Rainforests: Sources of Chocolate, Gum, and More

Posted by Hugh Nguyen on

When you think of rainforests, the first thing that probably comes to mind is heavy rain falling through a dense forest of towering trees with lush green canopies, filled with hooping monkeys and all sorts of exotic animals and birds. While this is a vividly beautiful, and accurate, image for tropical rainforests, there are multiple kinds of rainforests and so much more to discover than just the rain and wildlife. Did you know that rainforests play an important role in our lives? From regulating the planet's temperature to providing us with much of what we find in our local supermarkets and stores, the rainforests of the world have made their way into our everyday lives in more ways than you could possibly imagine. Unfortunately, the harvesting of rainforests has led to deforestation, which has greatly depleted our resources and harms the well-being of our planet. Rainforests play an important part in the very health of our planet and, with the rainforests disappearing at an alarming rate, they need our protection.

Types of Rainforests

There are two types of rainforests, tropical and temperate. Tropical rainforests, the type that many picture when thinking of a rainforest, contains hundreds of different kinds of trees and plants, with an ecosystem sustainable for a diverse variety of species of animals, insects, and vegetation. Tropical rainforests are all found near the equator, with rainforests found all the way from Brazil and the Pacific Islands to Africa and Southeast Asia. These rainforests are warm and moist, with average temperatures ranging from 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. They receive steady rainfall throughout the year and get as much as 80 to 400 inches of rain! Temperate rainforests, on the other hand, grow further north and south of the equator and have a cooler climate. Temperate rainforests experience more dry spells than tropical rainforests do but they still experience a great deal of rainfall, about 60 to 200 inches each year. While temperate rainforests are cooler than those located closer to the equator, their temperatures remain above zero, ranging from 32 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

What Do We Get from Rainforests?

The rainforest's warm temperatures and heavy rainfall provide the perfect climate for the growth of a wide variety of plants, growing closely together. While new species of plants, and their uses, are still being discovered, we have found many different uses for the plants we have found so far. In temperate rainforests, the fertile soil and heavy rainfall cause trees to grow thickly and quickly, with some growing over 250 feet tall and up to 15 feet wide. With such big trees growing densely here, it is no wonder that it has become a very popular source of lumber. By harvesting trees, companies are able to provide manufacturers with the materials they need to make everything from our furniture, shipping boxes, and school books to the very gum we chew. In tropical rainforests, the different types of plants provide us with what we need to make things such as perfumes, dyes, and medicine, as well as the different fruits and nuts that make up much of our diet, including chocolate! Cocoa trees, which are harvested to make chocolate, are found exclusively along the equator and provide us with the treat that has become very popular across the globe.

While the rainforest is still being studied and harvested to provide us with the things we use daily, there are some serious consequences to the rate of which we have been harvesting these resources. Finding and using resources may be viewed as inevitable by some, but there are safer and more responsible methods of harvesting than the mass deforestation that has been the main means of attaining these resources from rainforests thus far.

Effects of Deforestation

Deforestation is the act of humans destroying and cutting down forests, and it has greatly reduced the amount of trees and vegetation present within rainforests across the globe. In Brazil alone, more than 19 percent of the rainforest has been lost since 1970 due to deforestation. While studies are not conclusive, the droughts that rainforests began experiencing as early as the 1990s has been considered to be a result of deforestation and climate change. The loss of rainforests not only affects the amount of resources we have and the loss of habitats for countless animals, but our everyday lives. We are often unaware of where the things we have come from and the impact the loss of these resources could have. Products like rubber, fruits, certain nuts, many commercial medicines, and chocolate are almost exclusively grown and harvested along the equator, in our rainforests.

Resource loss aside, our rainforests serve an important role in the climate regulation of our planet, including weather patterns and temperature averages. Additionally, rainforests produce over 20 percent of the planet's oxygen supply. While it may not be often that we think much about the air we breathe, the water we drink, or even the weather around us, our ecosystem is much more fragile than we may think. It is our job to understand how our world works and use its resources responsibly.

How to Protect the Rainforests

Fifty years ago, rainforests covered about 14 percent of the earth's surface, today some estimate that number to be reduced to as low as 6 percent, with more being lost every day. The loss of the rainforest is a big issue that may seem impossible to stop, but there is hope! There are several ways anyone, whether a child, teen, or adult, can help.

First, you can buy, or ask your parents to buy, food that is grown in a sustainable way. Researching where your food, such as bananas, gum, chocolate, and coffee, comes from is a great way to reduce the demand for the rainforest's resources while supporting companies that have chosen a safer, more responsible method of harvesting. You can also have a bake sale, garage sale, or fundraiser to help raise money and awareness for rainforest deforestation and its consequences. Next, find reusable replacements for your paper products and recycle the paper products you do use. Learning more and teaching others about the importance of reducing paper usage and recycling waste is a great way to reach out to others and spread knowledge! Lastly, use social media to spread the awareness of resources that come from the rainforest, responsibly resourced alternatives, and organizations or companies that are working to protect the rainforest. This can help others easily find ways to support the cause!

Additional Information and Resources

The world's rainforests are a place of wonder and discovery. In order to protect our rainforests, and our way of life, become more aware of the important role rainforests serve and help preserve these beautiful, natural resources.

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