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A Unique Ecosystem: The Flora and Fauna of the Tropical Rain Forest

The term "rainforest" was first used in 1898 by a German botanist, Schimper, to describe forests that grow in constantly wet conditions. These forests are found in both temperate and tropical conditions, but occur most frequently around the equator. The largest of these, the Amazon rainforest, covers six million square kilometers (2.3 million square miles), in nine different countries: Brazil, French Guiana, Surinam, Guyana, Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

The Amazon is one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth:

  • Image of a synthetic aperture radar picture taken of the area around Manaus, Brazil. This image links to a more detailed image.20% of all plant species, 20% of all bird species, and 10% of all the world's mammals are found in this area.
  • Over 400 species of insects may be found in each type of tree.
  • The second largest river on Earth, the Amazon, has over 1,000 tributaries and contains more than 1/5 of the fresh water on Earth. This river is thought to contain over 2,000 species of fish and numerous reptiles and amphibians not found elsewhere.
  • Most of the Amazon remains unknown; the possibilities of finding new species of plants and animals is enormous. A synthetic aperture radar image of the area around Manaus, Brazil. Photo: The space shuttle Endeavor, Oct. 3, 1994.

Recent Happenings in the Amazon According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 25,300 sq. kilometers (9,800 sq. mi.) of Brazilian rainforest were destroyed each year between 1981-85.

Recent figures released by Brazil's National Institute for Space Development indicate that approximately 1.5 sq. mi. of Brazilian rainforest were lost every hour between 1987-88.

Many developing nations face serious economic problems, including vast foreign debts. In 1987 the combined external debt of Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Columbia and Bolivia was more than $US 2 billion.

A recent January 8, 1995 Newsweek article states that "from June to November of last year, tens of thousands of fires blazed over the 2 million miles of the Brazilian Amazon."

To date, Brasilia has allotted only $2.4 million for a detailed study of rainforest damage over the last three years.

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Last updated November 10, 2004

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