How Does the Rainforest Work?

­The rainforest is a place of constant change. It is a place where the sun rises and sets, where the wind blows, where the clouds come and go, and where animals and plants live and die. The rainforest is also a place of constant growth. Trees grow tall, vines grow long, and plants grow thick. In the rainforest, everything is alive -- even the soil itself.­

The rainforest is a mysterious place. It's so big that it's difficult to grasp its scope in your mind. The Amazon River basin alone covers an area of more than 2 million square miles (5 million square kilometers). That's about the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River! The Amazon River basin contains about 40 percent of all tropical forests on Earth [source: WWF].­

The world's largest rainforest is located in South America. It stretches from Brazil up to Venezuela and Colombia in Central America. This region contains more than half of all tropical forests on Earth [source: WWF]. In fact, if you were to take all of the world's rainforests and combine them into one giant forest, it would cover an area larger than China [source: WWF].­

The Amazonian region has some of the most diverse plant life in the world -- more than 20 percent of all known plant species can be found there [source: WWF]. And that's not all -- scientists estimate that at least 50 percent of all species in this region have not yet been discovered [source: WWF]. The Amazonian region also has one-fifth of all known animal species on Earth [source: WWF]. In fact, scientists have identified more than 1,100 new species in this region since 2000 alone!­

The Amazonian region is also home to hundreds of indigenous cultures who have lived there for thousands of years without modern technology or outside contact from Western civilization. These cultures are disappearing quickly as their land becomes increasingly valuable for logging companies, farmers and oil companies. In fact, it has been estimated that as much as 90 percent of indigenous cultures in South America are threatened by extinction [source: BBC News].

­On top of everything else, scientists estimate that about 20 percent (or roughly 200 billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide emissions come from deforestation in tropical forests like those found in the Amazonian region [source: BBC News]. In other words, we're cutting down trees faster than they can grow back -- which means we're creating a carbon dioxide imbalance that could lead to global warming.

In this article we'll find out what makes up a rainforest ecosystem and how it works so well at maintaining itself without human intervention. We'll also learn about some common dangers facing these ecosystems today -- including deforestation and global warming -- as well as what you can do to help protect them for future generations.­­Next let's find out what makes up a rainforest ecosystem so we can understand how it works so well at maintaining itself without human intervention.

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