Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Evaluate the role of human activity in modifying the characteristics of a tropical biome.

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A biome is a large scale or global ecosystem where biotic and abiotic elements interact with eachother producing a stable system that is in equilibrium. An example of this is the hot, wet equatorial climate where tropical rainforest is the dominant vegetation. Here the biotic elements such as the trees and animals for example sloths interact with the abiotic elements such as the poor soils and hot climate. The rainforest is millions of years old and remained undisrupted and in equilibrium for much of this time. However, as people exploit the rainforests resources, in particular its valuable trees, the equilibrium is changing. With trees being cut down at a rate of 40 hectares per minute how can it not?

Why are they needed?

Tropical rainforests cover over 7% of the earth’s surface and play an important part in maintaining environmental and climatic stability. They help reduce soil erosion, prevent flooding and as the trees hold the soil together they stop a loss of nutrients from the soil. Due to the large percentage of land they cover they have a large influence on regional and global weather patterns as they have control of the moisture flow through the system. They are a major economic resource with wood used for construction and raw materials for manufactured products. Only 6% of the wood taken is exported yet it is worth £8 billion per year. The rainforests are also an important source of genetic diversity with over 50% of the earth’s species in the tropics. On the Malaysian peninsula alone there are 700 species of flowering plant. In Britain, an area twice the size, there are just 140.


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Tropical rainforests are mainly in developing countries such as Brazil and Indonesia. The reasons are both political and socio-economic. The two governments of these countries both have transmigration policies. In Brazil in the 170’s the people were encouraged to make use of the new highways and translocate from the northern and eastern states into the Amazon where they were given land for free but were expected to use it productively. The only way to do this was to clear the trees in order to use the land for grazing animals or subsistence farming. In particular the migrants practised slash and burn farming. Though the ash from the fire fertilises the soil, after a few years it becomes infertile and more forest is then cleared. Indonesia’s policy is designed to move people away from overcrowded cities such as Jakarta and works in much the same way as Brazil’s scheme where the forest is cleared for settlements and farmland to house the migrants. The island of Java is the most populated island in the world and Jakarta has a very high population density.

In Brazil in the 160’s the government wanted to develop the Amazon for cattle ranching as during this time world beef prices were high and would bring a lot of revenue to the country. To encourage investment in the Amazon tax exemptions were given to companies investing in agriculture and livestock. The growth of cattle ranching in the Amazon due to the demand for beef particularly in fast food restaurants is the main cause of deforestation. Similarly in Malaysia, TNC’s companies investing there were given land by the government for doing so. Here the philosophy is ‘develop now, tidy up later.’ However, due to lessening timber resources and international pressure Malaysia is rethinking its policies on logging and the rainforest.

In Indonesia the government rarely enforces selective logging regulations. In the Amazon this has not been the case where a large amount of logging is done selectively though very few forest management techniques have been put in place. These include measures such as directional felling of trees and the cutting of vines to prevent damage to surrounding trees. It is said that to extract 10% of trees in an area, 50% of the surrounding trees are either destroyed or damaged. In Indonesia no replanting policies have been introduced to replace deforested areas leaving the soil exposed to erosion.

Indonesia’s population is 17 600 000 and is rapidly growing. Overpopulation is endemic and poverty is widespread. This situation means that the jobs created by the logging industry (700 000 people are employed directly) are vital to support families and the economy. The country has large debts and the revenue from logging is vital in helping to pay these off.

Other large scale schemes to further the development of countries such as hydro electric power stations have been a cause of deforestation. One example is at Tucurui where over 000km² of forest has had to be flooded. Another part of the Carajas Project where over 50% of the project is rainforest is mining. The highest estimate of how much rainforest has been lost is 10%.



Though this loss is a vast amount and the negative aspects of it are widely known there are positive factors that encourage deforestation to continue. The pressure of an ever increasing population means that jobs are precious and the huge number of jobs that deforestation provides outweighs the damage to the environment in countries such as Indonesia. The income for families results in housing and a good diet as they can afford such things.

The large amount of land that tropical rainforests occupy means there is less land for humans. By clearing some of the rainforest, countries are taking some of the pressure off of cities by providing new settlements and land that can be used for farming. The products grown on the farmland can be sold providing a further income for people or they could become subsistence farmers and provide food for themselves.

The actual wood that is taken is a large source of revenue for developing countries and with this money they can pay off debts faster and hopefully the rate of development will speed up. This benefits the country as a whole as standards of living and education etc will improve as the country develops.

The rainforests rich biodiversity is a source of many plants that are used for medicinal purposes. Over 40% of medicines are derived from plants and animals, many of which are native to rainforests. This is of worldwide importance as medicines are vital in improving healthcare in all countries. Other products such as coffee and other food are also got from the rainforest and though they are processed many of the raw materials are from there. The timber that is logged is also important for buildings, furniture, fuel etc and is an important part of everyday life and this shows the human impact as being necessary as these things are important to living.

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