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ain Forest Destruction

One of Humanity's Deepest Spiritual Crises of Modern Times

Rain forest destruction has become an issue of great international concern.

Indeed, tropical forest is a victim of a spiritual crisis in humanity. The destruction of


tropical forest reflects an all too-widespread willingness to submit to an economic
determinism every bit as rigid as that of Marx. Egbert Giles Leigh Jr. (1)

We learn from Columbia Encyclopedia that in very early times forests covered
virtually the whole land surface of the Earth, apart from the areas of perpetual
snow (such as the north pole). (2)

And as recently as 19 th century, tropical rain forests in their own right covered
around 20% of all the dry land area of the Earth, but this figure was only 7% by
the end of the 20 th century. (3)

Probably the main fundamental factor that has been invariably pushing rain forest
destruction more and more over the decades and indeed centuries, is
the demand for the rain forest as a enormous economic and social resource.

First of all, tropical rain forests are treasure troves of nature they contain
endlesssupplies of resources widely used in human societies, such as food, timber,
raw materials etc.

Second, rain forests cover huge swathes of land. And the land has always been a
limited resource required for accommodation of ever growing human populations.

Some Historical Aspects of Rain Forest Destruction

Rain Forest Destruction, Madagascar


Photo: Jonathan Talbot
World Resources Institute, 2003

Its interesting to note that deforestation as such started taking place some half a
million years ago when people first started using fire. (4)
Youll be surprised to learn that as much as nine-tenths of all deforestation
(including all the forests, not only tropical rain forests) may have occurred before
1950. (5)

During the Middle Ages, Europe witnessed an accelerated rate of rain forest
destruction due to a significant increase in the population numbers and, as a
result, increased levels of economic activity. (6)

Michael Williams of History Today notes that:

During the 450 years from 1492 to c. 1950 Europe burst out of the confines of the
continent with far-reaching consequences for the forests of the rest of the world.

Its capitalistic economy commoditised nearly all it found, creating wealth out of
nature, be it land, trees, animals, plants or people.

Enormous strains were put on the global forest resource by a steadily increasing
population (just over 400 million in 1500 to nearly 2.5 billion in 1950), also by
rising demands for raw materials and food with urbanisation and industrialisation,
first in Europe and, after the mid-nineteenth century, in the United States.(7)

He goes on to mention:

In the sub-tropical and tropical forests, European systems of exploitation led to


the harvesting of indigenous tree crops (e.g., rubber, hardwoods), and, in time, to
the systematic replacement of the original forest by `plantation' crops grown for
maximum returns in relation to the capital and labour (usually slave or
indentured) inputs.

Deforestation in Brazil

Classic examples of this were the highly profitable crops of sugar in the West
Indies; coffee and sugar in the sub tropical coastal forests of Brazil; cotton and
tobacco in the southern United States; tea in Sri Lanka and India; and, later,
rubber in Malaysia and Indonesia.

In eastern Brazil, over half of the original 780,000 sq km of the huge subtropical
forest that ran down the eastern portions of the country had disappeared by 1950
through agricultural exploitation and mining. In Sao Paulo state alone the original
204,500 sq km of forest was reduced to 45,500 sq km by 1952. (8)

and:
During these centuries deforestation was also well under way in Europe itself,
which was being colonised internally.

This was particularly true in the mixed-forest zone of central European Russia,
where over 67,000 sq km were cleared between the end of the seventeenth
century and the beginning of the twentieth century. (9)

So, rain forest destruction is not a new phenomenon.

But

Its not just the use of rain forests for consumption as such, but the sheer speed
of rain forest destruction from 1950 onwards that has brought home the real
plight of these ancient ecosystems to the rest of humanity.

Current Status of Rain Forest Destruction

Below I quote some statistics on the most recent rates of rain forest destruction
as taken from the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005 by the Food and
Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. (10)

Lets analyse some specific tropical regions that are host to the most significant
areas of rainforest.

So:

1) South America (including Brazil), home to the worlds largest rain forest, the
Amazon, was losing annually around 0.44% of its total rain forest area for the
period of 1990 2000, and around 0.50% of its total rain forest area for the
period of 2000 2005.

This statistics highlights the fact that the annual rates of rain forest destruction in
this region actually increased at the beginning of the 21 st century, as compared
to the last decade of the 20 th century.

Some authors have mentioned that if this rate of deforestation continues as it is,
we will see only 60% of the Amazons total area left by 2050. (11)

Not something to be cheery about

2) South and South-East Asia (including Indonesia) probably sustained the


highest rates of rain forest loss. This region was losing annually around0.8% of
its total tropical forest area for the period of 1990 2000, and around 1% for the
period of 2000 2005.

The same here. This region witnessed increased annual rates of deforestation at
the beginning of this century as compared to the end of the last one.

3) Western and Central Africa (including Democratic Republic of the Congo)


was losing annually around 0.6% of its total tropical forest area for the period
of 1990 2000, and around 0.5% for the period of 2000 2005.
4) There were signs of improvement in Central America (with countries such as
Costa Rica and Panama), whose annual rates of rain forest loss went down
from 1.5% of the regions total forest area for the period of 1990 2000
to 1.2% for the period of 2000 2005.

5) The Caribbean was another region with improved forest statistics. It was
already gaining more forest area at the average annual rate of 0.6% of its total
forest area for the period of 1990 2000. And this figure was even better for the
period of 2000 2005: 0.9%.

Among predominantly negative statistics on rain forest loss, there is some


positive news as well.

For example, as weve already mentioned in the Tropical Rain Forests article, the
rate of the Amazon rain forests destruction was lowest since 1991. (12)

Another good example is Costa Rica. Whereas this country was losing annually
around0.8% of its total forest area for the period of 1990 2000, between 2000
and 2005 it started gaining more forest areas by around 0.1% annually.

So what are the main driving forces of tropical deforestation?

There is a strong environmental case against any use of pristine / old growth rain forests.

The argument here is that anyexploitation of old growth rain forests (whether it is done under the name of
sustainable use or not) will potentially start the process of destruction of these ecosystems and will bring on
irreversible effects, such as complete loss of biodiversity that had been part of the rain forests for millennia.

Lets re-emphasise this important statement once again:

The demand for rain forest resources is driven by economic forces both in
developed anddeveloping countries.

Theres no doubt about it, developed countries lay huge claims on the rain forest
resources, by extracting such highly popular items as coffee and bananas, timber,
medicines etc.

I really like this quote by Elizabeth Mygatt:

Industrial countries may be leading the way in conserving their own forests, but
their demand for wood drives much of the deforestation elsewhere on the globe.
(13)

Also, there is no doubt about the fact that rain forest resources are widely used
for local economies, that is by developing countries themselves.

Have a look at this simplified Rain Forest Destruction Flowchart below.


The chart puts a special focus on Accelerated Demand and Accelerated Supply.

These are the main fundamental drivers of the rain forest destruction of most
recent times.

And who are the main agents of rain forest destruction?

Quite a recent phenomenon is the production of biofuels which are becoming very popular (though
controversial) for use in transport and some other areas.

One of the most popular biofuels, for example, is ethanol fuel. It can be produced from sugar cane. Large
areas of land are required to grow sugar cane.
What may quite often happen is that rain forest is cleared to gain more land for growing sugar cane, and thus
causing rain forest destruction.

Now lets see who actually executes rain forest destruction.

But before that it would useful to analyse the main economic activities for which
rain forests are cleared.

The chart above highlights several major activities for the sake of which the
forests are cleared.

1. Forest Clearance for Agricultural Land Use.

Land indeed has been historically in high demand, and especially so during the
times of population explosions.

So, rain forest land is used for:

Cash crop plantations.

These are the plantations set up to grow crops for export which bring in valuable
foreign currency to an exporting country. Some of most popular crops are
bananas, coffee, sugar cane.

Cattle ranching.

This type of activity is very popular in Latin America. (14)

Cattle are another example of a cash product. Rain forests are cleared to gain
land for cattle ranching. Meat is then exported to foreign markets to earn more
income.

See how rancher shooting directly affects the survival of one of the most
charismatic rain forest animals the jaguar.

Subsistence farming.

The main purpose of this type of activity is for farmers to provide just enough
food for themselves and their families.

Normally this activity does not generate any income from the food sales.

Agents of destruction here?

Mostly local farmers and ranchers clearing the rain forests, quite often by applying
a slash-and-burn method. But sometimes also some major international
corporations (15) which have their own agendas for investing in these
enterprises.
2. Forest Clearance for Mining and Natural Resource Development.

Mining for underground resources (such as gold, precious metals) as well as


production of natural resources such as oil and gas contained within rain forests
offers such significant incomes for a host country that it is too strong a temptation
to resist. Especially that many developing countries have to use this sort of
revenue to service their foreign debts.

It is another major cause of rain forest destruction.

For an excellent example of this, see how the oil production in the Ecuador
rainforest brought on one of the worst cases of toxic pollution ever.

Agents of destruction here?

Natural resource companies (a lot of them international).

3. Forest Clearance by Logging.

This is probably one of the most (in)famous causes of rain forest destruction all
over the world.

This sort of activity offers high short-term returns with no long-term investment
commitment for a logging company.

Generally, it is difficult to regulate logging as such, and especially to protect rain


forests from illegal logging activities (which has been estimated at around 10% of
the total global timber trade (16)).

Agents of destruction here?

Logging companies (surprise surprise), as well as illegal loggers of course.

4. Other activities that cause rain forest destruction.


Find out how the construction of dams during the Panama Canal construction, completed by 1914, caused one of
the most serious rain forest destructions ever.

a) Construction of developmental projects such as roads and dams

See a discussion of the potential effects ofPlan Puebla Panama ("a development
corridor" between the south of Mexico and Panama) on Panama rainforest.

b) Use of forest wood for fuel

c) Population resettlement programmes

Special Note on Rainforest Pollution

Damage is inflicted on tropical rain forests not only through their direct physical destruction
by the activities described above.
It is also caused by certain types of on-going environmental pollution (rather than one-off
events of structural destruction of rain forest ecosystems).

Such on-going pollution is widely present in the environment that the rain forests rely
upon, for example, in the air sphere.

The rain forests act as pollution sinks - it means they "soak up" the environmental pollution
that is present in the air that the forests breathe in.

If the levels of such air pollution significantly exceed the levels that the forests can safely
deal with, such situation leads to rainforest degradation (rather than outright forest
destruction).

For more details on how environmental pollution affects the rain forests, check out
the Environmental Pollution and Tropical Rain Forests article.

Additionally, deforestation (as a result of rain forest destruction) is a cause of global


warming pollution and presents a major challenge as a huge source of carbon dioxide
emissions.

And the effects of rainforest destruction?

As we have seen in the Tropical Rain Forests article, rain forests provide a number
of very important ecological services, and rain forest destruction leads to their
disruption.

First and foremost, rain forest destruction causes the loss of plant and animal
diversity (specifically caused by destruction of rainforest animals' habitat) and
disruption in global climate patterns, alongside many other side effects such as
floods and droughts, to name just a few.

The loss of animal diversity also means that rain forest destruction is a major
cause ofanimal extinction and endangerment.

And the effects of deforestation may be truly unpredictable. For example, in


March 2008 it was reported that rain forest snakes, such as the anaconda, invaded
a city of Belem in Brazil because deforestation was destroying their natural forest
habitat.

It is unfortunate that developing countries, especially African ones, are most


affected by the negative effects of rain forest destruction as if these countries
dont already have enough to deal with.

It will certainly take a lot of concerted action by all the countries and governments
to make sure we, the humanity, are not too late to halt this destructive process.

Rain forest destrcution - is it unavoidable?

Of course it is not unavoidable.


With all the existing demands on the rainforests and new ones appearing all the
time (i.e, use of wood for biofuels), there is no more urgent time than now ("if
not now then when?") for us to come to the rescue of these unique ecosystems.

Exploring new, clean & renewable sources of energy and developing clean
technologies may help reduce environmental pollution and relieve at least some
pressure on the rainforests.

From this perspective, green investment may be a good starting point for achieving
these aims.
Environmental pollution had been a fact of life for many centuries
but it became a real problem since the start of the industrial revolution.

Pollution & Rainforests Air Pollution

CONTENTS
Pollution Definitions
Introduction to Pollution
Types of Pollution
Sources of Pollution
Pollution Effects on Humans, Other Animals & Trees and Plants
Pollution Effects on Environment
Conclusion

We discuss major aspects of this study area, from definitions to pollution types &
sources as well as wide-ranging pollution effects.

So what is pollution? In order to get a better understanding of it, lets have a look
at some common definitions.

Oil Pollution Emissions


Photo: Graeme MacLean

Environmental pollution is the contamination of the physical and biological components


of the earth/atmosphere system to such an extent that normal environmental processes
are adversely affected. (1)

Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into the environment that cause harm or
discomfort to humans or other living organisms, or that damage the environment which
can come in the form of chemical substances, or energy such as noise, heat or light.
Pollutants can be naturally occurring substances or energies, but are considered
contaminants when in excess of natural levels. (2)

Pollution is the addition of any substance or form of energy (e.g., heat, sound,
radioactivity) to the environment at a rate faster than the environment can accommodate
it by dispersion, breakdown, recycling, or storage in some harmless form. (3)

Pollution is a special case of habitat destruction; it is chemical destruction rather than


the more obvious physical destruction. Pollution occurs in all habitatsland, sea, and fresh
waterand in the atmosphere. (4)
Much of what we have come to call pollution is in reality the nonrecoverable matter
resources and waste heat. (5)

Any use of natural resources at a rate higher than nature's capacity to restore itself can
result in pollution of air, water, and land. (6)

Pollution is habitat contamination. (7)

Perhaps the overriding theme of these definitions is the ability of the environment
to absorb and adapt to changes brought about by human activities.

In one word, environmental pollution takes place when the


environment cannot process and neutralize harmful by-products of human
activities (for example, poisonous gas emissions) in due course without any
structural or functional damage to its system.

In fact, the due course itself may last many years during which the nature will
attempt to decompose the pollutants; in one of the worst cases that of
radioactive pollutants it may take as long as thousands of years for the
decomposition of such pollutants to be completed.

Pollution occurs, on the one hand, because the natural environment does not
know how to decompose the unnaturally generated elements (i.e., anthropogenic
pollutants), and, on the other, there is a lack of knowledge on the part of humans
on how to decompose these pollutants artificially.

Why does pollution matter?

It matters first and foremost because it has negative impacts on crucial


environmental services such as provision of clean air and clean water (and many
others) without which life on Earth as we know it would not exist.

Introduction to Environmental Pollution

Although pollution had been known to exist for a very long time (at least since
people started using fire thousands of years ago), it had seen the growth of truly
global proportions only since the onset of the industrial revolution during the 19th
century.
Environmental Pollution
England, 19th Century
Courtesy: Wikimedia.org

The industrial revolution brought with it technological progress such as discovery


of oil and its virtually universal use throughout different industries.

Technological progress facilitated by super efficiency of capitalist business


practices (division of labour cheaper production costs overproduction
overconsumption overpollution) had probably become one of the main causes of
serious deterioration of natural resources.

At the same time, of course, development of natural sciences led to the better
understanding of negative effects produced by pollution on the environment.

Environmental pollution is a problem both in developed and developing countries.


Factors such as population growth and urbanization invariably place greater
demands on the planet and stretch the use of natural resources to the maximum.

It has been argued that the carrying capacity of Earth is significantly smaller than
the demands placed on it by large numbers of human populations. And overuse of
natural resources often results in natures degradation.

Its interesting to note that natural resources had been stored virtually untouched in the
Earth for millions of years.

But since the start of the industrial revolution vast amounts of these resources had been
exploited within a period of just a couple of hundred of years at unimaginable rates, with
all the waste from this exploitation going straight in to the environment (air, water, land)
and seriously damaging its natural processes.

Types of Environmental Pollution

There are three major types of environmental pollution:

Air pollution

Water pollution
Soil pollution (contamination)
For a list of other pollution types, please see the Types of Pollution article.

Some of the most important air pollutants are sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide,
carbon monoxide, ozone, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and airborne
particles, with radioactive pollutants probably among the most destructive ones
(specifically when produced by nuclear explosions).

Please refer to the Summary of Air Pollutants article for a brief overview of sources
and effects of air pollutants.

Water pollutants include insecticides and herbicides, food processing waste,


pollutants from livestock operations, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), heavy
metals, chemical waste and others.

Some soil pollutants are: hydrocarbons, solvents and heavy metals.

Sources of Environmental Pollution

Fossil Fuel Sources of Environmental Pollution

Fossil Fuel Pollution


Photo: Rachel Scopes

In modern industrialized societies, fossil fuels(oil, gas, coal) transcended


virtually all imaginable barriers and firmly established themselves in our everyday
lives.

Not only do we use fossil fuels for our obvious everyday needs (such as filling a
car), as well as in the power-generating industry, they (specifically oil) are also
present in such products as all sorts of plastics, solvents, detergents, asphalt,
lubricating oils, a wide range of chemicals for industrial use, etc. (8)

Combustion of fossil fuels produces extremely high levels of air pollution and is
widely recognized as one of the most important target areas for reduction and
control of environmental pollution.

Fossil fuels also contribute to soil contamination and water pollution. For example,
when oil is transported from the point of its production to further destinations by
pipelines, an oil leak from the pipeline may occur and pollute soil and
subsequently groundwater. When oil is transported by tankers by ocean, an oil
spill may occur and pollute ocean water.
Of course, there are other natural resources whose exploitation is a cause of
serious pollution; for example, the use of uranium for nuclear power generation
produces extremely dangerous waste that would take thousands of years to
neutralize.

But there is no reasonable doubt that fossil fuels are among the most serious
sources of environmental pollution.

Power-generating plants and transport are probably the biggest sources of fossil
fuel pollution.

Common sources of fossil fuel pollution are: (9)

Industry:

Power-generating plants

Petroleum refineries
Petrochemical plants
Production and distribution of fossil fuels
Other manufacturing facilities

Transport:

Road transport (motor vehicles)

Shipping industry
Aircraft

Fossil fuel combustion is also a major source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions
and perhaps the most important cause of global warming. Learn more about
the causes andeffects of global warming here.

Other (Non-Fossil Fuel) Sources of Environmental Pollution

Among other pollution sources, agriculture (livestock farming) is worth


mentioning as the largest generator of ammonia emissions resulting in air
pollution. Chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers are also widely used in
agriculture, which may lead water pollution and soil contamination as well.

Trading activities may be another source of pollution.

For example, its been recently noted that packaging of products sold in
supermarkets and other retail outlets is far too excessive and generates large
quantities of solid waste that ends up either in landfills or municipal incinerators
leading to soil contamination andair pollution.
Residential sector is another significant source of pollution generating solid
municipal waste that may end up in landfills or incinerators leading to soil
contamination and air pollution.

We discuss causes of pollution in general and air pollution causes in particular in more
detail here.
Top

How can we control environmental pollution?

It's clear that fossil fuels are among the biggest sources of pollution. We need to
find alternative renewable sources of energy which can replace fossil fuels in the
future.

Green investment provides a great platform to explore and develop new and clean
sources of energy such as solar electricity.

Environmental Pollution Effects on Humans, Other Animals & Plants

General Environmental Pollution Effects

Miguel A. Santos notes that a very important aspect of the effect of pollution is its dose (or
concentration) required to cause environmental damage. (10)

He defines pollution response as the change in the effect of a pollutant in response to a


change in its concentration. (11)

In this respect, he identifies 3 different types of response evoked by the environment to


different pollution concentrations: (12)

Linear effect

Greater-than-linear effect
Threshold effect

In the linear effect, environmental damage increases linearly with pollution concentrations.
In other words, the total damage or risk is directly proportional to the accumulated
exposure. (13)

This effect occurs with radioactive substances as well as mercury, lead, cadmium and
asbestos.

In the greater-than-linear effect, environmental damage increases with an increase in


pollution concentrations but at a decreasing rate. This means that, as pollution
concentrations continue to increase the environmental damage will continue to decrease.
(14)

This is the case with thermal pollution.

In the threshold effect, pollution produces no effect until a certain threshold in pollution
concentrations is achieved. In other words, so long as a given threshold is not exceeded,
the damage from pollution would be completely repaired as quickly as it is produced. (15)

This effect is found with biodegradable pollutants.

It is also important to mention synergistic effects of pollutants on the environment. While


interacting with each other, pollutants can produce greater impacts than when acting
individually. (16)

A good example of that is a synergy between asbestos exposure and smoking in causing
lung cancer. (17)

There is no doubt that excessive levels of pollution are causing a lot of damage to
human & animal health, plants & trees (including tropical rainforests) as well as
the wider environment.

All types of environmental pollution air, water and soil pollution have an
impact on the living environment.

The effects in living organisms may range from mild discomfort to serious
diseases such as cancer to physical deformities (for example, extra or missing
limbs in frogs).

Experts admit that environmental pollution effects are quite often underestimated
and that more research is needed to understand the connections between
pollution and its effects on all life forms.

Environmental Pollution Effects on Humans

We know that pollution causes not only physical disabilities but also psychological
and behavioral disorders in people.

We are discussing the effects of air pollution and specific air pollutants in more
detail in the Air Pollutants article.

The following effects of environmental pollution on humans have been reported:


Air Pollution in Philippines
Photo: Jim D Stitch

Air pollution (18, 19)

Reduced lung functioning

Irritation of eyes, nose, mouth and throat


Asthma attacks
Respiratory symptoms such as coughing and wheezing
Increased respiratory disease such as bronchitis
Reduced energy levels
Headaches and dizziness
Disruption of endocrine, reproductive and immune systems
Neurobehavioral disorders
Cardiovascular problems
Cancer
Premature death

We discuss air pollution effects in more detail here.

Water pollution (20)

Waterborne diseases caused by polluted drinking water:

Typhoid

Amoebiasis
Giardiasis
Ascariasis
Hookworm

Waterborne diseases caused by polluted beach water:

Rashes, ear ache, pink eye

Respiratory infections
Hepatitis, encephalitis, gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, vomiting, and stomach
aches

Conditions related to water polluted by chemicals (such as pesticides,


hydrocarbons, persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals etc):

Cancer, incl. prostate cancer and non-Hodgkins lymphoma

Hormonal problems that can disrupt reproductive and developmental


processes
Damage to the nervous system
Liver and kidney damage
Damage to the DNA
Exposure to mercury (heavy metal):
o In the womb: may cause neurological problems including slower
reflexes, learning deficits, delayed or incomplete mental development,
autism and brain damage
o In adults: Parkinsons disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimers disease,
heart disease, and even death

Other notes:

Water pollution may also result from interactions between water and
contaminated soil, as well as from deposition of air contaminants (such as
acid rain)

Damage to people may be caused by fish foods coming from polluted water (a
well known example is high mercury levels in fish)
Damage to people may be caused by vegetable crops grown / washed with
polluted water (authors own conclusion)

Soil contamination (21)

Causes cancers including leukaemia

Lead in soil is especially hazardous for young children causing developmental


damage to the brain
Mercury can increase the risk of kidney damage; cyclodienes can lead to liver
toxicity
Causes neuromuscular blockage as well as depression of the central nervous
system
Also causes headaches, nausea, fatigue, eye irritation and skin rash

Other notes:

Contact with contaminated soil may be direct (from using parks, schools etc)
or indirect (by inhaling soil contaminants which have vaporized)
Soil contamination may also result from secondary contamination of water
supplies and from deposition of air contaminants (for example, via acid rain)
Contamination of crops grown in polluted soil brings up problems with food
security
Since it is closely linked to water pollution, many effects of soil contamination
appear to be similar to the ones caused by water contamination

An Extreme Oil Pollution Case

Pollution of pristine Ecuador rainforest by Texaco / Chevron oil corporation represents


perhaps one of the most outrageous cases of oil pollution ever.

Some levels of pollutants left by the company on its sites of oil exploration have been
calculated to exceed the US safety standards by as much as1,000 times, causing such
side effects as children born with fused fingers and deformed eyes, high cancer rates, etc.

For more details, check out the Oil Pollution of Ecuador Rainforest article.

Top

Environmental Pollution Effects on Animals

Air Pollution (22)

Acid rain (formed in the air) destroys fish life in lakes and streams

Excessive ultraviolet radiation coming from the sun through the ozone layer in
the upper atmosphere which is eroded by some air pollutants, may cause skin
cancer in wildlife
Ozone in the lower atmosphere may damage lung tissues of animals

Water Pollution (23)

Nutrient pollution (nitrogen, phosphates etc) causes overgrowth of toxic algae


eaten by other aquatic animals, and may cause death; nutrient pollution can
also cause outbreaks of fish diseases

Chemical contamination can cause declines in frog biodiversity and tadpole


mass
Oil pollution (as part of chemical contamination) can negatively affect
development of marine organisms, increase susceptibility to disease and
affect reproductive processes; can also cause gastrointestinal irritation, liver
and kidney damage, and damage to the nervous system
Mercury in water can cause abnormal behavior, slower growth and
development, reduced reproduction, and death
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) may cause declines, deformities and
death of fish life
Too much sodium chloride (ordinary salt) in water may kill animals (24)

Other notes:

We also assume that some higher forms of non-aquatic animals may have
similar effects from water pollution as those experienced by humans, as
described above (authors own conclusion)

Soil Contamination (25)

Can alter metabolism of microorganisms and arthropods in a given soil


environment; this may destroy some layers of the primary food chain, and
thus have a negative effect on predator animal species

Small life forms may consume harmful chemicals which may then be passed
up the food chain to larger animals; this may lead to increased mortality rates
and even animal extinction

Environmental Pollution Effects on Trees and Plants

Air Pollution (26)

Acid rain can kill trees, destroy the leaves of plants, can infiltrate soil by
making it unsuitable for purposes of nutrition and habitation

Ozone holes in the upper atmosphere can allow excessive ultraviolet radiation
from the sun to enter the Earth causing damage to trees and plants
Ozone in the lower atmosphere can prevent plant respiration by blocking
stomata (openings in leaves) and negatively affecting plants photosynthesis
rates which will stunt plant growth; ozone can also decay plant cells directly
by entering stomata

Water Pollution

May disrupt photosynthesis in aquatic plants and thus affecting ecosystems


that depend on these plants (27)

Terrestrial and aquatic plants may absorb pollutants from water (as their
main nutrient source) and pass them up the food chain to consumer animals
and humans
Plants may be killed by too much sodium chloride (ordinary slat) in water (28)
Plants may be killed by mud from construction sites as well as bits of wood
and leaves, clay and other similar materials (29)
Plants may be killed by herbicides in water; herbicides are chemicals which
are most harmful to plants (30)

Soil Contamination

May alter plant metabolism and reduce crop yields (31)

Trees and plants may absorb soil contaminants and pass them up the food
chain

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Environmental Pollution Effects on Wider Environment

Apart from destroying the aquatic life in lakes and streams, acid rain can also
corrode metals, damage surfaces of buildings and monuments, and cause soil
acidification.

Pollution of water may cause oxygen depletion in marine environments and


severely affect the health of whole ecosystems. (32)

Environmental Pollution - Conclusion

Environmental pollution is causing a lot of distress not only to humans but also
animals, driving many animal species to endangerment and even extinction.

Pollution is Not Glamorous


Photo: Caleb Coppola

The transboundary nature of environmental pollution makes it even more difficult


to manage you cannot build stone walls along the borders of your country or
put customs cabins at every point of entry to regulate its flows into your country.
Everything on our planet is interconnected, and while the nature supplies us with
valuable environmental services without which we cannot exist, we all depend on
each others actions and the way we treat natural resources.

Its widely recognised that we are hugely overspending our current budget of
natural resources at the existing rates of its exploitation, there is no way for the
environment to recover in good time and continue performing well in the future.

Perhaps we should adopt a holistic view of nature it is not an entity that exists
separately from us; the nature is us, we are an inalienable part of it, and we
should care for it in the most appropriate manner. Only then can we possibly
solve the problem of environmental pollution.
Forests of India
The 'jungles' of India are ancient in nature and composition. They are rich in variety and shelter a
wide range of avifauna and mammals and insects. The fact that they have existed for very long
time is proved from the ancient texts all of which have some mention of the forests. The people
revered forests and a large number of religious ceremonies centred on trees and plants. Even
today in parts of India the sacred groves exist and are worshipped.

When Chandra Gupta Maurya came to power around 300 BC, he realized the importance of the
forests and appointed a high officer to look after the forests. He launched the concept of
afforestation on a large scale. These rules continued even during the Gupta period.

During the Muslim invasions a large number of people had to flee from the attacks and take
refuge in the forests. This was the beginning of a phase of migration to the forest. They cleared
vast areas of forests to make way for settlements.

The Muslim invaders were all keen hunters and therefore had to have patches of forests where
they could go hunting. This ensured that the trees in these areas were not felled, and the forest
ecology was not tampered with.

During the early part of the British rule, trees were used for timber and forests were cut for paper.
Large numbers of trees such as the sal, teak, and sandalwood were cut for export also. The
history of modern Indian forestry was a process by which the British gradually appropriated forest
resources for revenue generation. Trees could not be felled without prior permission and
knowledge of the authority. This step was taken to ensure that they were the sole users of the
forest trees.

But after some time, the British began to regulate and conserve. In 1800, a commissioner was
appointed to look into the availability of teak in the Malabar forests. In 1806, the Madras
government appointed Capt. Watson as the commissioner of forests for organizing the production
of teak and other timber suitable for the building of ships.

In 1855, Lord Dalhousie framed regulations for conservation of forest in the entire country. Teak
plantations were raised in the Malabar hills and acacia and eucalyptus in the Niligiri Hills.

In Bombay, the conservator of forest, Gibson, tried to introduce rules prohibiting shifting
cultivation and plantation of teak forests. From 1865 to 1894, forest reserves were established to
secure material for imperial needs. From the 18th century, scientific forest management systems
were employed to regenerate and harvest the forest to make it sustainable. Between 1926 and
1947 afforestation was carried out on a large scale in the Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. In the early
1930s, people began showing interest in the conservation of wild life.

Around the same time the Indian rulers of the States also started conservation of habitats to help
conserve the birds and mammals. Though all of them were hunters and between them and the
British they cleaned at least 5000 tigers if not more. But still these areas of conservation helped
save the species from extinction and formed most of the modern National Parks.

The new Forest Policy of 1952 recognized the protective functions of the forest and aimed at
maintaining one-third of India's land area under forest. Certain activities were banned and grazing
restricted. Much of the original British policy was kept in place, such as the classification of forest
land into two broad types.

The next 50 years saw development and change in people's thinking regarding the forest. A
constructive attitude was brought about through a number of five-year plans. Until 1976, the
forest resource was seen as a source of earning money for the state and therefore little was
spent in protecting it or looking after it.

Today India's forests are protected in National Parks like Corbett and Nagarhole or in Sanctuaries
like Pakhui and Little Rann of Katch. The modern way of thinking has resulted in Biosphere
Reserves and Biodiversity Hotspots and extensive research on them have resulted in rediscovery
of new species of mammals like the Leaf Deer in Arunachal Pradesh or the Hook Nosed Frog in
Western Ghats.

Supporting more than 14 percent of the wild fauna and a higher percentage of the wild flora of the
world the forests of India is an intricate web of life with many surprises to explore. As we proceed
to an era of advanced wildlife management and as the pressure on the forests all over the world
increase the need of the hour is to realize the potential resource that the forests have both
economically and from the natural point of view.

A brief description of the wildlife zones of India is given below:

The Trans-Himalaya
Stretching from Ladakh to the Lahul-Spiti the Trans-Himalaya covers an estimated land area of
186,200 sq. km. Trans-Himalaya, means beyond the Himalaya. Outside the Indian region, the
Trans-Himalaya is very extensive, covering a total of nearly 2.6 million sq. km. comprising the
Tibetan plateau.

Nursery to the Indus, Brahmaputra and Sutlej; decorated by the Zanskar, Ladakh and the
Karakoram, the Trans-Himalaya is home to some of best biological grandeur which survive this
cold desert conditions through their ability to economise resources.

Some rare fauna like the Black Necked Crane breed in the brackish lakes like Tso Morari, Hanle
and Chushul. Some parts of the Trans-Himalaya are above the snowline, including the Siachen, a
1,180 sq. km. glacier said to be the largest outside the polar regions!

Though the landscape is characterised by a distinct lack of natural forests, along the river banks
and valleys, some greenery does exist with willows, poplars, wild roses and many herbaceous
plants and shrubs which is home to at least eight distinct species and/or sub-species of wild
sheep including the nayan or great Tibetan sheep (Ovis ammon hodgsoni), the urial or shapu
(Ovis orientalis), the bharal or blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur) and the ibex (Capra ibex).

On the plateau of the Trans-Himalaya, The Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsoni) or the chiru,
and the Tibetan gazelle (Procapra picticaudata) are occasionally sighted. Smaller animals of the
region include pikas, marmots and Tibetan hares. The mountains are shared by predators like the
snow-leopard or ounce. The Pallas cat, Indian wolf and the lynx can also be seen with extreme
luck.

The Himalaya
The Himalaya - the world's youngest, loftiest and most breathtaking mountain chains are home to
several tropical life forms, Extending some 236,300 sq. km. in the Indian region, the Himalaya
accounts for nearly seven per cent of the country's total surface area. The Himalaya has extreme
habitat types, ranging from arid Mediterranean and temperate in the western parts, to warm,
moist, evergreen jungles in the east. Currently there are 56 protected areas in this zone and this
cover roughly five per cent of the total surface area. 10 of these protected areas are National
Parks where one can expect to see the amazing diversity of the flora and fauna that this region
supports. In the luxuriant eastern parts where the tree-line is higher, animals like the red panda,
binturong and several lesser cats can be seen with some effort. Of the existing 56 protected
areas in the Himalaya, at least 41 lie in the temperate sector either completely, or partly (the
higher reaches of some of these protected areas merge into the third major habitat type, the high-
altitude sub-alpine).

The sub-alpine habitat type, above the middle level temperate sector (higher than 3,500 metres)
consists of birch, rhododendrons, junipers, dwarf bamboo and a mixture of open meadows and
scrub-dotted grasslands. As habitat types change, a noticeable transformation takes place in the
faunal community as well. The higher reaches house several threatened species such as the
ibex, shapu, wolf and snow-leopard. Nearly half the 56 protected areas in the Himalaya extend
partially or extensively into the high-altitude sub-alpine.

This area is supported with protection programmes like Project Hangul, the Himalayan Musk Deer
Ecology and Conservation Project, the Snow Leopard Project and several Pheasant Projects.

The Himalayas offers fantastic trekking and overland journey options to enjoy the fascinating
wealth that is nurtures in its icy folds.

The Indian Desert


Spread through the majestic states of Gujarat and Rajasthan the Indian Desert is an amazing
place to look for truly fantastic wild flora and fauna. Animals that never drink and plant seeds that
can stay alive for years without water are typical of the miracles of this most fragile zone. In the
Indian subcontinent, deserts, with an area of about 225,000 sq. km. account for just under seven
percent of the total land area.

Divided into two distinct sub-divisions- Thar desert region covering 180,000 sq. kms. in the state
of Rajasthan and the Rann of Kutchh, covering some 45,000 sq. kms. of western Gujarat it is a
land of grand mirage and miracles. The desert system is characterised not so much by the variety
and numbers of animal species but by the adaptations exhibited to tackle the rigours of desert
life. The Thar shows a good extent of endemism in its faunal structure. The desert cat, desert fox,
the winter-visiting houbara bustard and several sandgrouse species, as also a few reptiles are
found only in the Thar. Blackbuck, chinkara, the Indian wolf, caracal, great Indian bustard can
also be seen here.

In contrast to the sandy Thar, the Little and the Great Ranns, with very similar vegetation
communities, have a high variety of faunal and floral composition. Though the Ranns are
predominantly flatlands, they are interspersed with raised mounds or islands, locally called bets.
Both the Ranns have unique faunal communities. The Great Rann is best known for its huge
breeding colony of lesser flamingoes. The Little Rann is the only home of the wild ass in the
Indian peninsula, besides playing host to a fair number of houbara bustards, sandgrouse and
other avifauna.

The Semi-Arid Zone


Between the Indian desert and the Gangetic Plain, the Semi-arid Zone encompasses a total area
of 508,000 sq. km. Covering nearly 15 per cent of India's area, with vast grasslands and some
fascinating forests home to the Leopard, Tiger and the Asiatic Lion this is a truly wild belt of India.
Most of this zone houses the flat, alluvial deposits of the Indus river drainage system. The region
comprises predominantly cultivated flatlands, interspersed with a network of wetlands -- marshes
and rivers.

Consisting of the Punjab Plains in the North home to the Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary, Harike
and Sultanpur and parts of Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat in the South the Semi-arid Zone is a
vast land-mass. The Aravalli and the Vindhya mountain ranges dominate the central portions of
this zone. An interesting feature of the zone is the heavy rainfall region of Mount Abu in the
southern Aravallis. Here several plant and animal species bear close affinity to the Western
Ghats. Plants such as those of the genus Acacia, Anogeissus, Balanites, Capparis, Grewia and
several others clearly have African affinities. What is however, very interesting is the high density
of wildlife (mainly ungulates) in the protected areas here, where livestock grazing and other
adverse impacts have been controlled. The herbivores in this area include nilgai, blackbuck,
chowsingha or four horned antelope, chinkara or Indian gazelle, sambar and spotted deer, the
last two being more or less restricted to the forested mountain ranges and valleys.

The Semi-arid Zone boasts of a good population and variety of predators including the wolf,
caracal and the jackal, all of which have close relatives in Africa. Two of the finest tiger reserves -
Ranthambore and Sariska -- are located in the Aravallis. Amongst the richest of Indian wildlife
areas, these two wilderness areas are true showpieces of Indian wildlife. On the whole, it can be
stated that while the Semi-arid Zone does not exhibit any great endemism, it nevertheless holds
viable populations of several species of conservation criticality today. Besides those mentioned
above, others include the sloth bear, Lesser Florican, the Great Indian Bustard, mugger, gharial,
several turtles and also waterfowl, both resident and migratory.

The Western Ghats


Along the west coast of India -- beginning from the Surat Dangs at the western extremity of the
Satpuras in south Gujarat, for over 1,500 km. to the southern tip of India in Kerala -- stretch the
Western Ghats, a mountain range second only to the Himalaya in magnificence. The Ghats are
the second largest tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen forest belt of the sub-continent. There
is a high degree of biological endemism; species desperately in need of preservation.

The natural forests and protected areas of Western Ghats still house a biological wealth matched
only by the North-east. The famous forests of Silent Valley form a part of this vital forested
swatch. A wide climatic (rainfall and temperature) and geographical (altitude and associated
mountain spurs) gradient exists in this zone. This is manifested in a tremendous diversity of
vegetal communities and animal associations. From the coastal plains along the western flanks,
the zone rises up to a maximum altitude of 2,735 metres in the south, while falling gradually
(sharply in a few places) along the eastern side, towards the dry Deccan Peninsula.

The Western Ghats Zone covers barely five per cent of India's area, but its biological richness
can be best understood when one realises that 27 per cent of all the species of higher plants
recorded in the Indian region are found here (about 4,000 of 15,000 species). Further, almost
1,800 species are endemic to the region. The Nilgiri-Travancore-Anamalai-Palni-Cardamom hill
areas in the southern parts of the zone exhibit the highest degree of endemism. Further, several
interesting plant associations are observed in the evergreen forests of the Zone. There are
montane 'shola' forests, riverine or swamp forests and nearly half a dozen other evergreen-
species associations, mostly observed in the southern half of the Zone, where numerous ancillary
mountain ranges converge to produce a region of exceptional diversity. Because of the heavy
rainfall and healthy soil conditions that much of the Zone's southern half enjoys, cash crops like
coffee, cocoa, cardamom, rubber, tea and pepper are extensively grown, setting in their wake
additional man-induced habitats.

The Western Ghats Zone is also characterised by a series of forest gaps or breaks, that are
actually valleys that break the continuity of the mountain ranges and accordingly of the biological
components as well. Some of the major ones are the Palghat Gap, the Moyar Gorge or Gap and
the Shencottah Gap. These series of gaps have resulted in preventing the spread of certain
species and have hence, facilitated local speciation and endemism. The associated mountain
ranges such as the Anamalais, the Nilgiris and the Agastyamalais are all separated by clear-cut
barriers and besides the interesting floral speciation, a distinct faunal endemism and/or local
speciation, is also found. Areas such as this are in urgent need of study and documentation.

Though this zone has healthy populations of much of the animal species characteristic of
peninsular India (tiger, elephant, gaur, dhole, sloth bear, panther and several species of deer), it
also exhibits a fairly good degree of endemism among primates, ungulates, carnivores, rodents,
squirrels and several birds. Amongst amphibia, most of the species and nearly half the genera
are endemic, while a good degree of endemism is visible also amongst reptiles, fish and insects,
most faunal endemism and restriction being only in the central and and southern parts of the
zone. Several of the zone's faunal components are of great interest (and importance) in that they
have helped provide justification for what is called The Hora Hypothesis. This explains the spread
of several species from the Himalaya and North-east along a once continuous central Indian
mountain range into the Western Ghats, giving rise to several interesting biological linkages
between the Western Ghats, the Himalaya and North-East! More natural history field research
would reveal vital clues to the management of such areas.

Conservation status
Presently, of all the Bio-geographic Zones, The Western Ghats with 44 Sanctuaries and National
Parks, covering some 15,935 sq. km. has the highest percentage of protected areas. However,
the two sub-divisions of this Zone (viz., the coastal plains and the main Western Ghats) do not
enjoy the same extent of protection. The coastal plains, from north to south, cover 60,000 sq. km.
(37.5 per cent) of the zone. This is one of the most highly developed and populated areas of the
country. It is also the area with the least number of protected areas. Only four sites (three
Sanctuaries and one National Park) totalling a mere 240 sq. km. (less than 0.5 per cent) exist in
this section of the Western Ghats. Taking the tremendous pressures on this region into
consideration, even by the most conservative estimate the total protected area percentage in this
region can barely be extended beyond one per cent. Bombay's Sanjay Gandhi National Park is
the only National Park in this sub-division!

In marked contrast to the coastal plains region, the 100,000 sq. km. main Western Ghats region
has the largest extent of protected areas in India. 41 sites (six national parks and 35 sanctuaries)
cover 15,695 sq. km. or 15.8 per cent of the total area. On paper this might seem to be a
considerable area, but taking the exceptional biodiversity of this Zone into consideration, not only
is this inadequate, but it is not uniformly distributed and some of the vital eco-zones, such as the
Coorg, Palnis and the Upper Nilgiris have either been totally overlooked or are barely represented
through tiny reserves.

To successfully conserve the rich biological wealth reveal vital clues to the management of such
areas. of evergreen tropical forest regions, it is imperative that there be large-sized, unbroken
protected areas that have a minimum disturbance. The forests in the northern half of the Western
Ghats are highly fragmented, as a result of which considering areas for protection is not possible.
Hence the emphasis here is on smaller units, with a well spread network to incorporate as much
of the diversity as possible. Less than 25 per cent of the protected areas network of the Western
Ghats lies in the northern half -- Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa. Currently the largest, contiguous
stretch of wilderness exists in the Nagarahole-Bandipur--Mudumalai belt of Karnataka and
TamilNadu, and the adjoining Wynaad region of North Kerala. This forms a more or less unbroken
protected area conservation unit of over 2,000 sq. km. The significance can be gauged from the
fact that the forests hold an estimated 1,500 elephants -- India's largest protected population of
pachyderms. Additionally, this area is home to several other threatened species. The other well-
protected portion of the Western Ghats extends over 1,500 sq. km. in the Anamalai Hills region of
Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The highest point in mainland India, south of the Himalaya, is to be found
here as can some of the finest examples of lowland Dipterocarp forests, which rise up into the
sholas. The presence of extensive moist deciduous forests adds up to the fact that this is
undoubtedly peninsular India's richest bio-zone. Unfortunately, extensive plantations and related
human disturbances threaten much of this region, which is fast losing most of its viable evergreen
forest units. The Periyar-Cardamom Hills belt in Kerala and Tamil Nadu is a major elephant
conservation area. The grizzled squirrel too is found here, perhaps nowhere else in India. The
total protected area unit in this region extends some 1,227 sq. km., much of it under great
pressure from all sides.

Located more or less at the southernmost end of the Western Ghats Zone are the Agastyamalai
Hills in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Separated from the northern Kerala forests by the Shencottah
Gap, the Agastyamalais have an interesting biological commonness with the forests of Sri Lanka.
There is great endemism observed here in the floral and lesser faunal (amphibians, insects etc.)
communities. Mundanthurai and Kalakad Wildlife Sanctuaries form the southernmost range of the
tiger in the sub-continent. The entire protected area unit of this belt works out to just over 1,000
sq. km.

It is believed that under the existing conservation programmes in this Zone, much of the endemic
floral community appears relatively secure. However, the habitat of some of the faunal elements
of principal concern, though well-protected in pockets, is under threat from plantation
encroachments. Rodgers and Panwar recommend a substantial increase the size of the main
conservation units in this zone, particularly in the main Western Ghats region.

Almost two dozen more protected areas have been recommended, to offer adequate protection to
species in additional areas. However, inspite of this increase in the number of protected areas,
the actual network will be reduced by nearly 500 sq. km. This is because much of the over 5,000
sq. km. Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka, being a much disturbed and interfered area, is
proposed to be degazetted, for it is realised that it is far more advantageous to have healthy,
undisturbed reasonably good-sized areas than a huge, highly disturbed region where much of the
conservation and management programmes cannot even be implemented. Implementation, in
fact, is a key factor in the success of all wildlife plans which have invariably sounded good on
paper, yet failed in practice.
Natural forest cover is the true indicator of the health of the planet.

Forests are referred to as areas with a high density of trees. Separate colors have been used to show
different regions with different colors. Forests worldwide cover around 3.9 billion hectares. There's no forest
cover in Antarctica and Greenland. The composition and quality of many forests have changed over the
years. The forest cover has been shrinking over the years due to factors such as deforestation. The
deforestation rates are considerably high due to high rates of wood consumption.

Forests can be divided into six categories such as Moist Tropical, Montane Sub Tropical, Dry Tropical,
Montane Temparate Forests, Sub Alpine and Alpine. Wet Evergreen, Semi-Evergreen, Moist Deciduous and
Littoral and Swamp are the types of Moist Tropical Forests. Broad Leaved, Pine and Dry evergreen are the
types of Montane Sub Tropical Forests. Dry Deciduous, Thorn and Dry Evergreen are the types of Dry
Tropical forests. Wet, Moist and Dry are the types of Montane Tropical Forests. Moist and Dry are the types
of Alpine Forests.
The Importance of Plants
Close to 2.5 billion years ago, the earth's surface and atmosphere
were stable enough to support primitive life. Single-cell organisms
began to develop in the seas that covered the planet. A simple
organism known as blue-green algae appeared and spread across the
seas. Blue-green algae used sunlight and water to make food, and in
the process, created oxygen. As the blue-green algae grew in the
earth's seas, they began to fill the atmosphere with oxygen. The
oxygen that blue-green algae produced made it possible for other
types of organisms to develop.

Plants play the most important part in the cycle of nature. Without
plants, there could be no life on Earth. They are the primary
producers that sustain all other life forms. This is so because plants
are the only organisms that can make their own food. Animals,
incapable of making their own food, depend directly or indirectly on
plants for their supply of food. All animals and the foods they eat can
be traced back to plants.

The oxygen we breathe comes from plants. Through photosynthesis,


plants take energy from the sun, carbon dioxide from the air, and
water and minerals from the soil. They then give off water and
oxygen. Animals and other non-producers take part in this cycle
through respiration. Respiration is the process where oxygen is used
by organisms to release energy from food, and carbon dioxide is given
off. The cycles of photosynthesis and respiration help maintain the
earth's natural balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water.

Leaves are the main food-making part of most plants. They capture
energy from sunlight, and turn water and carbon dioxide into sugar
and starch. This sugar and starch becomes the food that provides
plants with energy to grow, to produce flowers and seeds, and carry
on their other life processes.

Plant Facts
Scientists believe there are over 260,000 species of plants. Some
plants are so small they can barely be seen. Others are taller than
people or animals. One of the largest living plants on the earth are the
sequoia trees of California. Some stand over 290 feet (88 meters)
high and measure over 30 feet (9 meters) wide.
Certain characteristics of plants set them apart from other living
things. Both plants and animals are complex organisms that are
made up of many types of cells, but plant cells have thick, rigid walls
that consist of a material called cellulose. Animal cells do not have
this material. The cellulose enables plants to stand upright without
the aid of an internal or external skeleton.

Plants and Their Environment


Plants require a reasonable level of heat to grow. The most favorable
temperature at which photosynthesis takes place ranges from near
freezing to 20 to 25 C (70 to 80 F). The rates of photosynthesis and
respiration increase with rising temperatures. Any temperatures
above or below these levels limit plant growth. The climate of a region
determines what types of plants can survive in that region.

A plant's environment is made up of many factors. One of the most


important is the weather--sunlight, temperature, and precipitation
(rain, melted snow, and other moisture). Soil and other plants and
animals that live in the same area are also included in the
environment of a plant. All these factors form what is called a natural
community.

No two natural communities are exactly alike, but many resemble one
another more than they differ. Botanists divide the world into
biomes--natural communities of plants, animals, and other
organisms.

Medicine
Plants provide many useful drugs. Some of these plants have been
used as medicines for hundreds of years. The bark of the cinchona
tree was used 400 years ago to reduce fever. It is still used to make
quinine, a drug used to treat malaria and other diseases. Another
drug, called digitalis, is used in treating heart disease. It is made from
the dried leaves of the purple foxglove plant. The roots of the Mexican
yam are used in producing cortisone, a drug useful in treating
arthritis and a number of other diseases.