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Human Uses of the Rainforest
How can satellites in space help rainforests?

Human Uses of the Rainforest

Although there are temperate rainforests, questions in the GCSE geography are usually about the tropical rainforests as they are so important to the well-being of our planet. Your studies should enable you to discover how humans use this incredible resource and the reasons behind it. You also need to know the possible benefits and drawbacks.

Humans have been exploiting the tropical rainforests for thousands of years but the problem is that during the twentieth century, globalisation led to a huge increase in demand for products from rainforests. Also, the discovery of valuable minerals (e.g. gold) meant that countries could export these, earning foreign exchange and paying off debts to other countries. These minerals could also be used in local industries to increase their output and help towards becoming a MEDC.

But it doesn't always work out that way. Often, exploitation of the rainforest is carried out by companies based in MEDCs so most of the profits go there and not into the local economy. As well as these economic reasons, there have been political and social reasons too.

Human uses of the rainforest usually involves some degree of clearance of the land. The native tribes will clear areas for their villages whilst commercial exploitation involves clearance for building roads and then large scale clearance to obtain the required resource. Mining requires large areas to be felled in order to establish the mines and the processing plants. Hardwoods such as teak are sought after for making furniture and for building. The useful teak trees are the largest and oldest but to get to these and to fell them requires that many hundreds of other trees must be felled around them to allow access.

Clearance leads to deforestation as replacement trees are not planted for the ones removed. Deforestation puts an increased pressure on forest ecosystems, which change. It is not known how many species have become extinct because of human deforestation and it is only relatively recently that we have started to become concerned with it. Some countries have placed restrictions on how rainforests are used in order to ensure that any exploitation is sustainable, but these laws are not always enforced. Many countries have also established reserves which are protected areas that are maintained as natural environments.

The exploitation of a tropical rainforest usually leads to ...
a large increase in the local economy
a decrease in GDP
In the long term, it is possible that exploiting the resources of a rainforest in a sustainable manner could lead to afforestation and benefits to the local economy
How can satellites in space help rainforests?
They can be used to create pockets of greater biodiversity
They can be used to fire missiles at people using the rainforest illegally
Powerful lasers mounted on the satellites can be used to accurately cut down a tree, minimising the damage caused during logging
They can be used to monitor activities in the rainforest to make sure that they are legal
They can also be used to measure how fast a rainforest is being destroyed
Which of the following best describes 'slash and burn'?
Vegetation is cut down and burned, providing ash that fertilises the soil
Some branches of trees are chopped off and then burnt to provide ash to fertilise the soil
Neighbouring tribes attack each other, the winning tribe then destroys the village of the losing tribe
Large areas of rainforest are cleared using fires to make way for new roads
It is a traditional method of agriculture. When it is practised on a small scale, it is sustainable and the forest will recover
Which of the following is a problem that is not directly associated with human uses of the rainforest?
Soil erosion
Global warming
Hurricanes are intense low pressure areas that form over warm ocean waters and not over rainforests
Which of the following is one of the main causes of tropical rainforest destruction?
Climate change
Cities in or near to rainforests growing in population and needing to expand
It isn't just the direct effects of logging that causes problems, it allows easy access to the rainforests via the logging roads. Landless peasants will then travel along the roads, clearing areas of the forest for growing crops
Selective logging is said to be a sustainable way of obtaining wood from a rainforest. Which of the following best describes selective logging?
Choosing a group of trees and chopping them all down
Only felling trees that have reached a certain size
Randomly cutting down trees
Only cutting a few branches off trees so that the trees can continue to grow
The problems with selective logging are that the roads allow other people in who then cut down trees to clear land for farming and also, as the trees are felled and removed, up to 75% of the trees around them are damaged or destroyed during the process
Which of the following is/are not reason(s) why rainforests are used as a resource?
None of the above
Human uses of the rainforest is driven by all of the above reasons
Which of the following is a social reason that leads to increased human use of the Brazilian tropical rainforest?
To reduce the population of coastal areas like Rio and Sao Paulo
To create more land for production of cheap beef to sell to MEDCs
To take peoples' minds off other problems in Brazil such as poverty
To pay off international debts
The other reasons are economic or political
When trees are felled, the bare soil is exposed and soil erosion occurs. Why is soil erosion in rainforests a problem?
There is not enough soil left to hold up the trees so they fall over
Nutrients are lost so the rainforest trees die
It makes it hard to get logging vehicles through
The soil ends up in the rivers causing flooding
The extra soil in the rivers causes them to 'silt up'. When that happens, flooding can occur. Flooding is not a problem where the forest ecosystem is adapted to it but in areas where people live or where the ecosystem is not adapted, it causes damage
Agro-forestry is a sustainable method of using the rainforest. Agro-forestry is ...
growing trees as a cash crop
growing trees and crops at the same time
growing crops in amongst the trees
cutting down old trees to clear areas to grow cheap beef
Farmers take advantage of shelter from the canopy of trees. Planting trees helps to prevent soil erosion and the crops benefit from the nutrients from dead organic matter that drops from the canopy
You can find more about this topic by visiting BBC Bitesize - Tropical rainforests

Author:  Kev Woodward

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