with Biologist Rebecca Fox and questions from
Medea Creek Teen Club in Oak Park, CA
1. What are the downsides of living in the rainforest? Why?
Humidity! It is very difficult to air dry clothing. Some electronics like cameras or laptops are affected by the extreme humidity. There are so many living things here, that you can find scorpions in your shoes, plants growing in your washing machine and mold on anything made from leather if you do not use them for a few days.
2. How does the greenhouse effects effect the rainforest’s ecosystem
The trees in the rainforest convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. With increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the current number of trees in the rainforest cannot convert it fast enough. When rainforest is cut down or burned, all the carbon dioxide collected by the trees during their lifetime returns to the atmosphere. Rising global temperatures can disrupt the life cycles of plants. They can start to produce flowers and fruit at different times of the year and this in turn affects the animals that rely on these plants as a food source. If the change in global temperature is slow, some plants and animals may have time to adapt to a new environment. Others may migrate towards the poles as their habitat becomes too hot. If the temperature increases quickly, they will not have a chance to adapt or migrate, and many species in the tropics will go extinct.
3. How does the evolution of our world (i.e. cars, planes, etc.) effect the growth of our rainforests?
As globalization and technology advances, there is more demand for resources from rainforests. To manufacture smartphones, a mineral called Coltan is needed. The number one source of this mineral is located under the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the process of extracting the mineral from the earth the rainforest is cut down and rivers are polluted. This rainforest is home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla, whose small population is now even more threatened due to the mining for smartphone minerals.
4. How does pollution effect the evolution of species?
If pollution significantly alters the environment of a species, it can push that species to either adapt to the new conditions or to die. During the industrial revolution in England it was noticed that a new variety of peppered moth developed. Before the revolution a white bodied moth was commonly seen. Once large scale coal burning began and entire towns were polluted by soot, a black bodied moth began replacing the white peppered moth. This newly emerged species was named Biston betularia f. carbonaria, after the polluting substance that prompted its evolution. Any change in the environment can have an effect on the evolution of species, the difference with pollution is that we can control it.
5. What would happen is army ants go extinct? Would the animals that depend on army ants (i.e. birds) adapt to their new life or would they die?
Different species of birds source their food from army ant raids. There are ‘obligate antbirds’ that rely completely on the activity of army ants for all of their food. Without army ants they do go extinct. Some other birds feed opportunistically on insects disrupted by army ants. In Monteverde, Costa Rica many species of passing migratory birds do follow army ants for food. This means that if army ants went extinct here in Costa Rica you might notice the disappearance of migratory thrushes or warblers in California.
6. How much of the rainforest is still undiscovered or mysterious?
It is difficult to give an accurate measurement. Scientists estimate that there are still 30,000 plant species that we have not identified, and most of them will be found in rainforests. In 2005 some scientists looking at Mozambique on Google Earth came across a huge patch of rainforest surrounded by savannah. There was no information about this rainforest known to science. They went to explore this mysterious rainforest and on their first expedition discovered 10 new species including butterflies, snakes and chameleons.
7. Judging by how much rain we have, how will the rainforest survive and how long will it still be a good habitat for animals?
The rainforest used to cover 14% of the earth’s land surface, today it just covers 6%. The rainforest is disappearing so quickly due to logging for wood and paper or agriculture. The future survival of the rainforest does not depend so much on the changing amounts of rainfall, it depends on the rate at which humans continue to destroy it. If we continue to destroy the rainforest at similar rates, 80-90% of the rainforest will disappear in the next 40 years. Over half of all animal and plant species on earth live in the rainforest. When their habitat disappears, so will they.
8. With the animals going extinct because of pollution and the cutting of trees, how will it affect us?
Animals and plants of the rainforest may hold the secrets to curing many human diseases. 25% of modern medicines come from substances found in the rainforest. Right now scientists are studying the algae found on sloths as it may have the potential to kill cancer cells. Animals and plants in the rainforest are interdependent. Animals that act as pollinators, soil regenerators or seed dispersers are vital in the survival of many different types of plants that humans like to eat. If the bats, monkeys, birds and ants of the rainforest disappear, some foods like cashews, figs, avocados, vanilla and chocolate may disappear too or become very rare and expensive.
9. The trees with rubber sap inside- when do you think that those types of trees will go extinct because of cutting them down too much?
When a natural resource is highly valued by people, such as the rubber from rubber trees, it is usually cultivated instead of being taken from the wild trees in the forest. This means that it is unlikely that the rubber tree will go extinct because people will keep planting them to harvest the rubber. Large rubber tree plantations can have a bad effect on the rainforests of Southeast Asia. There, the rainforest is cut down to make room for rubber plantations and this is pushing species such as the clouded leopard, macaques and gibbons towards extinction.
10. How does the survival of the fittest apply to the rainforest?
Animals and plants that are best adapted to the rainforest environment will live long enough to reproduce and their species will be more likely to survive. This means they need to be well adapted to the high temperatures, high humidity and frequent rainfall. As the rainforest is cut down and the habitat becomes a mixture of rainforest patches with pastures for cattle and agricultural plantations, those animals that can survive in this new environment will survive longer. For example, here in Costa Rica the squirrel monkeys can live in fragmented rainforest and travel through agricultural lands, however the spider monkeys need large areas of untouched primary rainforest to survive.