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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.

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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.

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  1. Which of the following is one of the main causes of tropical rainforest destruction?
    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
  2. Which of the following is/are not reason(s) why rainforests are used as a resource?
    Human uses of the rainforest is driven by all of the above reasons
  3. Selective logging is said to be a sustainable way of obtaining wood from a rainforest. Which of the following best describes selective logging?
    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
  4. How can satellites in space help rainforests?
    They can also be used to measure how fast a rainforest is being destroyed
  5. When trees are felled, the bare soil is exposed and soil erosion occurs. Why is soil erosion in rainforests a problem?
    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
  6. Which of the following best describes 'slash and burn'?
    It is a traditional method of agriculture. When it is practised on a small scale, it is sustainable and the forest will recover
  7. Agro-forestry is a sustainable method of using the rainforest. Agro-forestry is ...
    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
  8. Which of the following is a problem that is not directly associated with human uses of the rainforest?
    Hurricanes are intense low pressure areas that form over warm ocean waters and not over rainforests
  9. Which of the following is a social reason that leads to increased human use of the Brazilian tropical rainforest?
    The other reasons are economic or political
  10. The exploitation of a tropical rainforest usually leads to ...
    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

Author: Kev Woodward

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