Among the different biomes on the planet, which function as their own microclimates and biological zones, the rainforests continue to be the runaway leader in the most biodiversity.
Rainforests are not only home to thousands and thousands of plants, but they also are the only regions where a similar number of animals and insects are able to live due to the unique combination of high humidity, heat, and rainfall that rainforests are famous for.
In a nutshell, half of the world’s living animal species and plants living specifically in rainforests and nowhere else (which is considerable considering the total plant and animal species count today is 8 million per a recent United Nations report).
And a single two and a half acres (a hectare) can easily provide a home for more than 1,500 different plant species alone.
In short, rainforests are the grand-daddy of biodiversity, compacting tons of life in a small zone of geography that can only exist in certain parts of the world, namely locations near or on the equator.
The world is made up of multiple environments and zones in which different life lives, ranging from the harsh blowing snowscapes of the polar ends to the lush, humidity of the rain forests.
In each location and zone, better known technically as a biome, a different collection of life lives propagates and survives day after day, year after year.
However, within this global collection, the biome with the most diversity of life, including both flora and fauna, is definitely the rain forest.
Hands down, the world’s rainforests continue to produce new discoveries and are home to thousands of species.
As a biome, a rainforest operates biologically as its own ecosystem. It has its own climate, topography, soil, and watershed, and living cycle.
Much of this selection is dictated by the nature of the biome and what it provides as an overall package. For example, because a rainforest is so humid and wet, arid plants and animals would find the location inhospitable.
However, insects and reptiles find rainforests extremely advantageous, some growing too large sizes as a result.
Again, the characteristics of the rainforest provide the advantages for its immense biodiversity. Those factors include hotter temperatures, very high rainfall, and soil that doesn’t hold much in the way of nutrients.
While most people would find this kind of environment very uncomfortable, the combination is home to thousands upon thousands of different plants and animals.
For example, a typical rainforest in Borneo, in the South Pacific, can easily be called home to over 15,000 different types of plants.
In one survey, researchers were able to document well over 2,500 different plants of the orchid species alone in the same location. Interestingly, this aggregation of plant and animal species doesn’t take up much in the way global territory.
While at least half of the world’s flora and fauna live in rainforests, they only make up 6 percent of the world’s landmass in terms of physical territory.
Another aspect that makes rainforests so interesting to study and compare biologically is that they are not similar to each other. Just about every rainforests is a unique collection of climate, soil, animals, and plants.
No two are alike. Monkeys are a great example of this. The species found in South and Central America are entirely different than those found in Africa, yet both regions have rainforests populated by multiples species and subspecies.
And their different way of living and interacting with their environments creates different ways plants and soil mix around due to the monkeys’ activities.
Insects are another key difference between rainforests. They are often critical in helping plants pollinate. However, which insect and how that is done varies incredibly from one rainforest to the next.
Ants, for example, are major traffickers and movers of soil, plants, pollen, and debris. In other cases, it may be termites. Primates, bats, and rodents eat plant products and then defecate the seeds with fecal matter miles away, practically fertilizing the location where the seed is dropped for maximum growth potential.
Still others, the traditional bee is the major transporter of pollen. Plants have adapted to these differences with different scents, colors, blooms, attractants, and liquids to bring the animals to them and move their pollen from plant to plant.
The process then allows the flora to propagate faster than it ever would on its own.
A primary threat to rainforests and their dominating biodiversity level continues to be human development.
Through expansion, slashing, burning, and conversion of land into farming use, human encroachment is by far the most destructive force reducing rainforest biodiversity globally.
Similar to what the Mayans did to their region, causing that ancient civilization’s collapse, modern humans are decimating rainforests by the thousands of acres annually, changing jungle to farmland or mining.
One of the driving influences of the human problem is that a large majority of rainforests are located in countries that prize development over environmental protection.
Many of these nations are in pre-development or development stages, depending heavily on agrarian societies and the harvesting of natural resources for second-hand manufactured goods in exchange.
Developed nations create a demand for these goods because they can be achieved at a low cost to the buyer. However, as land and resources are consumed, it is the local rainforests that pay the price as well as the indigenous biodiversity that is being wiped out in the process.
The amazing thing about the rainforests is how resilient they are. Despite extreme damage, they can restore themselves in a very short time, just a matter of decades.
This is extremely evident in Mexico and Central America. Mesoamerican civilizations caused significant damage and clear-cutting in many areas, yet only a short time later, these same civilizations were completely overgrown and covered by rainforest vegetation.
Centuries later, entire cities were buried and are only known to have existed due to penetrating tools like LIDAR and similar that can cut through the vegetation to find proof of prior human presence.
Even in Florida at Cape Canaveral at what used to be a highly active rocket-launching complex, the area is already being swallowed up and returned to a natural jungle in just 30 or 40 years.
The key to this return is, however, that humans don’t keep adding to their development presence and clear-cutting.
How fast could things be reversed without taking action? Some estimates place the critical loss of rainforests and their biodiversity to be as short a window as 100 years, a little over a basic human lifetime.
Affected areas could turn into savannah type topography, increasing the heat in the regional area as well as reducing oxygen production to the atmosphere.
In addition, the greater amount of carbon release would, in turn, increase the hotbox effect, further destroying biodiversity as well as making affected regions hard to live in for all life.
The bottom-line – loss of rainforest biodiversity has serious implications for life in general, even if the beneficiaries are far away in colder climates.