habitat is adversely affected. The humidity and temperature of the forest is changed by the less dense tree conditions. Drier conditions also make the rain forest more susceptible to fires.
Global warming affects rain forest on a very large scale. A temperature change of even one or two degrees can dry out the rain forest and affect the many plants and animals living there. If the plants are deprived of sufficient moisture, they will not release as much oxygen into the atmosphere. Many of the animals living in the rain forest, such as tree frogs, depend on a constant state of hydration that the humidity of the rain forest provides. Other animals depend on the food sources that thrive in the moist environment, such as fruits and flowering trees.
Article Written By Cate Rushton
Cate Rushton has been a freelance writer since 1999, specializing in wildlife and outdoor activities. Her published works also cover relationships, gardening and travel on various websites. Rushton holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Utah.