April 17, 2020
The Amazon rain forest is home to millions of plant and animal species. Ecologist Daniel Nepstad calls it an “exuberant expression of life gone wild.” But deforestation is a rising threat. During last year’s wildfires, “you could really imagine that ‘Boy, we could lose this thing,’” he told TIME for Kids.
Take a look at some of the species that ecologists are working to protect.
TOWERING TREES The seedpods of a Brazil-nut tree are the size of a baseball. When ripe, they drop to the ground. A rodent called an agouti cracks them open with its teeth, exposing the nuts. The animals bury the nuts for later, and new trees grow. “These are iconic trees, illegal to cut,” Nepstad says.
FOREST GARDENERS Leaf-cutter ants harvest leaves and bury them in big underground chambers full of fungus. This makes the soil more fertile. “It’s a tiny animal that has an over-the-top influence on how the forest grows,” Nepstad says.
COLOSSAL FISH The pirarucu (pee-ra-roo-koo) is a giant, ancient fish. It can weigh 300 pounds. “It’s fascinating because it needs to breathe air,” Nepstad says. People capture the pirarucu when it comes up for air. The fish is strong enough to tip a canoe over as it lashes about.
SHY CREATURE The sloth lives high up in the trees. Its fur is covered with tiny organisms, such as algae and fungi. These camouflage it from predators and protect it from disease. About once a week, the sloth comes down to the forest floor. “They’re concerned about being found,” Nepstad says.
FAVORITE FRUIT The cacao (ka-kow) plant, native to the Amazon, is the source of chocolate. Its seeds have long been used as medicine, Nepstad says. Some farmers are planting cacao to bring back native plants to deforested areas. This helps restore forest ecosystems for other plants and animals.
PLAYFUL IN PINK The Amazon river dolphin lives in the waters that flow through the rain forest. It’s believed that the male dolphin’s color protects it from predators by helping it blend in with muddy water. The animal’s pink tone might also be the result of scars from playing rough with other dolphins.