The Importance of the Amazon Rainforest
By Rhett A. Butler
April 1, 2019
The Amazon Basin contains the world's largest rainforest, which represents over 60 percent of the world's remaining rainforests. More than half this forest lies in Brazil.
The Amazon rainforest affords the planet with irreplaceable ecosystem services that are increasingly being recognized by researchers and policymakers.
Through transpiration, the Amazon rainforest is responsible for creating 50-75 percent of its own precipitation. But its impact extends well beyond the Amazon Basin, with Amazon rainfall and rivers feeding regions that generate 70 percent of South America's GDP. Models indicate that moisture from the Amazon influences rainfall as far away as the Western United States and Central America.
The 390 billion trees across the Amazon rainforest locks up massive amounts of carbon in their leaves, branches, and trunks. A 2007 study published in Global Change Biology estimated the the forest stores some 86 billion tons of carbon or more than a third of all carbon stored by tropical forests worldwide.
The Amazon is home to more species of plants and animals than any other terrestrial ecosystem on the planet — perhaps 30 percent of the world's species are found there. Besides their intrinsic value as living organisms, these species have potential value to humans in the form of medicine, food, and other products.
Within the Amazon Basin, tens of millions of people depend on services afforded by the forest. Rivers are the main vectors for transportation, while logging and collection of non-timber forest products are major industries in many cities, towns, and villages. The rainforest helps suppress — but not completely eliminate — the risk of fire, in addition to reducing air pollution. Fish in Amazon tributaries are a huge source of protein in the region. Annual floods replenish nutrients in floodplain areas used for agriculture.
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