The Virtual Rainforest
A Neotropical Rainforest
Rainforest Research


Tree Seedlings

Forest Flowers



Army Ants

Bullet Ants
Leafcutter Ants

Rhinoceros Beetle

Swallowtail Butterfly



Keel-billed Toucan

Howler Monkeys

White-faced Monkeys

Three-toed Sloth
Baird's Tapir
White-lipped Peccary
Reptiles and Amphibians:
Red-eyed Tree Frog
Poison Dart Frog
Helmeted Iguana
Eyelash Viper
Terciopelo Viper
Spectacled Caiman
American Crocodile
Human Systems:
Rainforest Boy
Rainforest Girl
Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Rainforest Research

About the Authors





Excerpted text from Tropical Deforestation, a NASA Fact Sheet. Urquhart, G. R., D. L. Skole, W. H. Chomentowski, and C. P. Barber. 1998. Tropical Deforestation. NASA Facts Sheet  (FS-1998-11-120-GSFC).

Symphonia globulifera Tree Cut in NicaraguaThe clearing of tropical forests across the Earth has been occuring on a large scale basis for many centuries. This process, known as deforestation, involves the cutting down, burning, and damaging of forests. The loss of tropical rainforest is more profound than merely destruction of beautiful areas. If the current rate of deforestation continues, the world’s rain forests will vanish within 100 years—causing unknown effects on global climate and eliminating the majority of plant and animal species on the planet.

Why Deforestation Happens
Deforestation occurs in many ways. Most of the clearing is done for agricultural purposes—grazing cattle, planting crops. Poor farmers chop down a small
area (typically a few acres) and burn the tree trunks—a process called Slash and Burn agriculture. Intensive, or modern, agriculture occurs on a much larger scale, sometimes deforesting several square miles at a time. Large cattle pastures often replace rain forest to grow beef for the world market. Commercial logging is another common form of deforestation, cutting trees for sale as timber or pulp. Logging can occur selectively–where only the economically valuable species are cut–or by clearcutting, where all the trees are cut. Commercial logging uses heavy machinery, such as bulldozers, road graders, and log skidders, to remove cut trees and build roads, which is just as damaging to a forest overall as the chainsaws are to the individual trees.

The causes of deforestation are very complex. A competitive global economy drives the need for money in economically challenged tropical countries. At the national level, governments sell logging concessions to raise money for projects, to pay international debt, or to develop industry. The logging companies seek to harvest the forest and make profit from the sales of pulp and valuable hardwoods such as mahogany.

Deforestation by a peasant farmer is often done to raise crops for self-subsistence, and is driven by the basic human need for food. Most tropical countries are very poor by U.S. standards, and farming is a basic way of life for a large part of the population. In Nicaragua, for example, the average annual earnings per person is U.S. $1080, compared to $47,000 per person in the United States (World Bank, 2009). In Brazil, which
holds the majority of the Amazon rain forest, the average earnings per person is $7350, about one sixth of what Americans make. Farmers in these countries do not have the money to buy necessities, and need to clear land to feed their families.

Above text taken from author's contribution to Tropical Deforestation, a NASA Fact Sheet. Urquhart, G. R., D. L. Skole, W. H. Chomentowski, and C. P. Barber. 1998. Tropical Deforestation. NASA Facts Sheet  (FS-1998-11-120-GSFC).

Deforestation: A Personal Perspective

Banana farms and other "farm-factories" in the tropics cause a lot of deforestation and the rainforest has a very difficult time growing back. One of the best things you can do for the rainforest is to buy organic bananas, which come from farms that are less damaging to the rainforest.

Bulldozing TreesTropical wood production causes a lot of deforestation too. Sometimes the furniture at the store is made from tropical woods. If it says "Made in Malaysia" or "Made in Indonesia," then it is probably rainforest wood. Try to buy woods that don't come from the rainforest, like Oak, Maple, Pine, and Cherry.


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The Virtual Rainforest

Back to the Rainforest

Copyright Gerald R. Urquhart
Michigan State University

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Virtual Rainforest development supported by grant #0815966 from the
National Science Foundation

Center for Global Change and Earth Observation

Michigan State University