What is the World's Largest Rainforest?
The world's largest rainforest, and also the most famous, is the Amazon Rainforest, mostly located within Brazil (60%) and Peru (13%) in South America. The Amazon Rainforest is the number one biodiversity hotspot on the planet, only rivaled by the Congo Rainforest in Africa and the Southeast Asian rainforests in Asia. The rainforest has an area of over two million square miles (5.5 million square kilometers), making it the world's largest rainforest by a factor of at least 30% over the second largest rainforest, the Congo Rainforest. More than one in ten known plant and animal species can be found in the Amazon, including around 2.5 million insect species, at least 40,000 plant species, 1,294 birds, 427 mammals, 428 amphibians, and 378 reptiles.
Like other rainforests, the Amazon Rainforest is extremely dense, featuring over 90,000 tonnes of living plants per square kilometer. The plants cover the sky with a thick canopy, making the ground relatively dark. The huge trees make the world's largest rainforest a three-dimensional biome, with a canopy layer at about 30-40 m (100-125 ft) above the ground, and different animal species living at each layer. The rainforest layers include the canopy, the emergent layer above the canopy, the understory, which is below the canopy, and the forest floor, which only receives 2% of total sunlight. Frequent rains wash away the soil, meaning that rainforest soils are only a few inches thick.
The Amazon Rainforest is famous for being beautiful but dangerous. The waters of the Amazon River are inhabited by electric eels, whose shocks can kill; piranhas, which can strip a carcass of flesh in minutes; and the Black Caiman, a black crocodilian that has been known to kill humans by pulling them underwater until they drown. On the land are the Anaconda, one of the world's largest snakes, with a length up to 23 ft (7 m); poison dart frogs, whose lipophilic alkaloid poisons can kill an animal thousands of times their size, and which include the most poisonous animal on Earth; and the famous and beautiful jaguar, one of the largest predators in the world, and the largest cat in the Western Hemisphere.
Though the Amazon is the world's largest rainforest, it is being deforested rapidly. About 10% of the rainforest has been lost to slash-and-burn agriculture since the 1960s, and at the current rate of loss, about half the rainforest will be destroyed by 2030. Environmentalists around the world have taken a variety of steps to discourage the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest, but have had limited success.
The rainforests of Borneo do not qualify as the world's largest rainforest, but it may qualify as the world's most endangered rainforest. This beautiful forest is home to some of the world’s most unique plants and animals; things like the world’s largest carnivorous plant, world's largest orchid, world's largest butterfly, as well as the world’s tallest rainforest. With that last record comes a number of flying species that are found in few other places; things like flying squirrels, lizards, and snakes.
The worst part is this beautiful rainforest is being destroyed faster than any other rainforest because of people's addiction to fast food, make-up, and even biofuel. Companies are leveling the forests of Borneo and replacing it with palm oil plantations. Eighty-five percent of the world's palm oil is produced on land that was once part of the Borneo forests. That’s something we should all think about next time we are in line at the drive-through.
The most biodiverse area of the world's largest tropical rainforest is the Yasuni National forest on the Amazon's western boundary. The area is the world's most biodiverse region, but it is under threat from oil prospecting and development.
The forest contains a rich variety of bird, mammal, amphibian, and plant species. It is also one of the biodiverse hotspots that has the best chance of sustaining its biodiversity well into the future. If oil exploration were not a threat, Yasuni could become one of the world's most ecologically important areas. Sadly 79% of the area is under contract to oil development, and less than 15% of the area is protected as a conservation area.
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