Rainforest Products Lab Workbook
Why worry about distant habitats like tropical rainforests?
OBSERVATION: Tropical rain forests are so far from Arizona they are almost mythical. We think of flocks of colorful birds, steaming undergrowth, bouquets of orchids, man-eating fish, leaping monkeys, and native people, some of whom may be headhunters. These impressions are great to watch on Animal Planet, but most of us in the developed world feel little direct connection with these strange and distant forests. However, the truth is every one of us has touched a rainforest today.
The next time you go to the grocery store, look carefully at the ingredients and products you are buying. Fruits like bananas; beverages like coffee; oils like coconut; and flavorings like black pepper, all came originally from tropical forests. In addition beautiful wood like mahogany and teak, as well as rubber, varnish, ingredients in soaps and shampoos also come from tropical trees.
Many tropical forest plants evolved chemical defenses against the insects that would eat their leaves. These active chemicals often have, by coincidence, physiological effects on us. Think of aspirin, caffeine, digitalis, and quinine. Perhaps a third or more of western medicines had their origins as plant defense chemicals, and most of these have been from tropical forests. They include chemicals to treat rheumatism, diabetes, muscle tension, malaria, heart conditions, skin diseases, arthritis, glaucoma and many other diseases. Despite our obvious dependence on tropical rainforests, nearly half of these forests have been destroyed in the last 75 years. Every time a forest patch is destroyed it is likely that a yet undiscovered medicine for a disease like uterine cancer or a food that could raise the quality of life for millions of people is lost forever.
QUESTION: What can we do to protect this source of vital commodities when we live so far away?
HYPOTHESIS: One immediate action is to consider what you buy. Harvesting