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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.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the world's largest rainforest?
The Amazon Rainforest is the world's largest rainforest, spanning over 5.5 million square kilometers. It covers parts of nine countries in South America, with the majority (about 60%) in Brazil. The Amazon is known for its incredible biodiversity, housing approximately 10% of the world's known species, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
How much of the Earth's oxygen is produced by the Amazon Rainforest?
It is a common misconception that the Amazon Rainforest is the "lungs of the Earth," producing 20% of the world's oxygen. However, according to recent scientific studies, the Amazon's net contribution to the oxygen we breathe is close to zero. This is because the rainforest absorbs nearly as much oxygen through respiration as it produces during photosynthesis.
What are the threats to the Amazon Rainforest?
The Amazon Rainforest faces several threats, including deforestation due to logging, agriculture, and cattle ranching; mining; and climate change. Deforestation in the Amazon has accelerated in recent years, with Brazil's National Institute for Space Research reporting over 10,000 square kilometers cleared in the year ending July 2020, which is a 12-year high.
How does the Amazon Rainforest impact global climate?
The Amazon Rainforest plays a crucial role in regulating the global climate. It stores vast amounts of carbon, with estimates suggesting that the Amazon's trees hold about 76 billion tonnes of carbon, helping to mitigate climate change. Additionally, the Amazon influences rainfall patterns across South America and even in other regions of the world through its impact on atmospheric currents.
What can be done to protect the Amazon Rainforest?
Protecting the Amazon Rainforest requires concerted efforts at local, national, and international levels. This includes enforcing laws against illegal logging, supporting sustainable land-use practices, investing in conservation and reforestation projects, and promoting the rights of indigenous peoples who are the rainforest's stewards. International cooperation and funding are also vital to incentivize conservation efforts and sustainable development in the region.