Everyone in this day and age has heard about The Rain Forests of the world, but why are they really important? Aside from exotic timbers and interesting documentaries, are they valuable? What can be learned from the rain forests?
The rain forests are “carbon sinks”, meaning that they remove CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into usable compounds such as sugars, beautifully polished woods! They also harbour a wide range of plants and creatures, giving us lovely flowers and multicolored birds, as well as entertaining shows on television. But is this all that can be learned from the rain forests?
No! The rain forests are full of bizarre arthropods, strange fungi and poisonous plants and creatures; 85%+ are still waiting to be discovered. Why are these important? Because they tell us about the world around us and can be used by man if properly understood! Insects produce shellac for wood preservation; a species of scorpion has now been shown by some countries to cure some types of cancer; anticoagulants are being isolated from insect saliva! Mushroom and fungi have been used for years not only as food, but were the first producers of antibiotics. The poisons from the plants are valuable not for killing people, but as a future source of medicine, curare comes from a frog and digitalis is the scientific name for foxglove. Since almost 90% of the things in the rain forest have some sort of means of protection and less than 15% are even know, think of the potential!
And then there is more about learning how to live life, the rain forest is full of lessons. An example comes from the Caribbean and Central American Rain Forsets. There grows a giant tree in the middle of rain forest that has branches spreading out almost 100 feet, they are tangled in with the smaller trees underneath. This allows the tree to spread out more as the little trees support it, but it also gives the small trees something to hold on to during hurricanes, little take care of the big and the big hold up the little, governments could learn from this. This same tree has a strangely shaped flower that only one wasp can pollinate, the wasp gets nectar and the tree gets pollinated, symbiosis is living together in a mutually beneficial fashion and it is fascinating.
Now the tree bears fruit and the fruit gets eaten by a bat. Is this bad? Not at all as the seeds are waxy coated and cannot grow while the wax is present. The bat requires the wax as an essential nutrient. The fruit gets eaten, digested, and wax removed. The remainder of the seed comes out the backside and now the seed has been spread, fertilized, and scarified (wax removed) so can grow. This teaches us that everything is not as it appears; getting eaten in this case is good!
The rain forests also have parasites, things that take advantage of others. Strangler vines surround a tree and prevent its growth, killing the plant. They then absorb its nutrients and grow very fast, merging with each other and forming a casing that often looks like the tree. Once the original tree is gone though, they fall and die as they have nothing left to eat. This is another lesson that many need to learn.
So rain forests are important for a wide range reasons. They help clean the air, provide food, timber, and entertainment. Their creatures and plants also provide numerous other products and valuable medicines, as well as teaching about relationships. The lessons we could learn from the rain forest are infinite!