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Living World - Impacts of Deforestation

Key words
Biodiversity – The variety of life in the world or a particular habitat.
Deforestation – The chopping down and removal of trees to clear an area of forest.
Logging – The business of cutting down trees and transporting the logs to sawmills.

The clearing of trees in tropical rainforest areas has huge environmental impacts.  Scientists are very concerned about the loss of biodiversity from such clearances.  Even though topical forests cover only twelve percent of the land area of the Earth, they are home to between 50 and 90 percent of the world's species. It is thought that we lose one species a day because of deforestation. This is bad, because we are losing a genetic resource and potential medicines and technologies.  Rainforests are a vital source of medicines. It is thought that roughly a quarter of all modern medicines came originally from rainforests, many originally used by indigenous people. An example includes Reserpine, a drug which can be used to treat people with high blood pressure.

There are many economic positives of developing rainforests. Improving transportation through the forest means easier access to raw materials like minerals and timber. Forest resources can then be transported away and sold, especially when roads are paved.  This has happened in Brazil through the Trans Amazonian Highway. Deforestation of tropical hardwoods such as ebony and mahogany can be sold for a good price abroad.  This logging of hardwoods also paves the way for agriculture. These large scale farms bring money into the country and provide food and jobs for the country’s growing population.  However, the profits from such large-scale farming and selling resources often go to large companies who set up in the rainforest. Small scale farmers can also lose out. Finally, tropical rainforests often have Mineral Deposits including bauxite, iron ore, manganese, gold, silver and diamonds.  These can be exploited and sold. The money from exploiting resources can then be used to improve hospitals and education.

Slash and Burn agriculture
However, deforestation affects the environment. All of the land clearances mentioned above remove forest cover. If the forest is allowed to recover, which it rarely is, the forest is rarely as it was before.  Hardwood trees take many years to grow so can be difficult to replace for example. Soils are damaged as the nutrient cycle is destroyed, whilst soils are also exposed to rainfall so get eroded and that clogs up rivers with sediment. The loss of forest cover also affects the water cycle in terms of evaporation, flooding and precipitation. Animal habitat is also lost when trees are cut down. If indigenous people are viewed as part of the environment they are also affected. Their numbers have declined and today the Brazilian census reveals that there are 817,000 indigenous peoples.

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