There are many kinds of forest on our planet, but they all contain a delicate balance of plants, animals, fungi and bacteria. Forests provide us with many resources, including food, paper, building materials, chocolate, medicines, and even the air we breathe. Forests make rainfall and filter freshwater. Most importantly, they are the lungs of our planet, and soak up carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause climate change.
Forests are naturally resilient, and areas cleared of tree cover can spring back to life if given a chance, even after huge forest fires. In fact, natural fires started by lightning may seem to be a terrible thing for forests, but actually often allows them to grow back stronger and to support a bigger variety of animals and plants than if the trees just kept growing.
THE WORLD’S GREATEST RESOURCE?
All forests clean the air we breathe, breathing in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. This process, called ‘photosynthesis’, happens faster in the wet heart of tropical rainforests than anywhere else on our planet. Jungles also regulate our climate. Like giant sponges, they soak up water through their roots and return it to the atmosphere through their leaves. This moisture is carried in the air to other parts of the world and falls as rain, so the jungle actually ensures that other parts of the planet have the water that is needed for life to survive. Jungles give us precious resources. Much of the food we eat – coffee, avocados, bananas, lemons, oranges, cacao beans
to make chocolate, cashews, peanuts, pineapples and papayas were first found in the jungle and are now farmed for our enjoyment. Many medicines that we use today were discovered by studying chemicals produced by plants and trees growing in jungles. Scientists believe there are many more discoveries to be made that could help us stay healthy in the future.
The forests with the most plentiful and diverse wildlife are the jungles near the equator (the imaginary line around the middle of the planet), where they do not experience the seasonal changes that are felt in the North and South due to the tilting of the earth on its axis. This rich biodiversity is a result of the constant warmth and wetness of tropical rainforests, where the trees
are leafy all year round, there are no big changes in temperature due to seasons and nature is fully active all year round. Jungles have different levels – each providing habitat for different species. A small area of jungle can be home to a huge amount of wildlife, from the forest floor up to the thick canopy. In the Amazon rainforest, 2.5 sq km of jungle can be home to more than 50,000 insect species, and some types of tree may only be found in one small area where they have evolved.
The unchanging temperature and constant warmth of the jungle mean that some species are only used to those conditions, and are not able to cope if their habitat changes. This means that when human actions have an impact on a jungle it can cause serious problems for
the wildlife living there. Lots of species in jungles have developed relationships that mean they depend on each other for their survival. This means that if one species is damaged it can also cause problems for other species in the same part of the jungle – or even in other areas.
SAVING THE JUNGLE
Local communities can be supported and empowered to allow them to protect the jungle and make a living without destroying jungle for farmland or timber. People who have used these jungles for generations can continue to do so, while ensuring that the amazing wildlife that shares the jungle – and future generations of people – can do so too.
Some crops can be grown in the jungle without removing the trees. By planting lots of different crops under the canopy (fruit, nuts, coffee etc) an area of jungle can provide food and income for local communities without any areas ever being cut down completely. This creates a more natural ecosystem than on a farm growing a single crop, so fertilisers and pesticides are not needed. There are also techniques that can enable some harvesting of trees for timber and other resources from the jungle in a way that allows it to stay healthy and recover, and all the different crops together provide enough to support farmers. This is called Agroforestry.
We depend on jungles but we risk losing them if we don’t act now. We can use the jungle in a way that does not destroy it for future generations. We can all make sure that we live in a way that protects our precious planet. One way is by making sure that we ensure that products we buy are not produced at the expense of the jungle.
Forests and jungles play an important role cleaning, storing and distributing freshwater. Over three quarters of the freshwater humans can access comes from forests, and air that passes over large forest areas produces much more rainfall than air that has passed over little vegetation.